Pre-history of beer in England
In the year 1238 King Henry III granted trading-rights to Lübeck and despite hostilities from the already established wine merchants from Cologne an official ‘Kontor’ of the Hans was founded in 1266. One of the trading goods was the new hopped beer that came initially from Bremen (1), but hopped beer was soon made in other seaports as well. Outside London there were trading posts like in Ipswich, Yarmouth, Hull, York, Newcastle, Lynn and Boston.
British traders organized under the name ‘Merchants adventurers’ and they also had their agreements and disputes with the Hans (2). The name ‘adventurers’ was rightly chosen, for it must have been turbulent times at the end of the middle ages. Trade began to increase, new cities were founded and population grew. Beer was a new trading good, for ales had been unsuited as a merchandise.
London around 1300 with Austin Friars and St. Katherine before the Docks.
London around 1380 had about 30.000 inhabitants and there were some 1000 ale breweries. Ale was hardly durable at all and therefore only little could be made of it at a time. In comparison; in the Low Countries hoppenbeer was made from around 1320 onwards. In England it would take many centuries to start using hops in beer. At first the new beer was accepted in the army and onboard ships where durability was of key importance.
With the guilds it had been quite normal for someone to go and find a new master and start at a higher level of craftsmanship or start an own business. Over time and with a growing population breweries increased in scale and this would also cause brewers to look for other places to find employ. Detailed knowledge of the brewing process could spread naturally this way.
Guilds: Dyers, Brewers, Leather-sellers, Pewterers
Beer versus ale
During the reign of king Henry VI there had been rumors beer was poisonous, it was better to stick to the old trusted ale. This was one of the first signs that the British themselves were starting to drink beer. Food safety was of great importance and ‘searchers’ were assigned to watch over the brewers. These brewers were mostly native ale brewers and only a few ‘Dutch’ brewers that made hopped beer. These ‘Dutch’ came from the continent ranging from the northern ‘German’ seaports to Flanders.
During the reign of Queen Elisabeth beer gained increased acceptance next to ale (3). Queen Mary (Bloody Mary) had been of a different league and hop had then been ‘a protestant weed’. Protestant fugitives formed a new group of inhabitants in England and in London they would meet in the Austin Friars Church.
In Shakespearian times beer became a fashionable drink
The large group of aliens in England were the first makers and drinkers of beer. Next to that the beer was exported and it had a good reputation in Amsterdam. On the continent beer brewing was done with more oats and ‘English beer’ had its own special character. At certain places on the continent one also started to make English beer (4).
In 1550 traditional ale brewers and brewers of hopped beer joined in the Brewers Company. The brewers of ale outnumbered the beer brewers and all kinds of discriminatory measures were passed (5). It is not hard to imagine it was not always very pleasant during their meetings and the word ‘scum’ must have originated somewhere in these times.
Andrew Boorde (1490 – 1549) bere is a naturall drynke for a Dutche man (6).
One could become ‘Poorter of Amsterdam’ by donating a small amount of money but in London matters were not that easy and brewers would acquire citizenship only very slowly if at all. The rise of hopped beer could not be stopped and eventually beer brewing became a fully native affair in the course of the 17th century. Brewer William Ellis mentions the questionable reputation of the ‘vegetable’ hop that has been raised only ‘of late’ in 1737 (The London and Country Brewer (7).
All kinds of remains still point to the ‘Dutch’ origin of English beer, including the word ‘beer’ itself. Underneath are some of them brought together including something truly remarkable; brewery ‘Roode Leeuw up Sinte Catarijn’ later became the well known Red Lion brewery on the very same spot at St. Kathrine Docks (a). Some of the mystery around Porter is still associated with this brewery.