Inebriated Egyptians

3150BC Drink of Gods, Priests and Workers

Our nation’s favourite tipple can be dated all the way back to the 32nd Century BC when ancient Egyptians used it to pay the labourers that built their tombs.

These sacred resting places were also filled with beer so that the dearly departed occupant wouldn’t go thirsty. Just like King Scorpion I, who loved ale so much that he filled two rooms within his burial chamber full of precious amber nectar, alongside 700 bottles of wine. That’s one heck of a boozy afterlife! Such was the popularity of beer that the Egyptians even gave it its very own hieroglyphic.

Egyptian hieroglyphics on scroll parchment

Would you like a straw with that, sir?

1350BC Picking up the Tab, Sumerian Style

There has been evidence of the sale of beer as early as the 14th Century BC. Historians have uncovered the Alulu receipt which shows the exchange of 4.5 litres of "The Best Beer"

Ancient Sumerians were also known to enjoy their beverages, however the beers brewed were often lumpy, causing them to be drunk through long contorted straws made of gold or bronze. Sumerians would drink their cloudy, bitter beer straight from the cask – possibly the earliest evidence of a beer party.

Sumerian beer drinking through straws

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your beers

55BC Roman Reigns

When the Romans started to establish their road networks throughout Britain, they set up ‘tabernae’ along the way, so marching legions and travellers could stop for a swift refreshment. These establishments usually sold wine, however with ale as the national brew, the tabernae quickly realised they had to adapt to provide locals with their favourite tipple.

Overtime, the various British influences corrupted the Roman word until it eventually turned into ‘tavern’.

Roman Chariot and coins

Anglo ales

450 Alehouses

Anglo-Saxons were always partial to a drink of their favourite ale and turned their homes into alehouses, a place where the community could gather to drink, gossip and arrange community help. The brewing was mostly done by the alewife who raised a green bush on a pole when her brew was ready for the village. Our Anglo-Saxon ancestors may have enjoyed a few too many ales though, in 965 King Edgar I limited each village to one alehouse. Try and keep it down when you leave lads.

Anglo Saxon Alehouses


1347 Boils & Beer

After the bubonic plague swept through Europe, killing around 60 per cent of the population, the Germans passed a law stating that all eating and drinking vessels must be covered. No great hardship when you consider the alternative.

Common mugs were given hinged lids to protect the precious brew from any contamination and thus, Germany’s beer stein was born.

Origin of the German Beer Stein

Hop, skip, jump into Britain

1410 Hops reach British shores

Today, the words beer and ale are pretty much interchangeable, but a lengthy trip down memory lane will remind us that ales were originally produced from malt without hops, whereas a brew that used hops was called beer.

Hopped beer had been imported from Europe for a few decades at this point and quickly became more popular than its’ unhoped counterpart. An influx of immigration brought brewers from Belgium and the Netherlands, who introduced the practise of brewing with hops to Britain. However, not everyone was happy with this new brew and branded it unfit for ale-drinking Englishmen.

Beer Hops

Fermented not once, but twice

1570 Beer with a Bang

During the reign of Elizabeth I, a parish priest called Dr Alexander Nowell took some time out of his busy schedule to go on a fishing expedition. Armed with his tackle and a bottle of home brewed ale, off he went to plunder the gentle waters of the River Ash in Hertfordshire.

On returning home, the beer-loving rector realised that he’d left the unopened bottle on the river bank. Rushing back to rescue his beloved tipple a few days later, Nowell uncorked the bottle to find it went off like a loaded gun. Dr Nowell had unwittingly discovered the process of secondary fermentation and so, bottled beer as we know it today was born.

Double Fermentation

A whole new world

1587 New World, New Brew

When the first settlers arrived in the new world of America, they created England’s first colony in Virginia. However, the settlers forgot one crucial supply—ale.

The lack of quality ale got so dire that by 1587, the colonists started to brew their own using corn. Unfortunately, it didn’t rival the refined taste they were used to across the pond and 20 years later, in 1607, the first shipment of beer arrived all the way from England.

New World, New Brew

The longest yard

1600 Fuelling Stagecoach Drivers

A yard of ale may be a rite of passage for lairy students, but its origins date back as far as the 17th Century. There is evidence that yards of ale were used when toasting King James II, however the vessel has a more common origin.

The original purpose of the yard was to meet the needs of stagecoach drivers who would be handed the beverage through a glass window of what was essentially a drive-thru liquor stop. The length of the glass meant drivers didn’t need to leave their stagecoach…drink driving laws were a little more relaxed back then!

Yard of Ale

Is it gin o’clock?

1700 - Beer Street versus Gin Lane

The 1700s proved to be a turbulent time for ale, as it was nearly eradicated by the popularity of Gin, which arrived on British shores from the Netherlands. By 1740, ‘Mother’s Ruin’ had become so popular with the working classes that its production was six times that of ale.

The new working man’s drink spread across London like wildfire with over half of the capital’s 15,000 drinking establishments changing their allegiance to become Gin Houses. However, the new tipple triggered a wave of drunken debauchery and lawlessness throughout the streets of London.

The Government introduced the Gin Act in 1751 which restricted the sale of the spirit and encouraged people to imbibe less intoxicating beers and ales once again. In an effort to make the new legislation more appealing to the working class, artist William Hogarth created Beer Street and Gin Lane, two prints which showed the merits of drinking beer and the evils of consuming Gin.

Is it Gin o’clock?

Vive La Revolution!

1770 - A Modern Way to Brew

We owe a lot to the Industrial Revolution, but one of the most important developments was the evolution of the art of brewing. As more machinery was added into the mix, the manufacturing of ale became more of an industrial task, as opposed to an artisan one. This helped breweries thrive throughout the 19th Century as local brewers such as Wards, JW Lees and Vaux embraced a new, contemporary way to make beer.

Viva la Revolution!

Lager, best served cold

1800 - Bavarian Brilliance

Back in the 19th Century, Bavarian brewers started experimenting with a new way to brew beer. At first, they’d store their beer in caves for the entire summer until the advent of natural refrigeration meant they could keep their brews in cold cellars. By leaving the brew for much longer than usual, the beer underwent a second lagering period, resulting in a mellow and clear beverage.

As this method of brewing became more popular across Europe, different brewers tried different ways to brew their lager which led to the introduction of the wide variety we have available to us today. Once again, we have German efficiency to thank for saving us from the horrors of warm pints.

Bavarian Lager

Brewing up a storm in the North West

1828 - JW Lees opens

The 1800s were a great time to be a brewer: men drank up to 12 pints a day while women and children were also encouraged to enjoy a beverage down their local.

It’s unclear whether retired cotton manufacturer John Lees had too many bad pints or just acted on entrepreneurial instinct, but in 1828 he acquired some land, built a pub and JW Lees opened its doors for the first time.

Two years later in 1830, the government introduced the Beer Act which abolished the duty on beer and allowed anyone to sell beer. Could John Lees have predicted the sudden demand for a supply of beer?

Whether it was a stroke of good fortune or entrepreneurial brilliance, the brewers are still going strong and continue to supply real ale to their 140 pubs.

The Daily Ale - JW Lees Opens
JW Lees Beer Mat

Everyone’s a brewer

1869 - The Wine and Beerhouse Act

In an attempt to stop the widespread drunkenness caused by gin, the Government abolished the beer tax and extended pubs’ opening hours. Alongside this, beerhouses were introduced that would exclusively sell ales. And for the small fee of two guineas, anyone could buy a license enabling them to brew and sell beer.

A few months after the tax was abolished, an impressive 24,000 beerhouses had opened. However, concerns over law and order increased as many became homes to a whole host of criminals. In 1869, the Wine and Beerhouse Act was introduced to bring licensing back under control of local justices, causing many to close, or be bought by breweries.

Beer and Wine Act 1869

What a Fungi!

1883 - The Discovery of Cerevisiae Carlsbergensis

Back in 1875, Carlsberg founded a laboratory which was dedicated to experimenting with beer. In 1883 they had their biggest breakthrough, upon examining a faulty batch of beer, they found that it contained wild yeast.

The lab took on the gruelling task of studying the yeast and found that only pure yeast was suitable for brewing. One of the scientists developed a way to separate the wild yeast from the pure and thus created Carlsberg’s new yeast – Cerevisiae Carlsbergensis.

Luckily for everyone else, JC Jacobsen, owner of Carlsberg, believed that the discoveries made by his lab should be shared across the whole industry. Cheers, JC.

Brewer’s Yeast

What a corker!

1886 - Put a Cork in it!

The 19th Century may have helped revolutionise the industry, but it did not create bottling plants. Instead bottles of ale were sealed with corks that had to be manually inserted by those working as corkers.

These corkers would insert the bottle into a ‘boot’ before holding it between their knees and knocking the cork in with a ‘flogger’. At one point, Whitbread employed over 100 corkers, each one working 12 hours a day.

Luckily we now have machines which put bottle caps on our ale. Just as well really, wrestling with a corkscrew every time you want another beverage may get a bit messy.


Drinking on a budget

1910 - Mine’s a Lloyd George

Back in the old times you could enter a pub and receive a pint of ale for a penny – good times! However, when David Lloyd George waged his war on booze in his 1910 budget, the extra taxes on brewers made many drinkers’ dreams somewhat uneconomical.

To keep the price at a penny, a new quantity was needed. Enter the Lloyd George, a glass which held four-thirteenths of a pint. To make drinking matters worse, he also banned people buying drinks for other people. Bad for social drinking, but great for those of us with that mate who always skips his round.

The ban on rounds was quickly repealed in 1916 and the glasses were later outlawed in 1963, finally ending a legacy that Lloyd George would probably still get some stick for at his local.

Lloyd George

Say no to nicks

1948 Introducing the Nonic

By 1948 the popularity of the classic dimpled ale mug was beginning to wane, as punters demanded a lighter and straighter glass. There was just one problem with this design—when washed its rim would easily chip and splinter. Enter the Nonic glass (no nick) which had a bulge an inch from the top. Some say it was designed for the landlord rather than the drinker, but being cheap, sturdy and easy to stack and clean, it dominated bar tops for over sixty years.

Say no to Nics

From football to footfall

1960 Beer is best for Bobby

During the 60s, pubs once again found their numbers wavering. In an attempt to halt this decline, Sir Bobby Moore was drafted in to the pub industry to attract Brits back into their boozers.

His famous television advertisement ‘Look in at the local’ saw Bobby and wife Tina enjoying a night out in their local pub. The campaign was a huge success and generated over £1 million worth of business for the industry, successfully increasing footfall into the nation’s pubs. As for Sir Bobby’s acting? Let’s just say that it wasn’t as good as his defending!

Beer is Best

A bitter-sweet victory

1970 The Rise of Bitter

For centuries, mild was Britain’s favoured tipple, but by the 1960s consumers began to crave an edgier beverage. Casks filled with bitter started to roll into pubs across the country and despite a fierce popularity contest, by 1970 bitter had emerged as the new people’s champion with 90 percent of pubs only serving bitter beers from a cask.

Despite being usurped as the nation’s favourite, mild wasn’t bitter towards its competitor.

Glasses of Bitter

Four people walk into a pub

1971 The Formation of CAMRA

In 1971 four beer-loving friends decided to take action against the proliferation of low quality cask ales being foisted upon the UK beer market by a handful of brewers. What did they do? After meeting for a pint (naturally) they established the Campaign for Real Ale.

Dedicating themselves to representing the underappreciated and unknown cask ales of Britain, CAMRA was formed, thus starting the most successful consumer group that Europe has ever seen.

Today CAMRA has over 175,000 ale loving members, all looking for the next big tipple.

Camra Campaign for Real Ale

Sharing the market

1989 The Beers Orders

The end of the 1980s were a dire time for pub goers and ale enthusiasts as the market was dominated by six national brewers. This meant that there was a severe lack of competition for consumers and the chance of discovering a new niche ale was like finding a needle in a haystack.

However, towards the end of Thatcher’s reign, The Beer Orders were introduced in order to loosen the ties between pubs and retailers. The legislation limited the amount of pubs a brewery could own to 2,000 and allowed landlords to stock and sell one guest ale of their choice.

1989 Beer Orders

A winning combination

1991 Rise of the Gastropub

Pubs and breweries were hit hard by the recession of the 1980s, as Brits had less money to spend in the dark and smoky recesses of their local boozer. As a result, many breweries had to relinquish their licences of pubs throughout the UK.

When progressive proprietors Mike Belben and David Eyre took over The Eagle in London, they decided to shake up the traditional pub model and offered Mediterranean-inspired fare alongside cask ales. And so the modern casual pub atmosphere we know and love today was born. When The Eagle reopened in 1991, it was the first pub to earn the title Gastropub.

Gastro Pubs


1999 Watching the game, having a Bud

Possibly the most iconic beer advert of all time, Budweiser’s chorus of ‘Whassuuuuuup’ still raises a smile amongst those old enough to remember it.

A true pop culture phenomenon, the advert proved to be a total game-changer, not just for the drinks business but for consumer goods as a whole. Heralded for "not feeling like an advert at all" it successfully resonated with a much younger audience by showing the camaraderie felt between friends as they sat back and enjoyed a Bud.

Altogether now… Whassuuuuuup!

Buddy Beer

Brown’s beer budget

2002 Gordon Brown’s Microbreweries

Back before Gordon Brown became a Prime Minister infamous for his fits of rage, he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. While his political career may not have left the best legacy, his beer duty system helped microbreweries rise across the country.

The Progressive Beer Duty taxed smaller breweries at a lower rate than the bigger breweries that dominated the market. As a result, microbreweries became increasingly popular throughout the country since 2002, growing at a rate of about 50 per year.

Gordon Brown Ale

Trash the ash

2007 Smoking Ban

The Health Act of 2006 introduced a ban on smoking in enclosed spaces, including pubs throughout England. Landlords and ladies across the country were up in arms, concerned as to the negative impact the ban would have on their sales. Patrons enjoying a pint with one hand and a cigarette with the other, would soon be expected to step outside of the cosy pub confines to get their nicotine fix.

By 2009, two years after the ban came into force, responses were mixed. Some licensees said that it helped them to create a more family friendly environment and many establishments successfully developed their food offerings now that tobacco was off the menu, contributing in part to the rise of the modern gastropub. However, the ban has also resulted in approximately 10,000 pubs locking up for good.

Smoking Ban

Get a grip

2008 Give Beer a Hand

Many a drinker has winced as their fresh pint is sent crashing to the floor – the victim of an overcrowded bar and slippery glass. Enter JW Lees and its game-changing invention – the aptly-titled Grip Glass. Surely the pinnacle of ale drinking technology, it boasts perfect grooves and sleek lines ergonomically designed for your fingers and thumb. There’s no discrimination against manual orientation either, as the glass is perfect for right and left handed patrons. We’ll drink to that!

JW Lees Grip Glass

The $100 Billion Brewer

2015 A Brewing Giant is Born

2015 marked the birth of the first ever global brewer when SAB Miller agreed to a buyout by beer behemoth Anheuser-Busch IBev in a deal worth an eye-watering £71 billion.

Due to complete in 2016, the deal will be the third biggest takeover in corporate history, with the two companies together set to supply over 30 per cent of all beer consumed worldwide. Now that’s a lot of beer.

AB InBev SAB Miller merger

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