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The History of Home Brewing

The process of brewing beer has been around as an art for a millennium. It's only been recently, however, that practitioners have tried to turn it into an applied science.

The oldest American brewery is D.G. Yuengling & Son in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, which has been brewing beer since 1829. Although we think of home brewing and brewing of beer in general as starting in the 1800s, beer has actually been around for much longer than that. Home brewing and beer have always played a large and important part in our lives. In fact, it is believed that Noah provided for beer to be part of the provisions on the Ark!


What we know today as beer was originally known as ale. Ale was made by fermenting the extract from grains and cereals. Certain herbs such as ground ivy and stinging nettle were used for flavoring and bittering. At the start of the 15th Century, people began to notice a difference between beer and ale, as beer was the hopped beverage that was made in Belgium. Beer and ale were the drink of the common people throughout the country before coffee, tea and cocoa were introduced. Monasteries were the location of some of the first commercial breweries in England.

Many families, specifically farmers, brewed their own ale (or beer), although there were professional brewers in town that made it as well. In fact, home brewing was a household industry in those days. Most of these professional brewers consisted of widows, because this was one of the few career choices open to widows. Workers at estates often received ale as wages. When taverns came into existence, they would each brew their own ale. They'd put a fresh bush outside of the place so those passing by would know there was fresh brew available.

THE 1600'S

In 1683, William Penn started a business of brewing beer in Pennsburg, to earn money as well as encourage people to drink beer instead of hard liquor, which seemed to cause bad tempers for many.

The early methods of brewing beer consisted of heating and soaking barley to encourage germination. The result of this mixture, called malt, was then mixed with water and brought to a boil until it formed the wort , which meant it was fermented. Hops  were then added to the boiling substance, to give it a distinctive aroma and pleasant yet bitter taste. Hops are used as a stability agent and for flavoring in beer. The liquid was then strained, at which time yeast was added. It was then allowed to ferment for a couple days.



One major difference between brewing methods then and today is the timing process. Prior to the twentieth century, a rule of thumb or old time recipe determined the timing, as opposed to the modern equipment and technology used today. There was a difference between English beer and the early American beer.

When the English beer was made, they fermented it with yeast that floated on the top, whereas Germans used yeast that would stay on the bottom of the wort. When the Germans removed the yeast, they allowed the beer to age at low temperatures for weeks. This resulted in milder beer with a better aroma, making it a more popular style of beer. This beer took over the beer industry, so the floating yeast style of beer making was left for the making of ale. This was when the real distinction between beer and ale was made.


THE 1800'S

The late 1800's brought about many changes in the home brewing of beer. It became more difficult for the small businessperson or individual to compete with the larger breweries using up-to-date equipment.  The addition of the railroad helped breweries distribute their beer around the nation. However, this made it a requirement that beer be able to withstand sitting for days, changes in temperature and getting shook up a lot of the time in transit. Chemical additives had to be removed, and pasteurization was necessary to prevent bacterial growth.



Laws came into effect to make sure these requirements were followed. The early 1900s brought about the great Prohibition, a time when it was forbidden to sell any alcoholic beverages. This hurt the beer and liquor business drastically, but it did survive. After Prohibition was done, it took many years to get the people back in the habit of drinking beer rather than hard liquor, however.

Home brewing was made legal in 1976 and many small town craft brewers began making and marketing their own brands of beer, for sale to other businesses and areas. The sales of craft beer grew so high that they became competitive to some of the large brewers, who then began developing and marketing their own brands of beer.

Home brew is not near as popular as it once was, with the many different laws that have enacted through the years. Many have switched from the home brewing of beer to try their hands at wine and other liquors. The interesting thing about home brewing, however, is that with each beverage you make, you'll want to make more of some other variety just to experiment.


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