UK Beer History


This page will contain a few snippets of historical items I've come across in my reading.

Gervase Markham was a soldier, swordsman, horseman, farmer, poet, editor and all-round Renaissance man who lived from around 1568 to 1637.  His fame is based not on his poetry but on his books on archery, horsemanship, farming and domestic matters, in which he brought together the received wisdom and techniques of his age.  What interests us here is his book 'The English Housewife' setting out the duties and skills of the perfect wife.  In it he explains how to make malt and then gives techniques for brewing.  Baking comes in the same chapter, underlining the similarities of the processes but also the fact that bread and beer were the staple items of the contemporary diet.  You'll find details of a modern edition of his book on the Books page.  It's an enlightening but also entertaining read.  My favourite extract is a poem given in the introduction, taken from that well-known comedy 'Gammer Gurton's Needle' published in 1576, and which sings the praises of ale! 

Back and side go bare, go bare;
Both foot and hand go cold;
But belly, God send thee good ale enough,
Whether it be new or old!*

I cannot eat but little meat,
My stomach is not good;
But sure I think that I can drink
With him that wears a hood.**

Though I go bare, take ye no care,
I am nothing acold,
I stuff my skin so full within
Of jolly good ale and old.

* new beer was the weaker 'small' beer drunk instead of water, whereas old or 'stale' beer did not have the unpleasant meaning it has today, but referred to the stronger (and more expensive) beers which were left to mature
** i.e. a friar, showing that monks were well acquainted with decent ale long before the Trappist Abbey of St. Sixtus, Westvleteren was voted producer of the 'World's Best Beer'!




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