The History of British Brewing

Speaker: Jan Mitchell
30th April
Year: 2008

Mrs Jan Mitchell with some beer samples

Mrs Jan Mitchell with some beer samples


2. Jan Mitchell

A member about to sample the beer, while Chairman Liam Hutchings looks on in the background. Photos by Viv Costall


Mrs Jan Mitchell started her talk by saying that she had been a maker of beers and wines since the 1960s and has been a judge for both for many years.

She explained that you need four things to make beer:

  • Malt – which is made by soaking barley in water until it sprouts, then kiln drying it to temperatures which will produce a) a light colour to give a pale beer) a chocolate malt which will produce Guinness.
  • Water – which called “liquor” in brewing
  • Hops
  • Yeast

The ground malt and water are boiled, and then strained to make the basis of the beer.

Jan then handed round samples of dried hops, hop pellets and malt together with photographs and pictures of the various stages of beer-making taken at various breweries.

Originally beer did not contain hops and was called ale. This was made from barley and often contained other flavourings and herbs. It was drunk instead of water, (which was often contaminated) for health, for nutrition and on social occasions.

Ale originated in Mesopotamia, spread to Egypt and then Rome (though the Romans preferred wine!) and then outwards to the rest of the world. Ale in England was originally brewed at home by housewives who used to put out a broom as a sign that ale might be bought. The ales brewed were three times stronger than modern beers and were given to soldiers before battle.

Monasteries brewed ale and provided it for travellers or pilgrims, a tradition carried out today at the Hospital of Saint Cross, Winchester, where the traveller’s dole of a drink of ale (beer now) and a piece of bread can still be claimed.

Beer containing hops was introduced from Holland in the 17th Century but was not liked to begin with. Local brewers, often publicans, made their own beer which was sold in the vicinity, a tradition still carried out by the Flower Pot Inn at Cheriton. However the quality of the beer brewed varied throughout the year, especially if made in summer time as it causes it to be poor quality and does not keep well.

In time commercial brewers took over from local ones because they could produce beer that was of consistent quality. They made normal beer, porter (similar to stout or guinness) and pale ale. Bottled beer was first produced after the First World War. The modern beer averages 4.5% alcohol. 19th Century stout was 14.5% whereas modern stout is 4.5%. Old ale was 10.5% and now is 5.0% alcohol. All figures are approximate.

Jan had brought with her samples of London Pride (Fuller’s) ale and Tangle Foot (Badger) beer which proved popular with the audience who thoroughly enjoyed her illuminating and refreshing talk.

Other beer names mentioned included:

Fursty Ferret, Stinger, England’s Gold, Golden Glory, Hopping Hare, Pumpkin Ale, Poacher’s Choice, Blandford Fly and lots more ingenious names to conjure with.

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