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The rise of modern brewing occurred in northern Europe. There is a possibility that some of the skills came from the Middle East, although independent discovery may also have occurred. By medieval times, brewing was an everyday thing.”In Burton-upon-Trent in the United Kingdom, the abbey founded in the eleventh century had a brewery whose product formed the reputation of this town as a center of brewing excellence.”(Boulton et al). Belgian beers owe much to the skills of the medieval brewers. A few of these breweries have survived and still produce, “the specialist bottle-conditioned Trappist beers.”(Boulton et al)
Beer was popular which is reflected in the fact that it was the staple drink of all classes. Sambrook (1996) says that ale consumption in single medieval noble households were usually in the range of seven hundred and fifty to fifteen hundred hectoliters. The widespread in popularity of beer was probably heavily influenced by later Saxon and Danish invasions (Hackwood, 1985).
The benefits of using hops in brewing were known in antiquity and records exist detailing their cultivation in ancient Babylon (Corran, 1975). This knowledge was passed to Europe. Initially hops were used in conjunction with other herbs such as rosemary, bog myrtle, sweet gale, coriander, caraway, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, milfoil and yarrow. Mixtures of such herbs were called“gruit” and with local variations were incorporated into beers to add flavour and improve keeping qualities (Forget, 1988). Widespread use of cultivated hops, as opposed to gruit, began in Germany, probably in the tenth century, and from there spread to the rest of Europe.
Hops were introduced to Kent in England probably by Flemish weavers in the fifteenth century (Lawrence, 1990). Apart from altering the flavour of beer, the preservative qualities of hops allowed weaker beers with longer shelf-lives to be brewed since it was no longer necessary to rely entirely on the anti-microbial qualities of ethanol.
The arrival of hops in the United Kingdom marked a need to distinguish between ale and beer. The latter was taken to refer only to a hopped fermented malt beverage; however, as Sambrook (1996) discusses, other meanings were also used. Thus, when commercial and domestic brewing were parallel operations, the product of the town brewery was often termed beer and the home brewed material as ale. In another sense, ale was used to describe the product made from the first strong worts, whereas the term beer derived from subsequent weaker worts, hence the expression“small-beer”.
There was resistance to the use of hops in most countries of Europe, primarily because of vested interests. Thus, purveyors of ales and gruit all had good commercial reasons to discourage production of hopped beers. Ultimately, these sanctions were unsuccessful and in response to public demand the use of hops became the norm.
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