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Episode
305

Cheers! A Short History of Beer

Oct 11, 2022
History
-
19
minutes

It's the world's third most popular drink, after water and tea, and it has a fascinating history.

In this episode, we look at the development of beer over the years through three different stories, from Dublin to Delhi to Bavaria, and learn five curious facts about this popular drink.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about beer.

[00:00:27] Now, you might love beer, you might hate beer, but no matter your feelings about it, the story of beer is fascinating.

[00:00:35] It’s a story of how simple ingredients have been put together to create the world’s third most popular drink, after water and tea that is.

[00:00:45] And in telling this story, we’ll come across breweries, German dukes, the pyramids, soldiers and spas.

[00:00:53] And to cap it all off, at the end you’ll learn five interesting and surprising facts about beer.

[00:01:00] So, let’s get right into it and talk about the history of this wonderful drink.

[00:01:06] Let’s start with a simple question.

[00:01:09] What actually is beer?

[00:01:11] If you look in a dictionary, you might find something like “an alcoholic drink made from yeast-fermented malt flavoured with hops.”

[00:01:20] But, as any continental European who has gone to a British pub, asked for a “beer”, and been slightly confused about what they are given will know, “beer” means different things to different people.

[00:01:35] For most of the world, a “beer”, “une bière”, “una birra”, “ ein Bier”, this typically means a fizzy, yellow-coloured liquid that is kept cool, in a fridge.

[00:01:47] It often comes in a bottle, and when poured into a glass a sort of foamy head, bubbles, will form at the top.

[00:01:57] But “beer”, especially if you are in a more traditional British pub, means something slightly different.

[00:02:05] If you ask for a “beer” you might find someone pulling down hard on a lever, pulling it back and forth, and then handing you a dark, non-fizzy brown liquid.

[00:02:17] And, shock horror to many Europeans, it’s often quite warm, it’s not cold.

[00:02:24] Now, both drinks are technically “beer”, but you might hear British people referring to the former as a “lager” and the latter as an “ale”.

[00:02:36] Although the end result is pretty different, the ingredients and process for making them are pretty similar.

[00:02:43] Both typically have four ingredients: barley, water, yeast and a magical plant called hops.

[00:02:53] Barley is a very common grain, it’s the fourth most produced grain in the world, after corn, rice and wheat.

[00:03:01] Water is, well, it’s water. But the kind of water does matter, as we’ll come to in a bit.

[00:03:08] Yeast is the bit that turns the sugar into alcohol.

[00:03:12] And hops, this magical plant, is an ingredient used both to add flavour, and to preserve the beer, to stop it going off, going bad. These four ingredients are the key to beer.

[00:03:27] “Yeast”, as you may know, was only really understood as a separate living organism in the 19th century, so, although it has been used for millennia, and was used in beer production, it wasn’t as well understood as the other three ingredients.

[00:03:43] In fact, there was even a German 16th century law declaring that there were the only three ingredients allowed in beer.

[00:03:53] Yes, in 1516 Wilhelm IV, the Duke of Bavaria, declared the so-called Reinheitsgebot. 

[00:04:02] If you translate this into English, it means the “purity law”, and it states that there should only be three ingredients for beer: barley, water, and hops.

[00:04:14] The yeast was, of course, there, it just wasn’t identified as a separate ingredient.

[00:04:20] Interestingly enough, this law was not so much to promote the beer industry, but more to ensure that other cereals, in particular rye and wheat, were available to bakers, so that ordinary people had an adequate supply of affordable bread. 

[00:04:38] And another interesting fact was that this was part of German law until 1987, making it, until recently, the oldest food quality regulation in the world.

[00:04:52] Now, there are, of course, all sorts of other ingredients that can be added to beer, instead of barley you can use “rice” or even “corn”, but if we focus on the historically British and European versions of beer, these are the traditional ingredients.

[00:05:09] So, we have our four ingredients, but making delicious beer is clearly more nuanced, there's more to it than adding them all together and hoping for the best.

[00:05:20] It’s a complicated process that involves soaking the barley in water so that it releases sugars, filtering it, adding the magical hops, boiling it, cooling it down again, adding yeast and leaving it to ferment, to release alcohol, and then packaging it.

[00:05:39] And no doubt if you are the sort of person who brews your own beer, you will see this description as a gross oversimplification, but the point to underline is that, although the ingredients that go into the beer might be few in number and relatively inexpensive, the actual process of brewing the beer is highly skilled.

[00:06:01] This process, beer brewing, has been around in some form or another for thousands of years, with a recipe for beer brewing found in an ancient script from Mesopotamia, from 6000 BC, 8 thousand years ago, literally The Bronze Age.

[00:06:19] But rather than talking about the chronological history of beer brewing, we are going to look at three different stories about beer, to illustrate how different types of beers have evolved

[00:06:32] One is from Germany, another from Ireland, and another from India.

[00:06:37] For our first, from Germany, we need to go back to the year 1553 when Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria decided to ban the brewing of beer in summer. 

[00:06:50] The liquid was often brewed in open containers, and the warm weather would mean the liquid could easily be contaminated, go bad, in the heat, making drinkers sick.

[00:07:03] So, in a bid to make beer brewing safer, it was only allowed between September 29th and April 23rd, in the cooler months of the year.

[00:07:14] So, why is this important in the history of beer, why is it important to our story?

[00:07:20] Well, different types of yeast act differently at different temperatures.

[00:07:25] In warmer temperatures, the yeast acted faster, resulting in darker, fruitier and stronger tasting beer, similar to a British dark beer.

[00:07:36] In cooler temperatures, the result was clearer, the yellowish type of liquid you may think of today as a “lager”.

[00:07:45] And this was the sort of beer that resulted after summer brewing was banned.

[00:07:51] The beer-drinking public liked it, it could be stored for longer periods of time, and it became the dominant form of beer in the region.

[00:08:00] The dominance of this lager-style beer gained a further boost in the 19th century when the ideal soft water supply and a particularly good type of hops were found together on the west side of Bohemia, near what is now the German/Czech border but was at the time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. 

[00:08:21] The beer became known in German as Pilsen, and it’s from this that we get the “Pilsner” type of beer.

[00:08:28] This beer quickly spread across Europe, as its discovery coincided with the industrialisation of brewing methods and increasing interconnectedness of Europe. 

[00:08:39] The new rail network meant that the beer could be easily and cheaply transported around the Austro-Hungarian empire, so allowing people from Trieste in modern day Italy to Vienna in modern day Austria to quench or satisfy their thirst with this golden liquid.

[00:08:58] I should add that this area of the world still contains not just some of the iconic beer brands, such as Pilsner Urquell, but also some of the world’s most avid beer drinkers.

[00:09:11] Specifically, people from the Czech Republic, on a per capita basis, drink the most beer in the world, drinking by some calculations an average of 190 litres of beer per person per year.

[00:09:27] The UK, in comparison, has a long way to go, with the average Brit drinking only 70 litres of beer per person per year.

[00:09:36] Now, we do need to move back to north-western Europe for our second beer-related story.

[00:09:43] It’s not to Britain we’ll go to, though, it’s to Dublin, the capital of Ireland.

[00:09:49] And specifically, it’s time to talk about Guinness.

[00:09:53] This type of beer is technically known as a stout – it’s a bit confusing as this word also means wide but there is a logic to it when you take your first mouthful of Guinness, as it can seem as much like food as drink. 

[00:10:11] Guinness, named after its pioneering founder, Arthur Guinness, was started at St James’ Gate outside Dublin because it was here that he found the right kind of water supply for his beer. 

[00:10:25] Remember that Pilsner was created partially because of having the right kind of soft water?

[00:10:30] Well, Guinness is made possible because of a particular kind of water too.

[00:10:36] The water to the west of Dublin has a distinctive pH value - it is alkaline, gathering this chemical quality through the soil and rocks it has seeped through on the way to the brewery. 

[00:10:50] Now, why is this important?

[00:10:53] Well, if you remember your chemistry lessons from school, alkalis can neutralise acids.

[00:10:59] The brewing process for Guinness involves using lots of roasted barley, which not only gives the drink its distinctive dark colour, but also an acidic taste. 

[00:11:11] And the alkaline water neutralises this, leaving a delicious, well-balanced drink. So well balanced, in fact, that it used to be prescribed by doctors to pregnant women.

[00:11:25] I should add, perhaps, that this is no longer recommended, and that nothing you ever hear on this show should be taken as medical advice.

[00:11:34] Our third story is a broader one – a type of beer called IPA. 

[00:11:40] Its origin unsurprisingly lies in those iconic capital letters, IPA, which stand for Indian Pale Ale. 

[00:11:49] Yes, this is another element of British history which has its roots in the country's colonial past. 

[00:11:56] In the early stages of what became the British Empire in India, the soldiers needed something to drink.

[00:12:03] Water was off the menu, because it could be contaminated and dangerous to drink. So, beer was the answer. Not only would it keep the soldiers hydrated, but it would help keep morale up because, well it was beer.

[00:12:19] The beer was initially shipped out from Britain; so, it needed to be in a style which meant that it was preserved, hence the strong hoppy element to IPA.

[00:12:31] At the same time, the soldiers needed to be able to drink plenty of it and it needed to have strong thirst-quenching properties. 

[00:12:40] In summary, the strong hop levels allowed the beer to be kept or preserved in casks for up to a year. 

[00:12:47] And because IPAs were traditionally quite weak, not very alcoholic, the soldiers could drink a lot of it and quench their thirst without getting too drunk.

[00:12:59] It was, essentially, a chemical solution to the problem of how to send beer thousands of kilometres if you don’t have any way of keeping it cold.

[00:13:08] And although its origins might have been very practical, it is, in my opinion at least, delicious.

[00:13:15] And this type of beer, IPA, is at the centre of a movement known as the "craft beer revolution”, a movement where people are choosing independent beers brewed at smaller, artisan breweries, rather than buying mass-produced beer from multinational giants such as Heineken or InBev.

[00:13:36] Now, to conclude, here are five weird and wonderful beer facts or curiosities.

[00:13:44] Firstly, you may like drinking beer, but it might surprise you to find out that there are places where you can also bathe in beer.

[00:13:53] There are beer spas in Germany and Austria where you can literally swim in beer.

[00:13:59] It is, apparently, good for the skin. 

[00:14:02] It might be cheaper to make your own beer bath, though. For four people for two hours it costs about 250 euros. 

[00:14:11] You aren’t even allowed to drink the beer, although perhaps if you’ve been sitting in it with three friends for two hours, you might not really want to.

[00:14:21] Secondly, going even further back right to almost the very start of beer, the pyramids at Giza were built on beer - the workers were literally paid in beer. 

[00:14:32] It was clearly thirsty work as they would receive four to five litres a day. 

[00:14:38] One imagines that they wouldn’t drink it all themselves though, as I can’t imagine it would be much fun working away in the hot Egyptian sun if you drank 5 litres of beer the night before.

[00:14:50] Thirdly, this is to do with British university drinking culture, and it is a silly but interesting one.

[00:14:58] At some universities, the tradition goes that if someone throws a coin into your full pint of beer, you would need to drink the entire pint before the coin falls to the bottom.

[00:15:10] The name for this is “pennying”, and the reason you needed to drink so fast was, in theory, to “stop the queen drowning”.

[00:15:20] Remember that British money had, until she died at least, a picture of The Queen on, so you had to finish all of the liquid in the glass to “stop the queen drowning”. 

[00:15:32] Silly, I know, but if you happen to be in a British pub and someone drops a coin in your pint, well you can impress them by doing this.

[00:15:42] Now, on that subject, I know that British people have a bad reputation for drinking lots of beer, but statistically speaking we are far from the worst, or the best, depending on your point of view.

[00:15:56] As you heard, the Czechs are the world’s greatest beer consumers by a significant margin, guzzling 191 litres of the stuff every year.

[00:16:06] The Czechs have, in fact, held the top spot for 30 years, and they show no signs of losing their crown any time soon.

[00:16:16] Next it’s Austria, with the average Austrian getting through 107 litres a year, with Romania, Germany and Poland following close behind.

[00:16:26] Brits, contrary to popular belief, aren’t even in the top 20 of beer drinkers, we are behind Mexico in 23rd place.

[00:16:35] And our final curiosity is about Guiness.

[00:16:38] When it comes to Guinness, the famous dark beer first brewed in Dublin, the two biggest Guinness drinking countries might surprise you.

[00:16:48] In fact, Ireland is only the third largest consumer of Guinness, first it’s the UK, and second it’s somewhere a little further away, Nigeria.

[00:16:59] Yes, Guinness has been sold in Nigeria since 1827 and there has been a Guinness brewery in the country since 1962. 

[00:17:08] It’s not sold in pint glasses, but in glass bottles, and it seems that the people of Nigeria can’t get enough of the stuff.

[00:17:17] Right, so there you go, a quick whirlwind tour through the history of the world’s third most popular drink.

[00:17:25] Enjoyed by the ancient Mesopotamians, the builders of the Egyptian pyramids, soldiers, students, in particular by the Czechs, and by billions of people around the world, perhaps even you, it’s a safe bet to say that beer isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

[00:17:44] OK then, that is it for today's episode on beer.

[00:17:48] I hope it's been an interesting one, and whether you are a committed beer drinker or you can’t stand the smell of the stuff, well I hope you’ve learned something new.

[00:17:58] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:18:02] If you’re a beer drinker, a beer lover even, what’s your favourite type of beer?

[00:18:07] Have you ever tried a British “ale”? What did you think of it?

[00:18:11] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:18:14] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:18:23] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:18:28] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about beer.

[00:00:27] Now, you might love beer, you might hate beer, but no matter your feelings about it, the story of beer is fascinating.

[00:00:35] It’s a story of how simple ingredients have been put together to create the world’s third most popular drink, after water and tea that is.

[00:00:45] And in telling this story, we’ll come across breweries, German dukes, the pyramids, soldiers and spas.

[00:00:53] And to cap it all off, at the end you’ll learn five interesting and surprising facts about beer.

[00:01:00] So, let’s get right into it and talk about the history of this wonderful drink.

[00:01:06] Let’s start with a simple question.

[00:01:09] What actually is beer?

[00:01:11] If you look in a dictionary, you might find something like “an alcoholic drink made from yeast-fermented malt flavoured with hops.”

[00:01:20] But, as any continental European who has gone to a British pub, asked for a “beer”, and been slightly confused about what they are given will know, “beer” means different things to different people.

[00:01:35] For most of the world, a “beer”, “une bière”, “una birra”, “ ein Bier”, this typically means a fizzy, yellow-coloured liquid that is kept cool, in a fridge.

[00:01:47] It often comes in a bottle, and when poured into a glass a sort of foamy head, bubbles, will form at the top.

[00:01:57] But “beer”, especially if you are in a more traditional British pub, means something slightly different.

[00:02:05] If you ask for a “beer” you might find someone pulling down hard on a lever, pulling it back and forth, and then handing you a dark, non-fizzy brown liquid.

[00:02:17] And, shock horror to many Europeans, it’s often quite warm, it’s not cold.

[00:02:24] Now, both drinks are technically “beer”, but you might hear British people referring to the former as a “lager” and the latter as an “ale”.

[00:02:36] Although the end result is pretty different, the ingredients and process for making them are pretty similar.

[00:02:43] Both typically have four ingredients: barley, water, yeast and a magical plant called hops.

[00:02:53] Barley is a very common grain, it’s the fourth most produced grain in the world, after corn, rice and wheat.

[00:03:01] Water is, well, it’s water. But the kind of water does matter, as we’ll come to in a bit.

[00:03:08] Yeast is the bit that turns the sugar into alcohol.

[00:03:12] And hops, this magical plant, is an ingredient used both to add flavour, and to preserve the beer, to stop it going off, going bad. These four ingredients are the key to beer.

[00:03:27] “Yeast”, as you may know, was only really understood as a separate living organism in the 19th century, so, although it has been used for millennia, and was used in beer production, it wasn’t as well understood as the other three ingredients.

[00:03:43] In fact, there was even a German 16th century law declaring that there were the only three ingredients allowed in beer.

[00:03:53] Yes, in 1516 Wilhelm IV, the Duke of Bavaria, declared the so-called Reinheitsgebot. 

[00:04:02] If you translate this into English, it means the “purity law”, and it states that there should only be three ingredients for beer: barley, water, and hops.

[00:04:14] The yeast was, of course, there, it just wasn’t identified as a separate ingredient.

[00:04:20] Interestingly enough, this law was not so much to promote the beer industry, but more to ensure that other cereals, in particular rye and wheat, were available to bakers, so that ordinary people had an adequate supply of affordable bread. 

[00:04:38] And another interesting fact was that this was part of German law until 1987, making it, until recently, the oldest food quality regulation in the world.

[00:04:52] Now, there are, of course, all sorts of other ingredients that can be added to beer, instead of barley you can use “rice” or even “corn”, but if we focus on the historically British and European versions of beer, these are the traditional ingredients.

[00:05:09] So, we have our four ingredients, but making delicious beer is clearly more nuanced, there's more to it than adding them all together and hoping for the best.

[00:05:20] It’s a complicated process that involves soaking the barley in water so that it releases sugars, filtering it, adding the magical hops, boiling it, cooling it down again, adding yeast and leaving it to ferment, to release alcohol, and then packaging it.

[00:05:39] And no doubt if you are the sort of person who brews your own beer, you will see this description as a gross oversimplification, but the point to underline is that, although the ingredients that go into the beer might be few in number and relatively inexpensive, the actual process of brewing the beer is highly skilled.

[00:06:01] This process, beer brewing, has been around in some form or another for thousands of years, with a recipe for beer brewing found in an ancient script from Mesopotamia, from 6000 BC, 8 thousand years ago, literally The Bronze Age.

[00:06:19] But rather than talking about the chronological history of beer brewing, we are going to look at three different stories about beer, to illustrate how different types of beers have evolved

[00:06:32] One is from Germany, another from Ireland, and another from India.

[00:06:37] For our first, from Germany, we need to go back to the year 1553 when Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria decided to ban the brewing of beer in summer. 

[00:06:50] The liquid was often brewed in open containers, and the warm weather would mean the liquid could easily be contaminated, go bad, in the heat, making drinkers sick.

[00:07:03] So, in a bid to make beer brewing safer, it was only allowed between September 29th and April 23rd, in the cooler months of the year.

[00:07:14] So, why is this important in the history of beer, why is it important to our story?

[00:07:20] Well, different types of yeast act differently at different temperatures.

[00:07:25] In warmer temperatures, the yeast acted faster, resulting in darker, fruitier and stronger tasting beer, similar to a British dark beer.

[00:07:36] In cooler temperatures, the result was clearer, the yellowish type of liquid you may think of today as a “lager”.

[00:07:45] And this was the sort of beer that resulted after summer brewing was banned.

[00:07:51] The beer-drinking public liked it, it could be stored for longer periods of time, and it became the dominant form of beer in the region.

[00:08:00] The dominance of this lager-style beer gained a further boost in the 19th century when the ideal soft water supply and a particularly good type of hops were found together on the west side of Bohemia, near what is now the German/Czech border but was at the time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. 

[00:08:21] The beer became known in German as Pilsen, and it’s from this that we get the “Pilsner” type of beer.

[00:08:28] This beer quickly spread across Europe, as its discovery coincided with the industrialisation of brewing methods and increasing interconnectedness of Europe. 

[00:08:39] The new rail network meant that the beer could be easily and cheaply transported around the Austro-Hungarian empire, so allowing people from Trieste in modern day Italy to Vienna in modern day Austria to quench or satisfy their thirst with this golden liquid.

[00:08:58] I should add that this area of the world still contains not just some of the iconic beer brands, such as Pilsner Urquell, but also some of the world’s most avid beer drinkers.

[00:09:11] Specifically, people from the Czech Republic, on a per capita basis, drink the most beer in the world, drinking by some calculations an average of 190 litres of beer per person per year.

[00:09:27] The UK, in comparison, has a long way to go, with the average Brit drinking only 70 litres of beer per person per year.

[00:09:36] Now, we do need to move back to north-western Europe for our second beer-related story.

[00:09:43] It’s not to Britain we’ll go to, though, it’s to Dublin, the capital of Ireland.

[00:09:49] And specifically, it’s time to talk about Guinness.

[00:09:53] This type of beer is technically known as a stout – it’s a bit confusing as this word also means wide but there is a logic to it when you take your first mouthful of Guinness, as it can seem as much like food as drink. 

[00:10:11] Guinness, named after its pioneering founder, Arthur Guinness, was started at St James’ Gate outside Dublin because it was here that he found the right kind of water supply for his beer. 

[00:10:25] Remember that Pilsner was created partially because of having the right kind of soft water?

[00:10:30] Well, Guinness is made possible because of a particular kind of water too.

[00:10:36] The water to the west of Dublin has a distinctive pH value - it is alkaline, gathering this chemical quality through the soil and rocks it has seeped through on the way to the brewery. 

[00:10:50] Now, why is this important?

[00:10:53] Well, if you remember your chemistry lessons from school, alkalis can neutralise acids.

[00:10:59] The brewing process for Guinness involves using lots of roasted barley, which not only gives the drink its distinctive dark colour, but also an acidic taste. 

[00:11:11] And the alkaline water neutralises this, leaving a delicious, well-balanced drink. So well balanced, in fact, that it used to be prescribed by doctors to pregnant women.

[00:11:25] I should add, perhaps, that this is no longer recommended, and that nothing you ever hear on this show should be taken as medical advice.

[00:11:34] Our third story is a broader one – a type of beer called IPA. 

[00:11:40] Its origin unsurprisingly lies in those iconic capital letters, IPA, which stand for Indian Pale Ale. 

[00:11:49] Yes, this is another element of British history which has its roots in the country's colonial past. 

[00:11:56] In the early stages of what became the British Empire in India, the soldiers needed something to drink.

[00:12:03] Water was off the menu, because it could be contaminated and dangerous to drink. So, beer was the answer. Not only would it keep the soldiers hydrated, but it would help keep morale up because, well it was beer.

[00:12:19] The beer was initially shipped out from Britain; so, it needed to be in a style which meant that it was preserved, hence the strong hoppy element to IPA.

[00:12:31] At the same time, the soldiers needed to be able to drink plenty of it and it needed to have strong thirst-quenching properties. 

[00:12:40] In summary, the strong hop levels allowed the beer to be kept or preserved in casks for up to a year. 

[00:12:47] And because IPAs were traditionally quite weak, not very alcoholic, the soldiers could drink a lot of it and quench their thirst without getting too drunk.

[00:12:59] It was, essentially, a chemical solution to the problem of how to send beer thousands of kilometres if you don’t have any way of keeping it cold.

[00:13:08] And although its origins might have been very practical, it is, in my opinion at least, delicious.

[00:13:15] And this type of beer, IPA, is at the centre of a movement known as the "craft beer revolution”, a movement where people are choosing independent beers brewed at smaller, artisan breweries, rather than buying mass-produced beer from multinational giants such as Heineken or InBev.

[00:13:36] Now, to conclude, here are five weird and wonderful beer facts or curiosities.

[00:13:44] Firstly, you may like drinking beer, but it might surprise you to find out that there are places where you can also bathe in beer.

[00:13:53] There are beer spas in Germany and Austria where you can literally swim in beer.

[00:13:59] It is, apparently, good for the skin. 

[00:14:02] It might be cheaper to make your own beer bath, though. For four people for two hours it costs about 250 euros. 

[00:14:11] You aren’t even allowed to drink the beer, although perhaps if you’ve been sitting in it with three friends for two hours, you might not really want to.

[00:14:21] Secondly, going even further back right to almost the very start of beer, the pyramids at Giza were built on beer - the workers were literally paid in beer. 

[00:14:32] It was clearly thirsty work as they would receive four to five litres a day. 

[00:14:38] One imagines that they wouldn’t drink it all themselves though, as I can’t imagine it would be much fun working away in the hot Egyptian sun if you drank 5 litres of beer the night before.

[00:14:50] Thirdly, this is to do with British university drinking culture, and it is a silly but interesting one.

[00:14:58] At some universities, the tradition goes that if someone throws a coin into your full pint of beer, you would need to drink the entire pint before the coin falls to the bottom.

[00:15:10] The name for this is “pennying”, and the reason you needed to drink so fast was, in theory, to “stop the queen drowning”.

[00:15:20] Remember that British money had, until she died at least, a picture of The Queen on, so you had to finish all of the liquid in the glass to “stop the queen drowning”. 

[00:15:32] Silly, I know, but if you happen to be in a British pub and someone drops a coin in your pint, well you can impress them by doing this.

[00:15:42] Now, on that subject, I know that British people have a bad reputation for drinking lots of beer, but statistically speaking we are far from the worst, or the best, depending on your point of view.

[00:15:56] As you heard, the Czechs are the world’s greatest beer consumers by a significant margin, guzzling 191 litres of the stuff every year.

[00:16:06] The Czechs have, in fact, held the top spot for 30 years, and they show no signs of losing their crown any time soon.

[00:16:16] Next it’s Austria, with the average Austrian getting through 107 litres a year, with Romania, Germany and Poland following close behind.

[00:16:26] Brits, contrary to popular belief, aren’t even in the top 20 of beer drinkers, we are behind Mexico in 23rd place.

[00:16:35] And our final curiosity is about Guiness.

[00:16:38] When it comes to Guinness, the famous dark beer first brewed in Dublin, the two biggest Guinness drinking countries might surprise you.

[00:16:48] In fact, Ireland is only the third largest consumer of Guinness, first it’s the UK, and second it’s somewhere a little further away, Nigeria.

[00:16:59] Yes, Guinness has been sold in Nigeria since 1827 and there has been a Guinness brewery in the country since 1962. 

[00:17:08] It’s not sold in pint glasses, but in glass bottles, and it seems that the people of Nigeria can’t get enough of the stuff.

[00:17:17] Right, so there you go, a quick whirlwind tour through the history of the world’s third most popular drink.

[00:17:25] Enjoyed by the ancient Mesopotamians, the builders of the Egyptian pyramids, soldiers, students, in particular by the Czechs, and by billions of people around the world, perhaps even you, it’s a safe bet to say that beer isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

[00:17:44] OK then, that is it for today's episode on beer.

[00:17:48] I hope it's been an interesting one, and whether you are a committed beer drinker or you can’t stand the smell of the stuff, well I hope you’ve learned something new.

[00:17:58] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:18:02] If you’re a beer drinker, a beer lover even, what’s your favourite type of beer?

[00:18:07] Have you ever tried a British “ale”? What did you think of it?

[00:18:11] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:18:14] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:18:23] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:18:28] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about beer.

[00:00:27] Now, you might love beer, you might hate beer, but no matter your feelings about it, the story of beer is fascinating.

[00:00:35] It’s a story of how simple ingredients have been put together to create the world’s third most popular drink, after water and tea that is.

[00:00:45] And in telling this story, we’ll come across breweries, German dukes, the pyramids, soldiers and spas.

[00:00:53] And to cap it all off, at the end you’ll learn five interesting and surprising facts about beer.

[00:01:00] So, let’s get right into it and talk about the history of this wonderful drink.

[00:01:06] Let’s start with a simple question.

[00:01:09] What actually is beer?

[00:01:11] If you look in a dictionary, you might find something like “an alcoholic drink made from yeast-fermented malt flavoured with hops.”

[00:01:20] But, as any continental European who has gone to a British pub, asked for a “beer”, and been slightly confused about what they are given will know, “beer” means different things to different people.

[00:01:35] For most of the world, a “beer”, “une bière”, “una birra”, “ ein Bier”, this typically means a fizzy, yellow-coloured liquid that is kept cool, in a fridge.

[00:01:47] It often comes in a bottle, and when poured into a glass a sort of foamy head, bubbles, will form at the top.

[00:01:57] But “beer”, especially if you are in a more traditional British pub, means something slightly different.

[00:02:05] If you ask for a “beer” you might find someone pulling down hard on a lever, pulling it back and forth, and then handing you a dark, non-fizzy brown liquid.

[00:02:17] And, shock horror to many Europeans, it’s often quite warm, it’s not cold.

[00:02:24] Now, both drinks are technically “beer”, but you might hear British people referring to the former as a “lager” and the latter as an “ale”.

[00:02:36] Although the end result is pretty different, the ingredients and process for making them are pretty similar.

[00:02:43] Both typically have four ingredients: barley, water, yeast and a magical plant called hops.

[00:02:53] Barley is a very common grain, it’s the fourth most produced grain in the world, after corn, rice and wheat.

[00:03:01] Water is, well, it’s water. But the kind of water does matter, as we’ll come to in a bit.

[00:03:08] Yeast is the bit that turns the sugar into alcohol.

[00:03:12] And hops, this magical plant, is an ingredient used both to add flavour, and to preserve the beer, to stop it going off, going bad. These four ingredients are the key to beer.

[00:03:27] “Yeast”, as you may know, was only really understood as a separate living organism in the 19th century, so, although it has been used for millennia, and was used in beer production, it wasn’t as well understood as the other three ingredients.

[00:03:43] In fact, there was even a German 16th century law declaring that there were the only three ingredients allowed in beer.

[00:03:53] Yes, in 1516 Wilhelm IV, the Duke of Bavaria, declared the so-called Reinheitsgebot. 

[00:04:02] If you translate this into English, it means the “purity law”, and it states that there should only be three ingredients for beer: barley, water, and hops.

[00:04:14] The yeast was, of course, there, it just wasn’t identified as a separate ingredient.

[00:04:20] Interestingly enough, this law was not so much to promote the beer industry, but more to ensure that other cereals, in particular rye and wheat, were available to bakers, so that ordinary people had an adequate supply of affordable bread. 

[00:04:38] And another interesting fact was that this was part of German law until 1987, making it, until recently, the oldest food quality regulation in the world.

[00:04:52] Now, there are, of course, all sorts of other ingredients that can be added to beer, instead of barley you can use “rice” or even “corn”, but if we focus on the historically British and European versions of beer, these are the traditional ingredients.

[00:05:09] So, we have our four ingredients, but making delicious beer is clearly more nuanced, there's more to it than adding them all together and hoping for the best.

[00:05:20] It’s a complicated process that involves soaking the barley in water so that it releases sugars, filtering it, adding the magical hops, boiling it, cooling it down again, adding yeast and leaving it to ferment, to release alcohol, and then packaging it.

[00:05:39] And no doubt if you are the sort of person who brews your own beer, you will see this description as a gross oversimplification, but the point to underline is that, although the ingredients that go into the beer might be few in number and relatively inexpensive, the actual process of brewing the beer is highly skilled.

[00:06:01] This process, beer brewing, has been around in some form or another for thousands of years, with a recipe for beer brewing found in an ancient script from Mesopotamia, from 6000 BC, 8 thousand years ago, literally The Bronze Age.

[00:06:19] But rather than talking about the chronological history of beer brewing, we are going to look at three different stories about beer, to illustrate how different types of beers have evolved

[00:06:32] One is from Germany, another from Ireland, and another from India.

[00:06:37] For our first, from Germany, we need to go back to the year 1553 when Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria decided to ban the brewing of beer in summer. 

[00:06:50] The liquid was often brewed in open containers, and the warm weather would mean the liquid could easily be contaminated, go bad, in the heat, making drinkers sick.

[00:07:03] So, in a bid to make beer brewing safer, it was only allowed between September 29th and April 23rd, in the cooler months of the year.

[00:07:14] So, why is this important in the history of beer, why is it important to our story?

[00:07:20] Well, different types of yeast act differently at different temperatures.

[00:07:25] In warmer temperatures, the yeast acted faster, resulting in darker, fruitier and stronger tasting beer, similar to a British dark beer.

[00:07:36] In cooler temperatures, the result was clearer, the yellowish type of liquid you may think of today as a “lager”.

[00:07:45] And this was the sort of beer that resulted after summer brewing was banned.

[00:07:51] The beer-drinking public liked it, it could be stored for longer periods of time, and it became the dominant form of beer in the region.

[00:08:00] The dominance of this lager-style beer gained a further boost in the 19th century when the ideal soft water supply and a particularly good type of hops were found together on the west side of Bohemia, near what is now the German/Czech border but was at the time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. 

[00:08:21] The beer became known in German as Pilsen, and it’s from this that we get the “Pilsner” type of beer.

[00:08:28] This beer quickly spread across Europe, as its discovery coincided with the industrialisation of brewing methods and increasing interconnectedness of Europe. 

[00:08:39] The new rail network meant that the beer could be easily and cheaply transported around the Austro-Hungarian empire, so allowing people from Trieste in modern day Italy to Vienna in modern day Austria to quench or satisfy their thirst with this golden liquid.

[00:08:58] I should add that this area of the world still contains not just some of the iconic beer brands, such as Pilsner Urquell, but also some of the world’s most avid beer drinkers.

[00:09:11] Specifically, people from the Czech Republic, on a per capita basis, drink the most beer in the world, drinking by some calculations an average of 190 litres of beer per person per year.

[00:09:27] The UK, in comparison, has a long way to go, with the average Brit drinking only 70 litres of beer per person per year.

[00:09:36] Now, we do need to move back to north-western Europe for our second beer-related story.

[00:09:43] It’s not to Britain we’ll go to, though, it’s to Dublin, the capital of Ireland.

[00:09:49] And specifically, it’s time to talk about Guinness.

[00:09:53] This type of beer is technically known as a stout – it’s a bit confusing as this word also means wide but there is a logic to it when you take your first mouthful of Guinness, as it can seem as much like food as drink. 

[00:10:11] Guinness, named after its pioneering founder, Arthur Guinness, was started at St James’ Gate outside Dublin because it was here that he found the right kind of water supply for his beer. 

[00:10:25] Remember that Pilsner was created partially because of having the right kind of soft water?

[00:10:30] Well, Guinness is made possible because of a particular kind of water too.

[00:10:36] The water to the west of Dublin has a distinctive pH value - it is alkaline, gathering this chemical quality through the soil and rocks it has seeped through on the way to the brewery. 

[00:10:50] Now, why is this important?

[00:10:53] Well, if you remember your chemistry lessons from school, alkalis can neutralise acids.

[00:10:59] The brewing process for Guinness involves using lots of roasted barley, which not only gives the drink its distinctive dark colour, but also an acidic taste. 

[00:11:11] And the alkaline water neutralises this, leaving a delicious, well-balanced drink. So well balanced, in fact, that it used to be prescribed by doctors to pregnant women.

[00:11:25] I should add, perhaps, that this is no longer recommended, and that nothing you ever hear on this show should be taken as medical advice.

[00:11:34] Our third story is a broader one – a type of beer called IPA. 

[00:11:40] Its origin unsurprisingly lies in those iconic capital letters, IPA, which stand for Indian Pale Ale. 

[00:11:49] Yes, this is another element of British history which has its roots in the country's colonial past. 

[00:11:56] In the early stages of what became the British Empire in India, the soldiers needed something to drink.

[00:12:03] Water was off the menu, because it could be contaminated and dangerous to drink. So, beer was the answer. Not only would it keep the soldiers hydrated, but it would help keep morale up because, well it was beer.

[00:12:19] The beer was initially shipped out from Britain; so, it needed to be in a style which meant that it was preserved, hence the strong hoppy element to IPA.

[00:12:31] At the same time, the soldiers needed to be able to drink plenty of it and it needed to have strong thirst-quenching properties. 

[00:12:40] In summary, the strong hop levels allowed the beer to be kept or preserved in casks for up to a year. 

[00:12:47] And because IPAs were traditionally quite weak, not very alcoholic, the soldiers could drink a lot of it and quench their thirst without getting too drunk.

[00:12:59] It was, essentially, a chemical solution to the problem of how to send beer thousands of kilometres if you don’t have any way of keeping it cold.

[00:13:08] And although its origins might have been very practical, it is, in my opinion at least, delicious.

[00:13:15] And this type of beer, IPA, is at the centre of a movement known as the "craft beer revolution”, a movement where people are choosing independent beers brewed at smaller, artisan breweries, rather than buying mass-produced beer from multinational giants such as Heineken or InBev.

[00:13:36] Now, to conclude, here are five weird and wonderful beer facts or curiosities.

[00:13:44] Firstly, you may like drinking beer, but it might surprise you to find out that there are places where you can also bathe in beer.

[00:13:53] There are beer spas in Germany and Austria where you can literally swim in beer.

[00:13:59] It is, apparently, good for the skin. 

[00:14:02] It might be cheaper to make your own beer bath, though. For four people for two hours it costs about 250 euros. 

[00:14:11] You aren’t even allowed to drink the beer, although perhaps if you’ve been sitting in it with three friends for two hours, you might not really want to.

[00:14:21] Secondly, going even further back right to almost the very start of beer, the pyramids at Giza were built on beer - the workers were literally paid in beer. 

[00:14:32] It was clearly thirsty work as they would receive four to five litres a day. 

[00:14:38] One imagines that they wouldn’t drink it all themselves though, as I can’t imagine it would be much fun working away in the hot Egyptian sun if you drank 5 litres of beer the night before.

[00:14:50] Thirdly, this is to do with British university drinking culture, and it is a silly but interesting one.

[00:14:58] At some universities, the tradition goes that if someone throws a coin into your full pint of beer, you would need to drink the entire pint before the coin falls to the bottom.

[00:15:10] The name for this is “pennying”, and the reason you needed to drink so fast was, in theory, to “stop the queen drowning”.

[00:15:20] Remember that British money had, until she died at least, a picture of The Queen on, so you had to finish all of the liquid in the glass to “stop the queen drowning”. 

[00:15:32] Silly, I know, but if you happen to be in a British pub and someone drops a coin in your pint, well you can impress them by doing this.

[00:15:42] Now, on that subject, I know that British people have a bad reputation for drinking lots of beer, but statistically speaking we are far from the worst, or the best, depending on your point of view.

[00:15:56] As you heard, the Czechs are the world’s greatest beer consumers by a significant margin, guzzling 191 litres of the stuff every year.

[00:16:06] The Czechs have, in fact, held the top spot for 30 years, and they show no signs of losing their crown any time soon.

[00:16:16] Next it’s Austria, with the average Austrian getting through 107 litres a year, with Romania, Germany and Poland following close behind.

[00:16:26] Brits, contrary to popular belief, aren’t even in the top 20 of beer drinkers, we are behind Mexico in 23rd place.

[00:16:35] And our final curiosity is about Guiness.

[00:16:38] When it comes to Guinness, the famous dark beer first brewed in Dublin, the two biggest Guinness drinking countries might surprise you.

[00:16:48] In fact, Ireland is only the third largest consumer of Guinness, first it’s the UK, and second it’s somewhere a little further away, Nigeria.

[00:16:59] Yes, Guinness has been sold in Nigeria since 1827 and there has been a Guinness brewery in the country since 1962. 

[00:17:08] It’s not sold in pint glasses, but in glass bottles, and it seems that the people of Nigeria can’t get enough of the stuff.

[00:17:17] Right, so there you go, a quick whirlwind tour through the history of the world’s third most popular drink.

[00:17:25] Enjoyed by the ancient Mesopotamians, the builders of the Egyptian pyramids, soldiers, students, in particular by the Czechs, and by billions of people around the world, perhaps even you, it’s a safe bet to say that beer isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

[00:17:44] OK then, that is it for today's episode on beer.

[00:17:48] I hope it's been an interesting one, and whether you are a committed beer drinker or you can’t stand the smell of the stuff, well I hope you’ve learned something new.

[00:17:58] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:18:02] If you’re a beer drinker, a beer lover even, what’s your favourite type of beer?

[00:18:07] Have you ever tried a British “ale”? What did you think of it?

[00:18:11] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:18:14] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:18:23] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:18:28] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]