Brewing, in the modern acceptation of the term, a series of operations the object of which is to prepare an alcoholic beverage of a certain kind - to wit, beer - mainly from cereals (chiefly malted barley), hops and water. Although the art of preparing beer (q.v.) or ale is a very ancient one, there is very little information in the literature of the subject as to the apparatus and methods employed in early times. It seems fairly certain, however, that up to the 18th century these were of the most primitive kind. With regard to materials, we know that prior to the general introduction of the hop (see Ale) as a preservative and astringent, a number of other bitter and aromatic plants had been employed with this end in view. Thus J.L. Baker (The Brewing Industry) points out that the Cimbri used the Tamarix germanica, the Scandinavians the fruit of the sweet gale (Myrica gale), the Cauchi the fruit and the twigs of the chaste tree (Vitex agrius castus), and the Icelanders the yarrow (Achillea millefolium).

The preparation of beer on anything approaching to a manufacturing scale appears, until about the 12th or 13th century, to have been carried on in England chiefly in the monasteries; but as the brewers of London combined to form an association in the reign of Henry IV., and were granted a charter in 1445, it is evident that brewing as a special trade or industry must have developed with some rapidity. After the Reformation the ranks of the trade brewers were swelled by numbers of monks from the expropriated monasteries. Until the 18th century the professional brewers, or brewers for sale, as they are now called, brewed chiefly for the masses, the wealthier classes preparing their own beer, but it then became gradually apparent to the latter (owing no doubt to improved methods of brewing, and for others reasons) that it was more economical and less troublesome to have their beer brewed for them at a regular brewery. The usual charge was 30s. per barrel for bitter ale, and 8s. or so for small beer. This tendency to centralize brewing operations became more and more marked with each succeeding decade.

Thus during 1895-1905 the number of private brewers declined from 17,041 to 9930. Of the private brewers still existing, about four-fifths were in the class exempted from beer duty, i.e. farmers occupying houses not exceeding £10 annual value who brew for their labourers, and other persons occupying houses not exceeding £15 annual value. The private houses subject to both beer and licence duty produced less than 20,000 barrels annually. There are no official figures as to the number of "cottage brewers," that is, occupiers of dwellings not exceeding £8 annual value; but taking everything into consideration it is probable that more than 99% of the beer produced in the United Kingdom is brewed by public brewers (brewers for sale). The disappearance of the smaller public brewers or their absorption by the larger concerns has gone hand-in-hand with the gradual extinction of the private brewer. In the year 1894-1895 8863 licences were issued to brewers for sale, and by 1904-1905 this number had been reduced to 5164. There are numerous reasons for these changes in the constitution of the brewing industry, chief among them being (a) the increasing difficulty, owing partly to licensing legislation and its administration, and partly to the competition of the great breweries, of obtaining an adequate outlet for retail sale in the shape of licensed houses; and (b) the fact that brewing has continuously become a more scientific and specialized industry, requiring costly and complicated plant and expert manipulation.

It is only by employing the most up-to-date machinery and expert knowledge that the modern brewer can hope to produce good beer in the short time which competition and high taxation, etc., have forced upon him. Under these conditions the small brewer tends to extinction, and the public are ultimately the gainers. The relatively non-alcoholic, lightly hopped and bright modern beers, which the small brewer has not the means of producing, are a great advance on the muddy, highly hopped and alcoholized beverages to which our ancestors were accustomed.

The brewing trade has reached vast proportions in the United Kingdom. The maximum production was 37,090,986 barrels in 1900, and while there has been a steady decline since that year, the figures for 1905-1906 - 34,109,263 barrels - were in excess of those for any year preceding 1897. It is interesting in this connexion to note that the writer of the article on Brewing in the 9th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica was of the opinion that the brewing industry - which was then (1875) producing, roughly, 25,000,000 barrels - had attained its maximum development. In the year ending 30th September 1905 the beer duty received by the exchequer amounted to £13,156,053. The number of brewers for sale was 5180. Of these one firm, namely, Messrs Guinness, owning the largest brewery in the world, brewed upwards of two million barrels, paying a sum of, roughly, one million sterling to the revenue. Three other firms brewed close on a million barrels or upwards. The quantity of malt used was 51,818,697 bushels; of unmalted corn, 125,671 bushels; of rice, flaked maize and similar materials, 1,348,558 cwt.; of sugar, 2,746,615 cwt.; of hops, 62,360,817 lb; and of hop substitutes, 49,202 lb.

The average specific gravity of the beer produced in 1905-1906 was 1053.24. The quantity of beer exported was 520,826; of beer imported, 57,194 barrels. It is curious to note that the figures for exports and imports had remained almost stationary for the last thirty years. By far the greater part of the beer brewed is consumed in England. Thus of the total quantity retained for consumption in 1905-1906, 28,590,563 barrels were consumed in England, 1,648,463 in Scotland, and 3,265,084 in Ireland. In 1871 it was calculated by Professor Leone Levi that the capital invested in the liquor trade in the United Kingdom was £117,000,000. In 1908 this figure might be safely doubled. A writer in the Brewers' Almanack for 1906 placed the capital invested in limited liability breweries alone at £185,000,000. If we allow for over-capitalization, it seems fairly safe to say that, prior to the introduction of the Licensing Bill of 1908, the market value of the breweries in the United Kingdom, together with their licensed property, was in the neighbourhood of £120,000,000, to which might be added another £20,000,000 for the value of licences not included in the above calculation; the total capital actually sunk in the whole liquor trade (including the wine and spirit industries and trades) being probably not far short of £250,000,000, and the number of persons directly engaged in or dependent on the liquor trade being under-estimated at 2,000,000. (For comparative production and consumption see Beer.)