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Beer School - History

Beer School: History

4000 BC

In the middle east, the Sumer people were fermenting a form of bread to make a fermented pulp which had an intoxicating effect – a “divinge drink”

3000 BC

Babylonians had up to 20 different types of beer. The early beer was cloudy and unfiltered and was usually drunk through a straw to avoid drinking solids from the brew, which could be very bitter.

1550 BC

The Egyptians were also keen brewers and beer and malt had been found buried in the tombs of the Pharaohs to provide sustenance for the afterlife.

100 AD

Beer was extensively drunk through the Roman Empire. Beer from this time had to be consumed fresh (as it should be today), it was served cloudy and to preserve the beer and aid its taste, bitter herbs and spices may have been used.


In the middle ages the largest brewers were the monastaries, some of whom still survive today Weihenstephan Abbey is generally considered the world’s oldest brewery and dates back to 725 AD.

The refreshing beer made a welcome break in a very austere lifestyle and could still be enjoyed during times of fasting. Monks soon acquired a taste for ale and records show that in some monastaries consumption up to 5 litres a day was allowed.


Hops are mentioned in records in Germany as early as 822 AD. Certainly Hidegarde of Bingen, writing around 1150 said that hops added to beer ‘reduced the putrefaction’ caused by spoilage organisms. The addition of hops slowly spread throughout Europe reaching Britain by the middle of the 15th century.


The world’s first food ingredient regulation is this German Purity Law originating in Bavaria in 1516 and now applied to all German brewers making beer for consumption in Germany. The law originally stated that beer could only be brewed by using water, hops and malt, this was later expanded to 4 ingredients with the addition of yeast (being recognised as the organism responsible for fermentation).

At 4 Pines, like most microbreweries that produce handcrafted beer,
the Reinheitsgebot is used more as a code of ethics, where only the best ingredients are used and cheaper ‘adjuncts’ are not. Occasionally we may add natural ingredients for the purposes of enhancing the flavour and final presentation of the beer (not cheapening the process), for example in our Saison we add dried mandarin peel and coriander seeds to aid the flavour.


Malt was first taxed in Britain in 1660, and the legislation prohibited the use of other cereals in brewing (not unlike the Reinheitsgebot). This purity act continued until it was repealed by William Gladstone in 1880 and replaced by a tax on the sugar content on the wort prior to fermentation.

The repeal followed a bad barley harvest and pressure from the colonial sugar growers to allow sugar cane to be used in the beer. The new law enabled “the brewer to brew from what he pleases and have the perfect choice of his materials and methods”.