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The History of Ale | Who Invented Beer?

Friday, 2 August 2019 15:12:26 Europe/London News , By George Finney

An old Ale advert featuring two British men drinking beer


A Brief History of Ale & The Different Types of It

The brewing industry in the UK and the United States is booming! The craft ale revolution was not televised, it’s taken over in secret. Fancy, overpriced craft ales have quickly climbed the shelves to become some of the most popular alcoholic beverages.

In this post, you’ll find out the history of beer and ale as well as how to distinguish between the different types you’ll find at your local, as well as what it is that makes each one of them special.  


Get Cheap Ale Tankards Here


An ancient tablet featuring a beer recipe

When was beer invented?

The oldest beer recipe ever discovered is 3,900 years old. It’s included in an ancient Sumerian poem which honours Ninkasi, the patron goddess of brewing. 

Beer has definitely been around longer than that though! A Sumerian tablet from ancient Mesopotamia (around 6000 years ago) depicts people consuming a drink from a communal bowl using reed straws. 

The furthest back proof of beer comes from ancient Iran. Scientists have examined ancient pottery using chemical tests that reveal beer dates back as far as 7,000 years. This doesn't necessarily mean that beer was invented then, but it’s the oldest evidence we have to go on. 


A painting of an old English barmaid

Ale in the UK

In the medieval United Kingdom, beer was consumed daily by all social classes. It was easy to make and tasted better than the putrid drinking water available at that time. 

Lots of people think ale consumption was higher than that of water! But that’s not true. 

Another common misconception is that medieval people consumed beer instead of water because it was cleaner. It was cleaner, but people didn't know that, as they hadn’t discovered germs yet, so they had no clue.

Most of the beer in the middle ages was brewed locally by women. They brewed it in their homes for domestic consumption and small scale sales within the community. Brewsters (as they were called) generated a significant amount of additional income for their households. 


A traditional Ale Tankard

What do you drink ale out of?

If you’ve ever been to a pub, you’ll know that you usually drink ale from a pint or half-pint glass… obviously! And if you go to the shop, it comes in a can or a bottle. 

But, if you were an ale drinker from the 16th century, you would have used a tankard. 

Characterised by the tapered metal design with a large handle, they were widely used in northern Europe (especially Scandinavia, Germany, and the British Isles). 

Some tankards even had built-in whistles for summoning waiters. Only a few establishments still serve beer in tankards these days. They are now more popular as gifts to ale and beer enthusiasts.  


 

Ale and bread on a table

Which came first, beer or bread?

This is slightly off-topic, but It’s very interesting, so I’ll tell you. There is a theory that beer came before bread. It has been theorised that the grandfather of bread (cake) came to be when a fermented beer spilt onto a hot stone and baked in the sun in ancient Mesopotamia. There is no real proof, but it wouldn’t be the first time an important discovery was accidental.  


What types of ale are there?

There are so many types of Ale that it’s impossible to list all of them! Here are a few you’ll probably have seen at your local pub though.

 A bottle of Newcastle brown ale poured into a glass

Brown Ale

English brown ales first appeared in the early 1900s. Lightly hopped, they’re characterised by a mild, sweet flavour and an often nutty taste. Brown ale ranges between 3-5% in strength.

A freshly poured glass of pale ale on a table

Pale Ale

Pale ale refers to beers made from coke dried malt (coke is a fuel derived from coal). As its name would suggest, it’s lighter in colour than most beers. The style that kickstarted the American craft scene, pale ale has a malty, hop-forward flavour. It’s very flavourful but not too heavy.

An IPA poured into a glass on a table

Indian Pale Ale (IPA)

the Bow Brewery in England created Indian pale ale. The beer was an Indian export (hence the name) and treated with extra hops to preserve it during the voyage.  The beer’s taste benefited from the duration of the voyage and gained popularity amongst people in India and the UK. So much so, that’s still one of the most popular types of beer to this day. 

A pint of golden ale on a pub table

 

Golden Ale

Golden ale was invented to try and sway the younger generations away from lager and on to ale. It’s brewed at a lower temperature than pale ale and served at colder temperatures. Its strength varies between 3.5 -5.5%

 A bottle of Angry Scotch Ale

Scotch Ales

Dating back to mid 19th century Scotland, Scotch ale is malty and strong. It is amber to dark red and sweeter, darker and less hoppy than English beers.

 Cask ale on tap at an English pub

Cask Ale

Often referred to as real ale in the united kingdom, cask ale is unfiltered and unpasteurised. It’s the most natural form of ale and served from a cask without additional nitrogen or carbon dioxide pressure.

Cans of Japanese craft ale 

Craft Ale

Produced by smaller, independent breweries on a less corporate scale, craft beer is arguably the most popular type of ale. Craft beers focus on high-quality flavour and brewing technique.


Want something nice to drink your ale out of?

If you’re into your ales, why not get a tankard from our tankards section! They’re ideal for use at home, as a gift or as a prize for a brewing competition. Click on this text to take a look at our great selection.