The production and drinking of ale can be traced back 4,000 years to the first harvesting of barley. Since then, ale has gone from uniting warrior tribes to becoming an essential element of pub culture.
Ale was produced on a domestic scale throughout the Middle Ages. As a result, an estimated 1 in 5 houses were also informal alehouses (as well as the first pubs and taverns). The selling of ale formed local economic markets within communities, with women as the dominant producers. Whilst today some may regard ale as a luxury product, ale was a staple drink during this period, with the only alternative being contaminated water sources. Preserving ale started during the 15th century through adding hops.
Speculation surrounds the origins of this method; suspects include returning Crusaders from the early 1400s or traders from Flanders. Ale could be produced in larger quantities due to the expansion of investment, machinery and technology during the Industrial Revolution. Major profit making brewers such as George Adlam in Bristol and R.W Andrews in London emerged. However, the quality of ale also suffered during this period. Mass brewers cared little for the taste and texture of the ale.
Instead, they chose to increase profits through preserving ale in bottles (causing a loss of taste quality) and reducing the volume by injecting Carbon Dioxide (producing a frothier drink).
During the last 40 years there has been something of an ale revolution- the introduction of ‘Real’ ale. The ‘Campaign for Real Ale’ (CAMRA) has been at the forefront of this. Valuing secondary fermentation in the kegs and the use of natural ingredients, they argue for the importance of micro-breweries. It is this resurgence in the quality of ale that has made it so vital to British pub culture.