It’s hard to give a “brief” history of homebrewing – after all, brewing at home is a process older than written history. However, a good laugh is always warranted, so here’s a bit of a tongue-in-cheek review of home brewing history.
In the earliest times, homebrewing was done with the available local ingredients, in the home, most often by women. There wasn’t much over the first 6,000 year of home brewing in terms of evolution, as there was no scientific process and little in the way of the development of ingredients or tools. Once we made brewing easier, then the men got interested.
Early on, the German’s set forth the Reinheitsgebot, or the German Beer Purity Law. Made official in November of 1487, it was even used later as a condition of Bavaria’s unification with Germany. The original law set forth that only water, barley, and hops could be used in the production of beer – a law that, of course, brewers looked for loopholes in almost immediately.
One of the earliest developments to urge home brewing and the development of beers was the introduction of hops to England as a crop. This happened in 1524, in the Kent region of England, and certainly has been more enjoyable than Kent’s second major crop, hazlenuts.
Up until 1642, all beers were pretty much just brown sludge. The English developed the idea of kilning malts to develop discernable taste and color profiles, and it was in 1642 that the first pale malts were kilned. Of course, that hasn’t stopped bad or lazy brewers from continuing to churn out brown, sludgy beers.
In 1790, the idea of the IPA was introduced, helping beer to make the journey around the Cape to India. Almost immediately, drinkers began bragging about being able to taste the difference between 100 IBU and 105 IBU.
Germany is known for being an efficient, industrious nation but for a few weeks of every year it turns into a giant pile of drunken partiers. This tradition dates back to 1810, when Munich first established Oktoberfest as an official celebration. There weren’t any subway tunnels to pass out in back then though.
The philosopher Plato wasn’t alive in 1843, but Fritz Plato was. It was in this year that the Plato scale, used to measure the percentage of alcohol in wort, was developed. 160 years later, homebrewers continue to struggle to wrap their heads around using gravity.
One of the most important points in homebrewing, and indeed brewing of any sort, was Pasteur’s work with yeasts, where he identified that it was live yeasts, not a chemical catalyst, which caused fermentation. It had been believed for years that the latter was the truth, but in 1857, he proved this belief to be incorrect. He also came up with pasteurization, but who cares about that?
In 1884, the yeast known as Carlberg Yeast Number 1 was put into industrial production in Copenhagen, meaning that perfected yeast strains were much more readily available to brewers. This meant that anyone could brew their own beer pretty easily – until governments decided to get involved.
From 1920 to 1933, the idiotic idea of Prohibition takes hold of America. While its intent is to ban the production of alcoholic beverages, it actually lays the groundwork for the re-emergence of brewing at home. Americans who can’t buy beer relearn how to make it themselves.
In 1977, Coopers – one of the largest maltsters and homebrew equipment makers in the world – launches Brewer’s Own Pack in Melbourne, Australia. Thankfully, they do not foist the recipe for Fosters on the world.