Beer and Ale

Phillip A Cantrell II. Cambridge World History of Food. Editor: Kenneth F Kiple & Kriemhild Conee Ornelas. Volume 1. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Beer and ale are mildly alcoholic beverages made from the action of yeast fermenting a usually grain-based mixture. Throughout their history, they have constituted both a refreshing social drink and an important energy-rich food. The basic ingredients of most beers and ales have included grain, water, yeast, and (more recently) hops, and despite many regional variations, the process of fermenting the grain has changed little over time.To be completely accurate, it must be noted that ale is defined as unhopped beer; in this chapter, however, the terms “beer” and “ale” are employed interchangeably for the period before hops were used.

The Chemical Basis of Fermentation

Before fermentation can take place, yeast, a single-cell fungus occurring naturally in several varieties, must be allowed to act on the sugar present in grain. This releases two crucial by-products, alcohol and carbon dioxide. A grain often used for this purpose is barley—even though, in its natural state, it contains only a trace amount of free sugar—because of its high content of starch, a complex polymer of sugar. Barley also contains substances known collectively as diastases, which convert the barley starches into sugar to be used as food for the growing plant. When barley is crushed and dried carefully, the essential starches and diastases are released and preserved, rendering a substance called “malt.”

Until sometime around the ninth century, “beer” was actually “ale,” made by a process known as mashing, whereby the barley malt was mixed with hot—but not boiling—water. The effect of the hot water was to induce the diastases to act immediately in breaking down the complex starches into sugar. This process is referred to as conversion and results in “wort,” one of its most essential products. The mashing procedure not only produced the brown, sugary wort but also permitted inert elements of the barley, such as the husks, to be drawn off. In the production of pure ale (such as the first human brewers would have made), all that remained was for yeast to act upon the wort so that the sugars could be converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide.

Beginning in approximately the ninth century in central Europe (authorities vary widely and wildly regarding the date but not the place), the procedure began to be modified, and beer came into being with the addition of blossoms from the hop plant. Numerous modern beers are labeled as ale, but as mentioned, technically “ale” means unhopped beer. In order to convert ale into beer, dried hop blossoms are added to the boiling wort mix after the mashing but before the yeast is allowed to act. This releases two resins, lupulon and humulon, that act as excellent natural preservatives, preventing the growth of certain types of bacteria which, although harmless to humans, are detrimental to beer. Before the use of hops, pure ale had a very limited “shelf life” and often spoiled, much as milk does. The diastases in barley also acted against the bacteria in question, but not nearly so effectively as hops. In fact, it can be argued that it was the harnessing of the preservative power of hops that permitted the production, storage, and distribution of beer in large quantities. Moreover, in addition to its antibacterial properties, the hop plant adds flavorful oils that mask the otherwise sweet taste of pure ale (Kloss 1959: 31-2).


Today, the use of hops is standard, and very little pure ale has been mass-produced in the twentieth century. Thus, the words ale and beer have become largely (if wrongly) synonymous. Modern technology and advanced techniques have modified and refined the brewing process considerably. The most commonly mass-produced type of beer is known as a “lager” or a “Pilsner” and is lighter in color and generally milder in taste than other beers.The vast majority of North and South American beers, most European beers, the beers of Australia, and those of nearly all major Asian nations are crafted in the Pilsner style.

Darker beers that are dryer and richer in taste are referred to as porters and stouts, with the latter merely a stronger, drier porter. Several popular German beers make use of large quantities of wheat rather than barley to make Weizenbier (wheat beer). Belgium is famous for fruity ales, typically known as “lambic” beers, the production of which involves a complex process of spontaneous fermentation. In addition to the use of fruits to add flavor, as in the case of the lambic beers, one method of increasing taste is “dry-hopping,” a process whereby additional hops are added at the end of the process to replace the residue lost when the wort and hop blossoms are first boiled together. Like hops, yeast and sugar are occasionally added to the bottle when it is sealed to further enhance the beer’s strength. This is not so much the production of yet another style of beer as it is a method of setting up a secondary fermentation process within the bottle to make stout, porter, and “bitter.”

Earliest Origins

No one has yet managed to date the origins of beer with any precision, and it is probably an impossible task. Indeed, there are scholars who have theorized that a taste for ale prompted the beginning of agriculture, in which case humans have been brewing for some 10,000 years (Katz and Voigt 1986). Most archaeological evidence, however, suggests that fermentation was being used in one manner or another by around 4000 to 3500 B.C. Some of this evidence—from an ancient Mesopotamian trading outpost called Godin Tepe in present-day Iran—indicates that barley was being fermented at that location around 3500 B.C. Additional evidence recovered at Hacinebi Tepe (a similar site in southern Turkey) also suggests that ancient Mesopotamians were fermenting barley at a very early date (Smith 1995).

At present, however, the evidence from both sites is sufficiently sparse to preclude any definitive assertion that the ancient Mesopotamians were the first people to make beer. On the other hand, one can speculate: There is no question that fermentation takes place accidentally (as it must have done countless times before humans learned something about controlling the process), and most investigators believe that barley was first cultivated in the Fertile Crescent region of lower Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Grain is heavy to transport relative to the beer made from it, so it is not surprising that there may be evidence of ale in these outposts and not unreasonable to suspect that accidental fermentation did occur at some point in the ancient Mesopotamian region, leading to beer making (Corran 1975: 15-16).

In any event, we know that not much later the Sumerians were, in fact, making beer. The clay tablets (unearthed from the ancient city of Uruk in Lower Mesopotamia—now Iraq—and dating from the second half of the fourth millennium) that tell the story of Gilgamesh, the fifth king of the second Sumerian dynasty, make it clear that ale was in widespread use (ToussaintSamat 1992), and Reay Tannahill (1988: 48) has written that “a staggering amount of the Sumerian grain yield went into ale;something like 40 percent of the total.”

At approximately the same time, people of the ancient Nubian culture to the south of Egypt were also fermenting a crude, ale-like beverage known as bousa, which is still brewed by African farmers and peasants to this day (Smith 1995). Indeed, although many scholars maintain that the Mesopotamian culture was the first to brew beer, others argue that it was the ancient people of East Africa who first produced and consumed a fermented product (Dirar 1993: 20).

In much the same fashion as with grain, the fermentation of fruit and fruit juices probably also occurred by accident at around this same time, leading to the earliest forms of wine. What is more difficult to ascertain, however, is how much knowledge ancient people had of the process. It is also difficult to know with any reasonable certainty how extensive their use of fermented barley was and exactly how much their ale might have resembled what the world now recognizes as beer.

The Importance of Ale in Early Societies

From the beginning of its production, ale (even in its crudest forms) would have been an important addition to an otherwise frequently limited diet. Resembling the chemical makeup of bread in several ways, ale was a convenient package of starches, sugars, and other grain by-products that provided nutritional supplementation. Similarly, for people with few means of storing foods for any length of time and who depended on the vagaries of nature for subsistence, ale could be an excellent (and doubtless at times vital) source of calories.

Moreover, ale (and later beer) afforded an escape from the feces-fouled drinking water that plagued peoples for millennia. Although humans, until very recently, had no knowledge of pathogenic infection, water (and milk) was understood to provoke dangerous illnesses, even death, whereas fermented beverages were considered safe. And because of sterilization by boiling and by the action of yeast, this was generally the case.

Ale was also important because the earliest cultures, particularly those of the Sumerians and Egyptians, attached religious significance to its consumption. And throughout the ages, savants frequently maintained that ale had curative properties. But probably the most important reason for drinking ale and other alcoholic beverages was to achieve a desired level of intoxication. Because invectives against drunkenness can be found in both the Bible and the Koran, we know that people, beset by life’s hardships or just seeking relaxation, were reaching that goal a long time ago. Indeed, the ancient Egyptians are credited with celebrating ale consumption by composing some of the world’s earliest-known drinking songs.

Brewing in Antiquity

Although the fermenting of barley probably developed independently in several cultures, knowledge of brewing technology doubtless was spread throughout the Middle East by various nomadic peoples. One aspect of brewing technology common to the Egyptians, Sumerians, and Babylonians alike was the use of baked loaves of malted barley and grain that resembled baked bread. There were several variations of this technique, but basically the loaves of barley and wheat, once baked, were covered with water to form a mash, which was then placed in an earthen vessel for a time. In some cases, fermentation probably occurred spontaneously. In others, it was doubtless generated by the presence of yeast cells in the cracks and linings of the earthen vessels that were used over and over again. But in addition, skillful brewers had most likely learned to keep the remains of a previous mix to use as a starter (Smith 1995: 12-13).

The Greeks probably gained most of their understanding of brewing from the Egyptians, although the Babylonians may also have passed along what they knew. The Roman Empire, at its height, had the advantage of being able to borrow brewing techniques eclectically from several cultures. Roman historians, for example, did not credit Rome with spreading information on ale making to the Germanic tribes of Europe. Rather, Tacitus recorded that these peoples were already fermenting a beverage from barley or wheat when they came into contact with Rome. Pliny also wrote of the barbarians and their beer, and it seems likely that the tribes of central and northern Europe gained brewing knowledge not from the Romans but from the Babylonians and other Asian civilizations. Or it could have been a situation such as that of the Celts of the British Isles, who are said to have developed a crude process of fermentation independently, but refined their ale-making skills with technology from other cultures (Corran 1975: 23-4).

Brewing in the Islamic World

By the time of the collapse of the Roman empire in the fifth century, the production of alcoholic beverages had been expanded, and beer was only one of many alcoholic beverages produced in the Arabian peninsula—a list which included a honey-based mead and fermented camel’s milk. Their consumption—and especially that of ale—was widespread before the advent of Islam, despite a number of localized religions that had instituted prohibitions against it. Along the caravan and trading routes, houses, taverns, and inns were prosperous businesses that supplied beer and mead to travelers and, in some locations, to townspeople as well (Ghalioungui 1979: 13-15).

The spread of the Islamic religion did not, at first, bring restriction of alcoholic beverages; indeed, the Koran, like the Bible, celebrated the drinking of wine. Rather quickly, however, Islamic teaching began to forbid drinking alcohol, although the degree to which the rule was observed varied from place to place (Ghalioungui 1979: 15).

Egypt was one area in which alcohol continued to be used, although in the years following the entrance of Islam into Egypt, various rulers periodically enforced the Muslim prohibition. But the consumption of fermented beverages was never entirely eradicated (Ghalioungui 1979: 15), and, among the peasant population, bousa continued to be produced and consumed as it had been for centuries.

Despite such exceptions, however, Islam had an enormous impact on beer brewing in the Middle East and elsewhere in the Muslim world, with the result that it never was the mass-produced, socially accepted beverage that it became in Europe during the Middle Ages. Europeans, especially monks in the monasteries of the Catholic Church, not only kept the knowledge of brewing alive but also began its refinement into a modern science.

Brewing in Europe

Over the course of the Middle Ages, beer brewing flourished in northern Europe (where foods laden with carbohydrates and fats required much liquid to wash them down) and evolved into a distinct industry (Tannahill 1988). As such, by the end of the Middle Ages, beer had become subject to taxation and also to government regulation (especially in Britain and the German states) aimed at standardizing the brewing process.

In the early Middle Ages, however, monasteries and churches were the principal ale makers in Europe. Because the church was at the center of the lives of the people, monasteries and churches commonly provided the settings for festivals, weddings, and other social gatherings that were lubricated with ale. Indeed, such was the control of the church over access to ale that it became a device for ensuring the participation of parishioners in church rituals. Later, as guilds developed, the church influenced—even controlled—many of their activities with the promise of ale.

In addition, monasteries were much more than just monastic retreats.The growing of food was one of the monks’ primary occupations, and as a rule, the land owned by their orders was sufficient enough for the rotation of crops in such a way as to ensure a constant supply of cereals. Much of the cereal produced—including spelt, wheat, oat, and rye, as well as barley—went into ale, the quality as well as quantity of which the monks improved upon, just as they did with their wines and cheeses (Toussaint-Samat 1992). Many monasteries also served as inns that provided room and board for travelers, and some became famous for their ales, their praise carried by church pilgrims, merchants, and others on the move.There is no question that monastery-produced ales, made on a near-industrial scale, brought in a very good income for the various orders.

Later, however, as the Middle Ages progressed, ale production in the towns and countryside began to rival that of the church. And as the craft passed into private hands, it mirrored other early trades with its guilds and specialization. Because of its limited shelf life (prior to the use of hops), ale was usually brewed and distributed on the same site, and consequently, the first brewers outside of the church were generally boardinghouse owners and tavern keepers who provided ale to travelers and guests. Local inns and taverns came to be regarded by townspeople and villagers alike as social gathering places (Corran 1975: 36-7).

Because water is vital to the brewing process, the breweries of taverns and inns had to be located near an abundant water supply. But the type of water was important. If it was hard water with lime, the fermentation process might not work well; if it had iron in it, the beer would always be cloudy.

Women frequently oversaw the breweries while their husbands ran the inns. In fact, women were much involved in the ale business, sometimes owning boardinghouses as well as breweries and holding special licenses to distribute their product.

By the end of the Middle Ages, breweries and drinking establishments of one sort or another had multiplied to the point where they overshadowed the monasteries, both in England and on the Continent. As the church ceased to dominate the brewing industry, states began to take an interest in both taxing and (because of increasing adulteration) regulating it. An example of the former is the 1551 licensing of English and Welsh alehouses for the first time (Trager 1995), although the classic example of regulation had come earlier, in 1516, when William VI, Duke of Bavaria, instituted aReinheitsgebot—an “Edict of Purity”—which decreed that the only ingredients permitted in beer were water, barley, malt, yeast, and hops. The edict is still in effect, now for all of Germany, but it is said that only Bavaria holds to it for exported beers.

Hops, which converted ale into modern beer, were coming into widespread use at about this time. Hop blossoms are derived from the hop plant (a relative of Cannabis), and as their use became common, a hop garden was an essential component of a brewery. As noted, the aromatic hop greatly enhanced the taste of ale, as did the addition of other herbs and flavorings. More importantly, however, hops greatly extended the life of ale, which in turn removed the necessity for locating breweries and taverns close to one another. The use of hops was eventually so universal that the brewing of pure ale became nearly extinct, until the modern, twentieth-century “Campaign for Real Ale” movement in Britain sought to revive what was perceived as a dying art.

The revolution that hops worked in the brewing industry, however, was a long time in coming. Since Neolithic times, hops were believed good for one’s health and sometimes carried the burden of a reputation as an aphrodisiac. It has been suggested that the utilization of hops in beer can be traced back as far as the ancient Egyptians. But we hear nothing of hops in beer in the Roman world. Pliny tells us only that the Romans ate hop shoots much like asparagus. During the early Middle Ages, hops were grown for medicinal purposes in gardens throughout the central European region from the North Sea and the Baltic to western Austria and northern Italy, but people apparently began putting them in ale only around the eighth or ninth century (Toussaint-Samat 1992).

The hop was only one of many herbs added to ales, but brewers sooner or later noticed that this herb improved the appearance of ale, that it acted as a diuretic, and most importantly, that it was a preservative. Nonetheless, the church successfully fought the widespread adoption of hops for centuries—apparently in part because of the aphrodisiac reputation of the plant, but also because the church, with its virtual monopoly on ale, did not welcome change. Moreover, hops were long viewed as an adulterant added to mask the taste of spoiled beer. Yet, somewhat ironically, it was probably the monks, with their considerable knowledge of medicinal herbs, who had added hops to ale in the first place (Toussaint-Samat 1992).

By the beginning of the sixteenth century, hops had become an essential ingredient for beers made on the Continent, and late in the reign of Henry VIII (died 1547), they were introduced to England.At first, the idea of adding hops to ale was a distressing one for the English, who continued to view them as adulterants and passed laws to prohibit their use. In 1554, however, Flemish hop growers emigrated to England to begin their production in Kent for a wary British brewing industry.Afterward, the use of hops was generally accepted, although many clung to their unhopped ales. Not until around 1700 was ale in England regularly hopped and the terms “ale” and “beer” accepted there as more or less identical (McGee 1984; Trager 1995).

The preservative powers of the hop plant contributed to the development of larger breweries producing beer in ever greater quantities—a trend in both England and Europe throughout the sixteenth and into the seventeenth centuries, especially in Flanders, northern and eastern France, and Bavaria, where the climate best suited the growing of hops. Because hops endowed beer with a greatly extended shelf life, brewers could now locate at a distance from the towns and, consequently, close to less-polluted stretches of streams and rivers, whose waters contributed to better-quality beers. Such moves were also necessitated by the regulatory measures of crowded cities, which sought to minimize the fire hazards arising from kilns burning in brewery buildings constructed of wood. Converting brewhouses into stone or brick structures or, alternatively, moving them out of the cities were both expensive options, and as a result, the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Europe also saw a trend toward fewer breweries—but much larger ones that, in many cases, were the forerunners of modern breweries still in operation at the end of the twentieth century.

With the mass production of high-quality beers, brewers cast an eye on the export market, and as exporting beer became a widespread endeavor, states enacted laws to regulate trade. One example of this trend comes from sixteenth-century England, where because of concern that the volume exportation of beer in wood casks and barrels would accelerate the dwindling of the island’s supply of timber, brewers were compelled to bring as much wood into the country as they sent away.

Brewing in the New World

Traditional interpretations hold that beer and brewing technology came to the Americas from Europe via the Jamestown settlers and the Pilgrims. However, several indigenous American cultures (outside of North America) had developed fermented products long before the Europeans arrived. In the Andean society of the Incan empire, the fermentation of beverages was well established—the term chicha referring collectively to the numerous indigenous fermented beverages of South America.

The chicha of the Incas was elaborated primarily from maize, although there were variants, including beverages made from manioc roots and peanuts, to name just two. It is interesting to note that in the absence of hops, diastases (by-products important for flavoring and increasing alcohol content) were introduced to maize beer from human saliva, as moistened maize powder was rolled into balls and placed in the mouth (Morris 1979: 22).

Evidence from Spanish colonial sources and archaeological finds suggests that the production and consumption of maize beer was fairly widespread in the Andes area. Like the ales of Europe, chicha was not only a significant component of religious and economic life but served nutritional needs as well. Its importance was apparent in its large-scale, state-controlled production—revealed by archaeological excavations that have indicated the existence of state-run breweries and distribution centers (Morris 1979: 26-7).

The mass production of chicha in the Incan empire was abolished by the Spaniards, but the making of maize beer on a smaller scale remained widespread and continues today in the Andes and elsewhere. The relatively high price of modern beer makes chicha an attractive alternative in the rural areas of Central and South America.

Another indigenous American beverage that is still produced is a Brazilian beer known as kaschiri, which is fermented from manioc roots. Its manufacture is similar to the Incan maize beer in that the tubers are chewed and moistened by salivation. Maize is also used by Indians in Mexico to make a crude beer called tesguino. Far more pervasive, however, was pulque, the fermented juice of the agave, a plant which later was employed to make tequila. Like other local beverages among impoverished peoples, both pulque and tesguino still deliver important nutrients to their Mexican Indian consumers.

Since the Spanish conquest in Mexico and South America and the English settlement of North America, none of the indigenous American beverages have been produced on a large scale except for pulque, which remained a common drink of poor Mexicans until well into the 1940s.The mass-produced, twentieth-century beers of Central and South America are almost universally hopped Pilsners and employ techniques brought to the New World by Europeans.

Brewing in Early North America

Beer and ale were present from the beginning in the English settlements of North America. Records of both the London Company and the Jamestown colony indicate that beer reached the latter in 1607, its very first year of existence. But in those early years, beer was too bulky (and thus too expensive) to transport efficiently; it also spoiled in the summer heat, and so the colonists soon began brewing their own (Rorabaugh 1979: 108-9). Although barley and hops were not at hand, other basic materials that would ferment, such as persimmons, pumpkins, maize, Jerusalem artichokes, and maple sugar, were abundant in eastern America, and by 1609, the governor of Virginia was advertising for brewers to come to the colony (Baron 1962: 4).

A bit later, in Massachusetts, the Puritans—like other Europeans of the age who justifiably viewed water consumption with intense suspicion—had followed suit and were brewing their own beer. The Puritans also pioneered some of America’s first regulatory statutes for the production, distribution, and consumption of the beverage. By 1637, taverns and inns had to be licensed by the General Court, and it was forbidden for them to brew their own product. Rather, beer was to be obtained from a commercial brewer, also licensed by the court, who was enjoined to sell at court-specified prices. By 1629, similar regulations had also been adopted in Virginia (which now had two large brewhouses).

Not that there were all that many taverns in early America, and beer was more often than not brewed and consumed in the home.Those who had access to barley or could afford to import malt from England produced something a European might recognize; other beers continued to be made from local ingredients and from West Indies molasses. In addition, beer was imported on a fairly large scale from England, or from the Netherlands in the case of New Amsterdam, where the Dutch had established beer as a prominent drink back in the 1620s.

Beer production kept pace with the growing population throughout the remainder of the seventeenth century and into the eighteenth, with Philadelphia and Boston becoming major brewing towns. As was the case in Europe, the vast majority of colonial towns had taverns that not only provided places of lodging for travelers but also served as local social centers. These dispensed some beer, but rum and (to a lesser extent) corn whiskey and cider increasingly enjoyed more appeal, and even tea, made available in quantity by British mercantilism, cut into beer consumption. Nonetheless, that consumption grew anyway in the eighteenth century because the population was growing (Baron 1962: 56-8).


The eighteenth century also saw numerous innovations in beer production, although as a rule, these were slow to reach America. One illustration has to do with what is typically called porter. During the period, working men in England would often order ale and a few other beers mixed together in a tankard, and tavern keepers came to dread the extra time and effort required to satisfy such a request. Eventually, however, several of these brews were being mixed together in a single cask with extra hops. The resulting dark, strong, beverage was called porter, after the London laborers (“porters”) who popularized it. It was during this period as well that many of the familiar English beers, such as Courage, Whitbread, and Guinness, were born.

Another significant technological innovation in beer brewing was glass bottling, which came into widespread use in the eighteenth century. Glass bottles made beer easier to transport and store and, after the advent of sealed bottles, extended its shelf life. But because the Industrial Revolution was first an English and European phenomenon (and because of British mercantile restrictions), glass bottling in America began in earnest only after the Revolution. Glass bottles enabled people to store and consume beer at home with greater ease and, perhaps coupled with the growth of alternative beverages, diminished the role of the tavern in the social life of towns.

By about 1750, coke and coal were providing maltsters with greater control over the roasting of malt, which made possible the brewing of pale and amber beers, and a classification system to differentiate these from the dark stout and porter brews became an important issue. Later in the century, thermometers and hydrometers added more control to the different stages of the brewing process, and in 1817, a “patent malt” was developed that made stout and porter brews lighter than they had previously been—beginning a trend toward less-alcoholic beer that continues to this day (McGee 1984).

Brewing in the Modern World

In the nineteenth century, beer brewing was revolutionized by a process that had originally been discovered back when hops were just beginning to find their way into ale on a regular basis. Until about 1400, “top” fermentation had been the procedure used. However, at about that time in Bavaria, the process of “bottom” fermentation was developed—”top” and “bottom” indicating where yeast collects in the vat. Bottom fermentation permits the manufacture of a lighter beer, but it was not until the 1840s that the technique spread from Bavaria first to Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, and Copenhagen, Denmark, and then to the wider world.”Pilsner lager” became the prototype of modern beers, with only England and Belgium persisting in the use of top fermentation.

Yet even before the spread of the new lager beer, the nineteenth century had begun to witness the rise of large-scale commercial breweries. These were encouraged by the growth of cities, which provided mass markets and rising wages for an ever-growing urban working class. By 1800, brewers in England, such as Whitbread and Barclay Perkins, were producing 100,000 to 200,000 barrels of beer per year. The largest brewer,Arthur Guinness, held a virtual monopoly in Ireland (Hawkins 1979: 14).

At about midcentury, German immigrants set about completely transforming the brewing industry in the United States. It was in 1844 that Frederick Lauer—a second-generation brewer in Reading, Pennsylvania—introduced the new lagering process, and the business of beer exploded. During the 1850s and 1860s, under the direction of other German immigrants, both Milwaukee and St. Louis became the major centers of the lager industry, with Pabst, Schlitz, Miller, and Blatz becoming giants in the former and Anheuser and Busch in the latter. Companies that came into being outside of these centers around this time were Hamm in St. Paul, Heileman in La Crosse, and Stroh in Detroit. Almost overnight, the Pilsner-style beers edged out the darker and richer beers that had first reached America with the English colonists.

More innovations came along to improve them. The development by Copenhagen’s Carlsberg brewery of an absolutely pure brewer’s yeast—which would end brewing failures—occurred in 1883. With the turn-of-the-century development of airtight kegs and carbonation, America’s beers became bubbly, Pilsner-style beers, and in 1935, the Krueger company of New Jersey introduced the first canned beer (Trager 1995).

The Anheuser-Busch company may be said to embody the story of American beer. Formed by German immigrants Eberhard Anheuser and Adolphus Busch in the mid-nineteenth century, it capitalized on improved transportation and aggressive marketing techniques to the extent that, by 1901, the company was producing more than 1 million barrels of beer annually and had become the first to mass-market bottled beer. To provide the freshest beer available, Anheuser-Busch formed its own refrigerated railcar company and was one of the first brewers to employ pasteurization techniques (Smith 1995: 114-15). The company survived Prohibition by producing “near-beer” and malt for home brewers, maintained and even updated its brewing equipment, and emerged aggressively from those difficult times to become the giant it is today.

One reason for the popularity of lager beer in the United States is that hot summer days seem to call for ice-cold beverages, and the heavier beers did (and do) not lend themselves well to chilling. Presumably this explains why the British and many other Europeans drink beer that is at room temperature or perhaps cool but not cold. Another reason, however, is taste. Many believe that chilling removes taste, and in fact, most non-Americans do not particularly care for American beer, which they find to be uniformly bland in taste and lacking in character. European Pilsners contain less in the way of chemicals and generally more in the way of alcohol than American beers. On the other hand, Americans in general—and not just those in the United States—enjoy cold lagers; in fact, Mexico and Brazil are among the world’s top beer-producing countries. Mexican breweries in particular make a wide selection of light-tasting lagers, with perhaps Corona, along with Dos Equis (a dark Pilsner), among the best known (Pepper 1996).

It was Americans who introduced Foster’s beer to Australia in 1888 and did it “American style” with refrigeration, bottom fermentation, and bottling—in the process creating a product that became Australia’s national drink. In Jamaica, by contrast, the famous Red Stripe continued under English influence to be a dark, alelike brew until 1934, after which it finally was transformed into a light-tasting lager (Trager 1995).

Beer was brought to East Africa by the British in 1922 and is brewed there today mainly by East Africa Breweries in both Kenya and Uganda. Kenya Breweries, a subsidiary of East Africa Breweries, produces the Tusker lagers, some of the best-known beers in Africa (Pepper 1996: 135). Nigeria and South Africa, however, are the major beer producers on the African continent. Most of Nigeria’s beer is brewed by Guinness and Heineken (both of which have major stakes in Nigeria), along with several indigenous breweries. South Africa’s beer is produced by South African Breweries and is almost entirely in the lager style (Pepper 1996: 135).

Lager beer reached Asia in 1904, when German and British entrepreneurs established a Western-style brewery along the coast of northern China, producing a brand known as Tsingtao.The Dai Nippon Beer Company of Japan acquired the Tsingtao Brewery in 1916 and retained it until after World War II. In 1932, Japan continued the spread of lager in East Asia by constructing another brewery in Manchuria and introduced breweries into Korea as well. The Dai Nippon Beer Company, along with Kirin, dominated the Japanese beer market until broken up by American occupation authorities in the aftermath of World War II (Laker 1986: 60, 1987: 25-8).

Throughout the twentieth century, the trend has been toward ever larger commercial brewers. In the United States, for example, the number of large breweries has decreased from more than 200 to less than 50. Today, it is mostly lager beers that are consumed globally, and these are produced by big corporations for large markets—often international ones.Although European and American lagers tend to dominate the world market, one exception to this trend is Singha, a lager from Thailand, which is one of the few Asian beers that enjoy a wide degree of export to the West, especially as Thai restaurants continue to grow in popularity (Pepper 1996: 130).

The exceptions to the dominance of mass-produced, globally marketed beers are the products of some “microbreweries” (but not those connected with the giant brewing companies) that found a ready market in the 1980s and 1990s, when entrepreneurs began distributing innumerable beers that were produced either in a “brew pub” or in a small brewery. Microbrewers offer a uniqueness not found in mass-produced beers, crafting their microbrews in a fashion reminiscent of earlier days, when beer production was confined to monasteries, village breweries, or to the home itself. Generally priced higher than their mass-produced counterparts but with a more refined appeal, microbrews have established a niche among the more affluent consumers in America and Europe.