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Ever Wondered About... Beer?

Updated Wednesday, 27th April 2005
The history and science of beer.

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It’s thought the first beer was brewed more than 10,000 years ago, with early brews traced to Egypt, China, and the Americas. Each civilization used local ingredients, so while Northern Europeans used barley, Americans used corn, and distinctive local flavours were developed.

Until refrigeration was introduced in the 1880s, beer was only brewed in the colder months from September to April or May. Louis Pasteur’s work on fermentation also changed the process of brewing. The invention of pasteurisation helped ensure a consistent, controllable supply of beer, as well as saving lives through increased understanding of how to prevent diseases spreading.

The word ‘lager’ comes from the German lagern, which means to store. Lager was invented by Bavarian monks about 500 years ago. They found they could produce a clearer brew by storing it during the summer in wooden casks in cold caves.

The first canned beers were introduced in the UK in 1935 by Felinfoel Brewery in Wales, using steel cans with cone-shaped tops.


Next time you’re drinking beer and want to give your taste buds a bit more of a jolt, get your beer poured with a more generous head, and sip your pint through it. The bitterness of the hops — and therefore the beer’s flavour — tends to be most concentrated in the foam of the head.

Yeast — the key ingredient in the brewing process — is a living creature! It reproduces and lives off the ingredients in the beer. As it all ferments, the sugar in the beer mixture is converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide.

And the nation’s favourite yeast-rich tipple could have fringe benefits. Brewer's yeast is rich in B vitamins, which are needed to maintain the nervous system, and metabolise your food. It’s also good for the complexion — so some drinking may help alleviate those pimples and spots. But, too much beer increases the body’s vitamin requirements, especially B1.

The brewing water makes a real difference to the eventual flavour of the beer. Different brews produced around the world have been directly influenced by whether the local water is hard or soft. Connoisseurs will add mineral salts to their brews, just as a chef adds salt to enhance a food’s taste.


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