A History of Beer – As We See It


“This is grain, which any fool can eat, but for which the Lord intended a more divine means of consumption.. Beer!”

-Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, Friar Tuck

– 10,000 BC – At the dawn of history, human civilization arises as a result of the accidental discovery of brewing: nomadic hunter-gatherers discover that rain-sodden grain, left alone for a while, makes a beverage with magical properties. Over the course of generations, these nomads settle down and domesticate barley to assure a steady supply of raw material for their beer – hence, the establishment of the first permanent villages and, eventually, the pinnacle of human cultural achievement: the brewpub.

– 4,000 BC – The oldest known written recipe is a formula for beer written on a clay cuneiform tablet, part of an epic poem devoted to Ninkasi, the Sumerian goddess of beer.

– 2,000 BC – Beer plays an important part in the culture of ancient Egypt. It was thought to have been introduced into Egypt by the god Osiris himself. Strict laws governing its manufacture, sale and consumption are passed.

– Eighth and ninth century AD – In central Europe, hop flowers gain popularity as a seasoning in beer due to their preservative quality. Introduced into the British Isles in the sixteenth century by Dutch brewers, the use of this “wicked weed” is outlawed by xenophobic Britons, fearful of an insidious foreign influence. Common sense and good taste eventually prevail, and hops become widely used in British ales.

– 1620 – The Mayflower lands at Plymouth Rock. As noted in the ship’s log, this choice was hastened by the ship’s dwindling supplies, “especially our beere.”

– 1820’s – English brewers create beers designed to withstand the long sea voyage to Britain’s colonies in Asia. These strong, highly hopped ales become known as India Pale Ales.

– 1776 – Thomas Jefferson pens the Declaration of Independence. Actually, most of the Founding Fathers, including Washington and Jefferson, were brewers.

– 1876 – Louis Pasteur publishes his “Studies on Beer,” in which he describes his process of pasteurization, originally developed for beermaking, later adopted by the dairy industry.

– Mid-nineteenth century – Bottom-fermented pilsner-style beers become popular on the Continent. As a result of massive European immigration to America, Germans establish breweries all over the country, producing pilsner-style beers. Pilsners still dominate world-wide, and even today, most major American brewing companies have a German pedigree.

– 1900 – 1,816 breweries in operation, mostly small local companies serving limited regional markets. Meanwhile, Carrie Nation goes into action, smashing up saloons with her axe.

– 1920-1933 – Prohibition, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, makes the manufacture and sale of beer illegal in these United States. Bootleggers and gangsters prosper as we become a nation of lawbreakers during the Roaring Twenties. Homebrewing grows in popularity.

– 1930’s through 1980’s – Big brewers get bigger while smaller local and regional breweries die off by the hundreds; many distinctive styles and venerable names disappear forever as national tastes shift towards mass-marketed lager beers.

– 1965 – Using his part of his family’s washing machine fortune, 27-year old Fritz Maytag rescues the noble but failing Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco. Today, Anchor Steam Beer is considered a classic, and Maytag is regarded as the spiritual father of the craft brewing movement.

– 1976 – The first American “microbrewery”, New Albion, opens in California. Making distinctive brews in a tiny (two-barrel) brewhouse, the company, unfortunately, is too far ahead of its time does not survive.

– 1978 – Homebrewing is legalized by the Federal government.

– 1980 – The low point in American brewing history, only forty-four brewing companies are in operation, virtually all of them making a similar product: a light, bland, pilsner-style lager.

– 1987 – Sister and brother team Janet and Peter Egelston, with partners Cora Lee Drew & Mark Metzger, open the Northampton Brewery in Northampton, Massachusetts. The second brewpub in New England, it is one of the first twenty in the country.

– 1989 – Peter’s Old Brown Dog Ale wins a Silver Medal at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver.

– 1991 – The Egelstons, along with Mark Metzger, open the Portsmouth Brewery in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the first brewpub and craft brewery in the Granite State.

– 1994 – Peter purchases the assets of the bankrupt Frank Jones Brewing Company, and with partners from Ipswich Brewing, found Smuttynose Brewing, named after a tiny coastal island. The Ipswich parthers are bought out after wo months. Smuttynose releases its first beer – Shoals Pale Ale – in July, 1994.

– 1997 – More than 1,200 breweries (including brewpubs) are in operation in the United States.

– December, 2000 – After fourteen years in business together, Peter & Janet Egelston buy each other out of their respective shares of the Northampton and Portsmouth Breweries. This leaves Janet as sole owner of the Northampton Brewery, and Peter as sole owner of the Portsmouth Brewery and majority owner of Smuttynose Brewing Company. Though no longer business partners, Janet & Peter remain sister & brother.

– June, 2003 – At age twelve, the Portsmouth Brewery quits smoking, five years before it’s mandated by law in New Hampshire.

– December, 2003 – At the same time the Red Sox sign Curt Schilling, the Portsmouth Brewery signs Tod Mott as Head Brewer at Portsmouth Brewery.

– October, 2004 – Sox win the World Series in 4 games. Coincidence?

– December, 2007 – Tod’s Kate the Great Russian Imperial Stout named #1 Beer in the USA & #2 on Planet Earth by the Beer Advocates in Beer Advocate Magazine’s 2007 Beer Roundup.

– June, 2019 – Maxine Munsey steps into the role of Head Brewer at the Portsmouth Brewery.

Interesting facts…

– Annual per capita beer consumption in the US: 20.02 gallons

– Annual per capita beer consumption in Germany: 27.66 gallons

– Rank of US among nations in per capita beer consumption: 17

– Rank of New Hampshire among states in per capita beer sales: 2 (42.2 gal per capita)

– New Hampshire is home to 44 craft breweries

– Beer is the third most popular drink in the world after water and tea

– Total annual US beer output: 196,000,000 barrels (approximately)

– Total annual Anheuser-Busch output: 125,000,000 barrels at 32 breweries world wide (approximately)

– Number of pints served at the Portsmouth Brewery since 1991: about 8 million. Placed side by side, they’d form a line stretching from Portsmouth to Philadelphia, over four hundred miles!