A history of beer and brewing

A history of beer and brewing
Ian Hornsey
Cambridge: RSC 2003 | Pp xviii + 742 | ?39.95 |
Reviewed by Peter Wilde

A History of Beer and Brewing is a comprehensive account of the development of beer and brewing through the ages. From the putative, accidental fermentations of ripened fruit in prehistoric times; through the well-developed and well-documented brewing cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia; to the spread of brewing across Europe, leading to large scale commercial processes, the industrial revolution and finally the issues that shape modern day brewing.

Although I would recommend this book to serious beer enthusiasts and researchers, it is not for the faint of heart. With more than 700 pages, it deals with all aspects of the history of brewing in great detail, perhaps too much detail for some. However, it is well organised and laid out so that the less intrepid reader digest smaller portions of history. There is an immense amount of background information underlying the development of beer and brewing throughout history. The early developments of brewing are described alongside detailed accounts of the social, demographic and cultural changes taking place, together with agronomical issues such as farming techniques and crop development. As history moves on, the significant scientific and technological advances are discussed in more detail as the brewing process was refined, scaled up and optimised. All these aspects give a much deeper understanding of how beer has evolved and achieved its universal popularity. The literature is reviewed in vast detail, giving the reader contrasting accounts and opinions to give a more balanced insight into the issues involved.

Ideally I would recommend that this book is accompanied by a winter evening, an open fire and a glass of fine ale. This will enable the reader to feel at one with generations of brewers throughout the ages who have aided and abetted the evolution of this most pleasant and popular of beverages.