1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Beer

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BEER, a beverage obtained by a process of alcoholic fermentation mainly from cereals (chiefly malted barley), hops and water. The history of beer extends over several thousand years. According to Dr Bush, a beer made from malt or red barley is mentioned in Egyptian writings as early as the fourth dynasty. It was called 1911 Britannica - Beer - heqa.png or heqa. Papyri of the time of Seti I. (1300 B.C.) allude to a person inebriated from over-indulgence in beer. In the second book (c. 77) of Herodotus (450 B.C.) we are told that the Egyptians, being without vines, made wine from barley (cf. Aesch. Suppl. 954); but as the grape is mentioned so frequently in Scripture and elsewhere as being most abundant there, and no record exists of the vine being destroyed, we must conclude that the historian was only partially acquainted with the productions of that most fertile country. Pliny (Natural History, xxii. 82) informs us that the Egyptians made wine from corn, and gives it the name of zythum, which, in the Greek, means drink from barley. The Greeks obtained their knowledge of the art of preparing beer from the Egyptians. The writings of Archilochus, the Parian poet and satirist who flourished about 650 B.C., contain evidence that the Greeks of his day were acquainted with the process of brewing. There is, in fact, little doubt that the discovery of beer and its use as an exhilarating beverage were nearly as early as those of the grape itself, though both the Greeks and the Romans despised it as a barbarian drink. Dioscorides mentions two kinds of beer, namely ζῦθος and κοῦρμι, but he does not describe them sufficiently to enable us to distinguish them. Sophocles and other Greek writers, again, styled it βρῦτον. In the time of Tacitus (1st century after Christ), according to him, beer was the usual drink of the Germans, and there can be little doubt that the method of malting barley was then known to them. Pliny (Nat. Hist. xxii. 82) mentions the use of beer in Spain under the name of celia and ceria and in Gaul under that of cerevisia; and elsewhere (xiv. 29) he says:—“The natives who inhabit the west of Europe have a liquid with which they intoxicate themselves, made from corn and water. The manner of making this liquid is somewhat different in Gaul, Spain and other countries, and it is called by different names, but its nature and properties are everywhere the same. The people in Spain in particular brew this liquid so well that it will keep good a long time. So exquisite is the cunning of mankind in gratifying their vicious appetites that they have thus invented a method to make water itself produce intoxication.”

The knowledge of the preparation of a fermented beverage from cereals in early times was not confined to Europe. Thus, according to Dr H. H. Mann, the Kaffir races of South Africa have made for ages—and still make—a kind of beer from millet, and similarly the natives of Nubia, Abyssinia and other parts of Africa prepare an intoxicating beverage, generally called bousa, from a variety of cereal grains. The Russian quass, made from barley and rye, the Chinese samshu, made from rice, and the Japanese saké (q.v.) are all of ancient origin. Roman historians mention the fact that the Britons in the south of England at the time of the Roman invasion brewed a species of ale from barley and wheat. The Romans much improved the methods of brewing in vogue among the Britons, and the Saxons—among whom ale had long been a common beverage—in their turn profited much by the instruction given to the original inhabitants of Great Britain by the Romans. We are informed by William of Malmesbury that in the reign of Henry II. the English were greatly addicted to drinking, and by that time the monasteries were already famous, both in England and on the continent, for the excellence of their ales. The waters of Burton-on-Trent began to be famous in the 13th century. The secret of their being so especially adapted for brewing was first discovered by some monks, who held land in the adjacent neighbourhood of Wetmore. There is a document dated 1295 in which it is stated that Matilda, daughter of Nicholas de Shoben, had re-leased to the abbot and convent of Burton-on-Trent certain tenements within and without the town; for which re-lease they granted her, daily for life, two white loaves from the monastery, two gallons of conventual beer, and one penny, besides seven gallons of beer for the men. The abbots of Burton apparently made their own malt, for it was a common covenant in leases of mills belonging to the abbey that the malt of the lords of the manor, both spiritual and temporal, should be ground free of charge. Robert Plot, in his Natural History of Staffordshire (1686), refers to the peculiar properties of the Burton waters, from which, he says, “by an art well known in this country good ale is made, in the management of which they have a knack of fining it in three days to that degree that it shall not only be potable, but is clear and palatable as we could desire any drink of this kind to be.” In 1630 Burton beer began to be known in London, being sold at “Ye Peacocke” in Gray’s Inn Lane, and according to the Spectator was in great demand amongst the visitors in Vauxhall. Until tea and coffee were introduced, beer and ale (see Ale) were, practically speaking, the only popular beverages accessible to the general body of consumers. Since the advent of tea, coffee, cocoa and mineral waters, the character of British beers has undergone a gradual modification, the strongly alcoholic, heavily hopped liquids consumed by the previous generation slowly giving place to the lighter beverages in vogue at the present time. The old “stock bitter” has given way to the “light dinner ale,” and “porter” (so called from the fact that it was the popular drink amongst the market porters of the 18th century) has been largely replaced by “mild ale.” A certain quantity of strong beer—such as heavy stouts and “stock” and “Scotch” ales—is still brewed nowadays, but it is not an increasing one. The demand is almost entirely for medium beers such as mild ale, light stout, and the better class of “bitter” beers, and light beers such as the light “family ales,” “dinner ales” and lager.

The general run of beers contain from 3 to 6% of alcohol and 4 to 7% of solids, the remainder being water and certain flavouring and preservative matters derived from the malt, hops and other materials employed in their manufacture. The solid, i.e. non-volatile, matter contained in solution in beer consists mainly of maltose or malt sugar, of several varieties of dextrin (see Brewing), of substances which stand in an intermediate position between the sugars and the dextrins proper, and of a number of bodies containing nitrogen, such as the non-coagulable proteids, peptones, &c. In addition there is an appreciable quantity of mineral matter, chiefly phosphates and potash. Dietetically regarded, therefore, beer possesses considerable food value, and, moreover, the nutritious matter in beer is present in a readily assimilable form.

It is probable that the average adult member of the British working classes consumes not less than two pints of beer daily. A reasonable calculation places the total proteids and carbohydrates consumed by the average worker at 140 and 400 grammes respectively. Taking the proteid content of the average beer at 0.4% and the carbohydrate content at 4%, a simple calculation shows that about 3% of the total proteid and 11% of the total carbohydrate food of the average worker will be consumed in the shape of beer.

The chemical composition of beers of different types will be gathered from the following tables.


A. English Beers.

(Analyses by J. L. Baker, Hulton & P. Schidrowitz.)

I. Mild Ales.


 Number.   Original Gravity.   Alcohol %.   Extractives (Solids) %. 
1.[1]
2.1 
3.[2]
1055.13
1055.64
1071.78
4.17
4.47
5.57
6.1
5.7
7.3


II. Light Bitters and Ales.


 Number.   Original Gravity.   Alcohol %.   Extractives (Solids) %. 
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
1046.81
1047.69
1047.79
1050.30
1038.31
4.15
4.23
4.61
4.53
3.81
4.0
4.1
3.2
4.2
3.5


III. Pale and Stock Ales.


 Number.   Original Gravity.   Alcohol %.   Extractives (Solids) %. 
1.[3]
2.[4]
3.4 
1059.01
1068.58
1076.80
4.77
5.48
6.68
5.8
7.1
5.9


IV. Stouts and Porter.


 Number.   Original Gravity.   Alcohol %.   Extractives (Solids) %. 
1.[5]
2.[6]
3.6 
4.[7]
1072.92
1054.26
1081.62
1054.11
6.14
4.73
6.02
3.90
6.3
4.5
8.8
6.5


The figures in the above tables are very fairly representative of different classes of British and Irish beers. It will be noticed that the Mild Ales are of medium original gravity[8] and alcoholic strength, but contain a relatively large proportion of solid matter. The Light Bitters and Ales are of a low original gravity, but compared with the Mild Ales the proportion of alcohol to solids is higher. The Pale and Stock Ales, which represent the more expensive bottle beers, are analytically of much the same character as the Light Bitters, except that the figures all round are much higher. The Stouts, as a rule, are characterized by a high gravity, and contain relatively more solids (as compared with alcohol) than do the heavy beers of light colour. With regard to the proportions of the various matters constituting the extractives (solids) in English beers, roughly 20-30% consists of maltose and 20-50% of dextrinous matter. In mild ales the proportion of maltose to dextrin is high (roughly 1:1), thus accounting for the full sweet taste of these beers. Pale and stock ales, on the other hand, which are of a “dry” character, contain relatively more dextrin, the general ratio being about 1:1½ or 1:2. The mineral matter (“ash”) of beers is generally in the neighbourhood of 0.2 to 0.3%, of which about one-fourth is phosphoric acid. The proteid (“nitrogenous matters”) content of beers varies very widely according to character and strength, the usual limits being 0.3 to 0.8%, with an average of roughly 0.4%.


B. Continental Beers.

(Analyses by A. Doemens.)


 Description.   Original 
 Gravity. 
 Alcohol %.   Extractives 
 (Solids) %. 
Munich Draught Dark
 ”   ”  ”
Munich Draught Light 
 ”   ”  ”
Munich Export
 ”   ”
Munich Bock Beer[9]
Pilsener Bottle
Pilsener Draught
Berlin Dark
Berlin Light
Berlin Weissbier
1056.4
1052.6
1048.0
1048.1
1054.3
1059.5
1076.6
1047.7
1044.3
1055.2
1056.5
1033.1
3.76
3.38
3.18
4.05
3.68
4.15
4.53
3.47
3.25
3.82
4.36
2.644
6.58
6.45
5.55
3.92
6.32
7.48
10.05
4.90
4.58
6.17
5.46
3.01


It will be seen that, broadly speaking, the original gravity of German and Austrian beers is lower than that of English beers, and this also applies to the alcohol. On the other hand, the foreign beers are relatively very rich in solids, and the extractives: alcohol ratio is high. (See Brewing.)


C. American Beers and Ales.

(Analyses by M. Wallerstein.)


Description.   Original  
Gravity.
  Alcohol %.     Extractives  
(Solids) %.
1. Bottom Fermentation Beers (Lager Type).
2.  ”   ”         ”
3.  ”   ”         ”
4.  ”   ”         ”
5.  ”   ”         ”
1. Top Fermentation Ales (British Type).
2.  ”   ”         ”
3.  ”   ”         ”
1046.7
1055.6
1063.4
1046.0
1051.7
1084.2
1073.5
1068.0
3.48
3.56
4.12
2.68
3.42
5.89
6.46
5.50
5.08
6.50
7.43
5.96
5.86
8.60
5.69
5.53

It will be noted that the American beers (i.e. bottom fermentation products of the lager type) are very similar in composition to the German beers, but that the ales are very much heavier than the general run of the corresponding British products.

Production and Consumption.—(For manufacture of beer, see Brewing.) Germany is the greatest beer-producing nation, if liquid bulk be taken as a criterion; the United States comes next, and the United Kingdom occupies the third place in this regard. The consumption per head, however, is slightly greater in the United Kingdom than in Germany, and very much greater than is the case in the United States. The 1905 figures with regard to the total production and consumption of the three great beer-producing countries, together with those for 1885, are as under:—


Country. Total Production (Gallons). Consumption per
  Head of Population  
(Gallons).

  German Empire.  
 United States.
 United Kingdom.
1905. 1885. 1905. 1885
  1,538,240,000
  1,434,114,180
  1,227,933,468[10]  
  932,228,000  
494,854,000
993,759,000
  26.3
  19.9
  27.9010  
19.8  
8.8  
27.1  

The chief point of interest in the preceding table is the enormous increase in the United States. In considering the figures, the character of the beer produced must be taken into consideration. Thus, although Germany produces roughly 25% more beer in liquid measurement than the United Kingdom, the latter actually uses about 50% more malt than is the case in the German breweries. According to a Viennese technical journal, the quantities of malt employed for the production of one hectolitre (22 gallons) of beer in the respective countries is 0.40 cwt. in the German empire, 0.72 cwt. in the United States, and 0.81 cwt. in the United Kingdom. In a sense, therefore, England may still claim pre-eminence as a beer-producing nation. Large as the per capita consumption in the United Kingdom may seem, it is considerably less than is the case in Bavaria, which stands at the head of the list with over 50 gallons, and in Belgium, which comes second with 47.7 gallons. In the city of Munich the consumption is actually over 70 gallons, that is to say, about 1½ pints a day for every man, woman and child. It is curious to note that in Germany, which is usually regarded as a beer-drinking country par excellence, the consumption per head of this article is slightly less than in England, and that inversely the average German consumes more alcohol in the shape of spirits than does the inhabitant of the British Islands (consumption of spirits per head: Germany, 1.76 gallons; United Kingdom, 0.99 gallons). This is accounted for by the fact that the peasantry of the northern and eastern portions of the German empire consume spirits almost exclusively. In the British colonies beer is generally one of the staple drinks, but if we except Western Australia, where about 25 gallons per head of population are consumed, the demand is much smaller than in the United Kingdom. In Australia generally, the per capita consumption amounts to about 12 gallons, in New Zealand to 10 gallons, and in Canada to 5 gallons.  (P. S.) 


  1. London Ales.
  2. Strong Burton Mild Ale.
  3. Fairly representative of “Pale Ales.”
  4. Heavy Stock Ales.
  5. Irish Stout.
  6. Nos. 2 and 3 are respectively “single” and “double” London Stouts from the same brewery.
  7. London Porter or Cooper.
  8. The specific gravity, or “gravity” as it is always termed in the industry, of the brewer is 1000 times the specific gravity of the physicist. This is purely a matter of convention and convenience. Thus when a brewer speaks of a wort of a “gravity” of 1045 (ten-forty-five) he means a wort having a specific gravity of 1.045. Each unit in the brewer’s scale of specific gravity is termed a “degree of gravity.” The wort referred to above, therefore, possesses forty-five degrees of gravity. The “original gravity,” it may here be mentioned, represents the specific gravity of the wort (see Brewing) before fermentation. The solids in the original wort may be ascertained by dividing the excess of the gravity over 1000 by 3.86. Thus in the case of Mild Ale No. 1 the excess of the original gravity over 1000 is 1055.13 − 1000 = 55.13. Dividing this by 3.86 we get 14.28, which indicates that the wort from which the beer was manufactured contained 14.28% of solids. In the trade the gravity of a beer (or rather of the wort from which it is derived) is generally expressed in pounds per barrel. This means the excess in weight of a barrel of the wort over the weight of a barrel of water. The weight of a barrel (36 gallons) of water is 360 ℔; in the above example the weight of a barrel of the beer wort is 360 × 1.05513 = 379.8. The gravity of the wort in ℔ is therefore 379.8 − 360 = 19.8. The beer which is made from this wort would also be called a 19.8 ℔ beer, the reference in all cases being to the original wort.
  9. A particularly heavy beer, only brewed at certain times in the year.
  10. The maxima of production and consumption were reached in 1899/1900, when the production amounted to 1,337,509,116 gallons (at the standard gravity) and consumption to 32.28 gallons per head.