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Beginnings: Early times to 1560

Everyday Life


By Rudolph Kenna

Long before the Romans invaded the British Isles, the indigenous populations made a crude form of ale from grain and other ingredients such as dried flowers and plants. A Dark Age poem, the Gododdin, composed around AD 600, contains references to mead, a wine made by fermenting a solution of honey.

By the 12th century brewing was extensively practised by the clergy. Glasgow Cathedral, founded in 1136, stood on the north bank of the Molendinar Burn, a source of excellent water for brewing purposes. Until the Reformation, Dominicans or Black Friars had a house on High Street while Franciscans or Grey Friars inhabited the west side of the street. These monastic establishments would have been equipped with brewhouses as well as bakehouses: bread and ale were part of everyone’s diet. After the Reformation the religious houses of the Grey Friars and Black Friars fell into ruin. Brewing became secularised and a number of small commercial breweries were established in the Drygate. Home brewing was a regular domestic chore: one of the virtues of a ‘guidwife’ was that she should be a capable ‘brewster’. In the Middle Ages Scottish ale was a sweet-tasting beverage since hops were unknown. When hopped beverages were imported from the Low Countries they were greeted with suspicion and downright hostility. Long after our English neighbours had grown used to ‘beer’ flavoured with hops, Scots continued to drink ales flavoured with aromatic plants and herbs, including broom, gorse, myrtle and ginger.

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