Why do the British drink beer?
Beer has been the traditional drink of the English and Welsh since before those nations came into existence. The reason for its popularity lies in its flavour, alcoholic strength and the ease with which it can be brewed.
Quite when the British first brewed beer is unclear. Greek merchants writing in about 300bc spoke of a Celtic drink called curmi, which is similar to the modern Irish word for beer - cuirm. But beer was almost certainly being made in Britain long before that time. And beer has remained the staple alcoholic drink of the British ever since.
The reason for its huge popularity is simply that the ingredients for beer can be produced in Britain with ease. Water has rarely been a problem in islands where the rain falls so often and so steadily. Streams and rivers run everywhere, and wells can be sunk down to the water table with few problems. Some water is better for brewing that others, it is true. That of Burton upon Trent is particularly famous and has made that town a centre for the brewing industry. The soft, mineral-free water is ideal for producing a rich malt without impairing the flavour. The fame of the town’s beer began spreading in the middle ages, but was given a huge boost in 1777 when William Bass opened his famous brewery. The brewery still produces beer and is today equipped with a museum of brewing to attract the tourists.
The second principle ingredient of beer is grain, usually barley but sometimes wheat. Again, grain grows readily in Britain where the rich soils and gentle climate encourage a fairly soft grain, low in gluten, which is favoured by brewers. The grain is sprayed with water and allowed to germinate so that the starch which makes flour is converted into sugar which can be fermented.
The final ingredient of modern beer, hops, flourish in Kent and other warm areas, though the vast majority of hops used in British beers are now imported from abroad. In any case, hops are only the most recent of many flavourings added to beer over the years.