From its earliest beginnings some 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent along the river systems of the Tigris and Euphrates, the trade (some would say art) of brewing has spread worldwide to sustain almost all societies and cultures.
In Britain, brewing had developed under the Romans and continued under the Anglo-Saxon farmers and via the early monasteries, but it would be the assassination of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket in 1170 which changed the pace of development. His death saw a huge increase in 'pilgramage', and a new impetus in the use of monasteries and other establishments providing food, drink and an overnight stay.
He was eventually created the patron saint of the Brewers Company, one of London's trade guilds.
The single most influential change in the history of brewing was the introduction of hops as an ingredient.
The earliest documentation of hops as a cultivated crop is from the Hallertau district of Bavaria in 736AD. However, because of protective trade practices, (including, in Czechoslovakia where King Wenceslas (he of the Victorian Christmas carol), as a safeguard against his Country's trade, passed an edict ordering the death of anyone caught exporting cuttings), hops were not used in the brewing process until 1079, and even then it was a slow development.
The Archbishop of Cologne held all rights to the use of gruit in beer making in the Town, and presented many obstacles in the way of other brewers, but it was the preservation properties of hops which increased the life of the beers, therefore the storage and possible transportation, and therefore increased sales, which saw the brewing process using hops gradually take over.
Because of high import duties, it took another one hundred years for hopped beers to become established in Holland.
During the 14th century, English troops operating in the Low Countries gained a taste for hopped beers, and by 1400, England was importing hopped beer from Holland.
Hops were first planted as a crop in England in 1428.
This change from unhopped to hopped beer saw a number of improvements -
hops clarified the wort, gave the finished beer a 'head' and helped to preserve it longer. Unhopped ale had always needed to be strong in order for it to keep for any length of time, but the extra preservation provided by the use of hops meant that beer could be 'milder' and equal amounts could be made using only half as much malted barley.
However, hop growing in Britain proved to be a hazardous business. Insect attack and disease often destroyed crops and yields, beer production and therefore prices fluctuated greatly, but, because water purity could not be guaranteed, it was beer which included boiling in the brewing process, which remained the most popular drink.
So, from the Monasteries, small scale farms and individual domestic and ale-house brewing outlets, through the rise of commercial brewing in the 19th century, to the return in modern times.to the micro-brewery, this section depicts some of the history of brewing in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland.