Beer is a drink made from malted barley or other cereals by means of a process known as fermentation. Both beer and wine have been produced and consumed by Mankind for thousands of years. Until recently residue on pottery found in China dating back to 7000 BC was considered the earliest archaeological evidence of beer. In the West the process of brewing beer has been traced to the Godin Tepe settlement (Iran)1 between 3500-3100 BC, however clay tablets found in Mesopotamia (Iraq) from around 6,000 BC suggest that the Sumerians were already making and consuming this drink in large quantities.
Mesopotamian Goblet & Cup from around 4000-3000 AD and clay tablet recording beer rations distributed to workers
Some scholars believe that the process was discovered by accident as far back as 10,000 BC, when our Neolithic ancestors were mastering the cultivation of cereals and experimenting with making bread and other foods from their crops. A revolutionary discovery made in 2018, in the form of three primitive stone mortars from 11,000 BC found in a cave in the Carmel Mountains near Haifa (Israel), is now considered to be the earliest evidence of brewing beer. Bearing in mind that cereals only started being cultivated in the Levant some 4,000 years later, it appears that the value of such crops for nutrition was already recognised by the semi-nomadic Natufian tribe present in region 13,000 years ago.2
Bedrock mortars at Raqafet Cave in the Carmel Mountains (Israel) and illustration depicting the Natufi Tribe
Scientific studies of all the discoveries listed above show that these first beers were rather different to what we consume nowadays, having a much thicker consistency comparable to gruel or porridge. Other ingredients such as herbs and honey were often added leading to a sweeter taste and low alcoholic volume. The nutritional value of beer, as well as its inebriating effect due to the presence of alcohol derived from the fermentation process, was steadily recognised by ancient cultures. As in the case of wine, the consumption of beer has been linked to spiritualistic rituals, sacrificial rites, and in a wide range of other contexts. The Nubians3 used beer as an antibiotic medicine while Mesopotamians and Ancient Egyptians compensated their workers with this beverage, sometimes referred to as liqud bread. The drink soon became commercialised as evidenced by the discovery of an industrial-scale brewery found in Egypt dating back to around 3000 BC.4
Aside of workmen, Egyptian elites drank beer in their rituals & ceremonies. Jars and cups reconstructed from fragments excavated from Hierakonoplis dating from 3800-3600 BC
Beer brewing spread from Egypt to other areas of the Mediterranean, including Greece and Rome. Both these emerging cultures eventually came to prefer wine, and although evidence shows that the Romans had breweries and made beer, this drink was considered a low-class Barbarian drink, better suited for soldiers, slaves and the poor. The said Barbarians, on the other hand, which included Germanic tribes, were already making beer by 800 BC. They are credited with refining the brewing process and creating the drink as we know it today. Both Beer and Ale are indeed terms deriving from the German Bier (to drink) and Ol (Ale).5 After the fall of the Roman Empire in the West and through the Middle Ages, the craft of brewing was kept alive by lay members of society as well as Christian Monks, eventually becoming an integral part of their monastic life.
Primitive wine brewing in classical times and Trappist Monks enjoying the results of their craft
As the centuries rolled on, new methods were discovered resulting in a variety of beers subdivided into two main categories known as Ales and Lagers. The difference between an ale and lager is a result of the way they are fermented. Ales are brewed with top-fermenting yeast at warm temperatures while lagers are made using bottom-fermenting yeast at colder temperatures. The latter process was first developed in the 19th century and known as the Pilsner method. It takes much longer than warm fermentation and typically results in lighter coloured beers with a mellow taste and lower alcoholic volume. The oldest known surviving examples of bottled beer were discovered in a shipwreck from 1797 at Preservation Island to the north of Tasmania. Samples of this ale shed new light on the brewing process and ingredients utilised at the time, and scientists have recently been able to recreate this beverage using yeast from these beer bottles. Similar experiments have been carried out with beers recovered from another shipwreck off the coast of Scotland dated to 1895.
Recovering Beer Bottles from the Sydney Cove Merchant Ship - Sealed Beer Bottle from the Wallachia Shipwreck
When it comes to Malta, there is no corroborated evidence of beer brewing on the islands through antiquity, but it was already present in Sicily in the seventh century BC and traded by the Phoenicians. When one considers the close ties between Sicily and Malta, in terms of social and economic development, along with evidence of local wine-making by the Phoenicians, it is highly likely that the latter brewed beer here too. The same applies to the Roman period, although the drink was not as popular as wine, and beers were often mixed with other fruits, juices, nuts and honey. In both eras, it is probable that if any beer was produced here, this would have been done using imported malt or hops. Wine, legacy of Rome's preference, remained the staple alcoholic beverage through history and it was only when the British came to Malta in the early 19th century that beer became readily available to the populace. Malta's establishment as a British Naval outpost in the Mediterranean generated a large demand for all sorts of alcoholic beverages, and even more so for beer. This led a number of foreign and local firms to start importing this much requested beverage. One such enterprise was undertaken by H&G Simonds, a Reading-based brewery, through the establishment of an agent in Malta in the 1870s. This led to an official branch being founded in Valletta in 1890. The huge demand for beer is clearly reflected in official records: The number of imported barrels from Great Britain shot up from 11,253 in 1863 to nearly 47,000 in 1883.6 Considering that a Maltese 'Barile' held 9.5 Imperial Gallons, that's a staggering 2 Million + litres! It would not be until the 20th century, however, for the first proper industrial-scale breweries to be founded here.
The French surrender the Maltese Islands to the British in 1800 and Sir Alexander Ball, first Civil Commissioner for Malta. When the status of the islands was revised in 1813, Malta went from being a protectorate to an actual crown colony, and Commissioners titled instead as Governors
Beer, like most other drinks, was originally stored and sold in wooden barrels and ceramic containers. Glass bottles were first used for the commercial distribution of beer since the 1660s after it was found that this was the best medium to keep the drink fresher for longer periods of time. Despite the use of thick glass, many manufacturers experienced issues due to the bottles not being strong enough to withstand the pressure of Co2.7 After a century of experimentation, a new bottle design with a long neck was found to mitigate this problem. These are sometimes referred to as Porter bottles. Another challenge faced by brewers was the spoilage of their beers as a result of exposure to sunlight and Ultraviolet rays. This issue was eventually resolved by the adoption of brown coloured glass.
Stoneware bottles and brown glass bottles with flip-top ceramic stoppers
Nevertheless glass bottles were expensive to manufacture and most beers were still sold in kegs up to the 1800s. Stoneware bottles were introduced between the 1830s-1850s, but these proved to be expensive to manufacture and heavy in transport. The technological advances of the late 19th & 20th centuries eventually led to improved designs, materials and manufacturing techniques facilitating mass production of good quality bottles at a sustainable cost. One such innovation was the introduction of the metal crown caps in the 1890s. Beer bottles were originally sealed by corks until a new method was invented in the form of a flip-top ceramic cap held in place by means of a metal wire fixture. This was rather complex, often necessitating thick bottle neck tops, and was certainly not cost-effective. On the other hand, crown caps were easy and cheap to manufacture, and could be easily applied to bottle tops of simpler design. To ensure proper sealing the inner side of metal crowns was originally lined with cork and eventually with rubber-like vinyl.
The introduction of crown caps in 1892 led to simpler bottle neck top designs revolutionising the industry. The invention was patented by William Painter, an Irish mechanical engineer
Early beer bottles were usually marked with the brewer's name, location, and production year enabling them to be returned and reused. The terms beer or brewery were rarely included, but growing demand and competition led firms to make their products more distinct and recognisable. As bottle manufacturing became easier and cheaper further details were added including logos and mascots. Such script and motifs were typically embossed on the glass itself until modern printing techniques enabled the use of colourful labels. This proved to be advantageous since apart from further enhancing brand distinction and being more attractive, it was also more cost effective, especially after the invention of self-adhesive labels in the 1930s. The adoption of simpler plain glass bottles further reduced costs and made it possible for the same bottle design to be implemented for different beers made by the respective firms.
Embossed Glass Bottle & Plain Glass Bottles with Printed Labels. Both were in use by Farsons Ltd. between 1928-29
Brown glass remained the mainstream choice until the 1940s, but dark green glass was also commonly used for bottling beer. However it was the shortage of raw materials during World War Two that led to widespread use of green hued glass. While this was considered to be less effective in terms of protecting the beer from strong light exposure, improved brewing and bottling techniques led brewers to retain green glass after the war for branding and marketing purposes. Beer in green bottles has since been associated with higher class European breweries. Clear glass has also been re-utilised in modern times due to scientific developments whereby the bottles are coated with a UV protectant. The use of embossed glass in conjunction with printed labels has also risen in popularity in recent years, with some foreign breweries re-introducing ceramic flip-top stoppers for some of their beers. Bottles with stoppers have become popular with artisanal and craft beer producers.
Farsons Shandy Green Glass & Cisk Chill Clear Glass Bottles from 2022
While the use of glass for bottling beers has long been perfectioned, it presents three main disadvantages. Glass is fragile, heavy, and requires crates for transport, while taking up space on shelves and in fridges. A solution addressing all these issues came about in the mid-1930s when tin cans similar to those used for food were first utilised for selling beer. This innovation was pioneered by the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Co. of Newark, New Jersey, USA when it commissioned the American Can Company to supply cans suitable for its beers in 1935. The original design was simple and required a can opener. This proved to be unpopular so a cone with a standard bottle crown cap was added to the top. These cans are highly collectable nowadays and well-preserved examples are quite valuable.8 In January 1936, Felinfoel Brewery in the UK became the first European firm to implement this novelty, leading several other established breweries such as Tennants, Watneys and Simonds to follow through.
Crown Core & Seal Co. Advert from 1940 featuring its "Crowntainer" Cans & Carnegie Beer Cone-top Can made by the Continental Can Co. for Duquesne Brewery, Philadelphia, USA
The onset of World War Two made tin a precious commodity leading to the use of other resin-lined metals until the war effort necessitated a total ban of tin-canned beverages in both Europe and America. The USA resumed large-scale can production for beers in around 1947 but the devastation in Europe only saw the re-introduction of canned beers in the 1950s. By then, most cone-top varieties had become obsolete and phased out completely by early 1960s. This coincided with the production of cans made out of steel with aluminium tops and others made entirely out of aluminium. Finger-loop pull tabs were also introduced in the 1960s, while the crimped can design we are familiar with nowadays came about in 1970. Subsequent research was devoted to reducing the weight of these aluminium cans and eliminating internal liners that might be harmful to health. More refinements came in the form of better quality pull tabs, larger drink-holes, and a wide range of can sizes.
A Selection of SFC Pint-sized Cans from around 2011
From a local perspective, we are still looking into when the first canned beers were imported from abroad. The earliest examples of locally brewed beers in cans in our collection derive from the 1980s. To read more about Maltese brewers and their products, kindly click the links below. Click on image to leave this page or on the underlying text to open in a new tab
:QUICKLINKS: MALTESE WINE MALTESE BEVERAGES MALTESE SOFTDRINKS MADE IN MALTA HOME PAGE Notes & References 1. The Godin Tepe settlement in situated in the Zagros Mountains in modern day Iran. Some of the earliest evidence of wine production were also found within this site. (See our wine page, linked above, for more details). 2. The Natufian culture existed from around 12,500 to 9,500 BC. They are related to the Semitic-speaking people of today's Middle East. 3. The Nubians were a Neolithic group of people indigenous to the region which is now considered as northern Sudan and Southern Egypt. Their earliest settlement goes back to around 7,000 BC. 4. Since this particular brewery is situated in a necropolis it may have been set up to accommodate royal rituals in the funeral facilities of the Kings of Egypt. 5. The term lager is also of Germanic origin but it only became part of the English lexicon in the 19th century. It means cave and is a reference to the pratice of brewers using caves to condition their beer. 6. Official records kept by the British Colonial Administration show that 47,918 Barrels where imported to Malta in 1883 with 43,166 intended for local consumption. Beer was mainly imported from Great Britian with much smaller quantities driving from Italy, Cyprus, India, Australia and North Africa (mainly Egypt and Tunis). 7. Co2 is a gas used for bottling beer and other beverages such as soft drinks. 8. The Carnegie Beer Can shown as an example portraying crown-topped cans sold for $5,700 in 2020.
Resources Beer in the Ancient World - Joshua J. Mark via World History Encyclopedia (worldhistory.org) History of Beer - Wikipedia.org 13,000-Year-old Brewery discovered in Israel, the oldest in the world - timesofisrael.com Natufian Culture - Alchetrton.com World's oldest industrial-scale Brewery found in Egypt - Smithsonianmag.com Ancient Egyptian elites used a thick beer porridge in their Ceremonies - Jason A. Murugesu via Newscientist.com A Beer brewed from an old Tasmanian Shipwreck - Fiona Stocker via BBC.com The Treasure inside Beer lost in a Shipwreck 120 Years Ago - Chris Baraniuk via BBC.com Century-old Beer found in a Shipwreck might change Modern Brewing - Tobias Carroll via Insidehook.com Why do we drink Beer? - Bruce Kish via Homebreweracademy.com Beer in Italy - Wikipedia.com Malta Blue Book - Nso.gov.mt Why are Beer Bottles Brown? - Salesforce via Oberk.com The Crown Cap - Pe-Di.com A Brief & Condensed History of the Beer Can - Jamie Jurado via Beerandbreweing.com The Design and Evolution of Beer Can Openings - Rain Noe via Core77.com Dating Cans - Gary Gauger via crowntainer-central.com
Images 4th Millennium goblet & cup from Susa in the Zagros Mountains (Iran) - Siren-Com via Creativecommons.org Mesopotamian Beer Record Tablet - Britishmuseum.org Bedrock mortars at Raqafet Cave - Dani Nadel (AFP) via BBC.com Natufian culture - Alchetron.com Beer & Ancient Egypt - Searchinginhistory.blogspot.com Egyptian Beer Jugs & Glasses - Journal of Anthropological Archaeology via Newscientist.com Brewing wine in Ancient Rome - Homebreweracademy.com Trappist Monks sharing Beer - Aleteia.org Recovering Beer Bottles from a 1797 Shipwreck - Mike Nash / TP&WS / QVMAG via Bbc.com Beer Bottle from the Wallachia Shipwreck - Steve Hickman via BBC.com French Surrender illustration cropped from a vintage Raphael Tuck & Sons Postcard - Louis Cardona via Pinterest.com Rear-Admiral Alexander John Ball oil on canvas portrait by Henry William Pickersgill held at the Royal Museums Greenwich, UK - Public domain photo via Wikipedia.org Stoneware Bottles - Live Auctioneers via Pinterest.com Brown Glass Bottles with Flip-top Stoppers - Stockfood.com William Painter's Crown Cap Design - Albert Musquiz via Heddels.com Farsons Embossed Bottle - Racanc via Facebook.com Farsons Bottle with Printed Label - SFC via Facebook.com Fasrons Shandy & Cisk Chill Bottles - Farsonsdirect.com Crowntainers Advert from 'American Brewer' publication - Imprints Dept., Hagley Museum & Library - Hagley.org Carnegie Beer Can - Moreanauctions.com SFC Pint Beer Cans - Farsons Annual Report 2012 via Farsons.com Some images may have been cropped, resized or altered for better clarity & presentation