This article is from the Real Ale FAQ, by with numerous contributions by Brett Laniosh others.
A: Something like beer has probably been drunk for many thousands of
years. For centuries it has been an accepted part of northern European
lifestyle. The largest brewhouses were to be found in religious
institutions that catered for a complete community, but otherwise brewing
was on a domestic scale. 19th century industrialisation had a profound
effect on the size of breweries and started a continuous process of
takeovers and mergers with breweries and brewing companies getting larger
and more powerful. The wealth of the brewers lead to their establishing
what today we call franchises - the tied house where the publican is a
tenant of the brewery and sells only their beer.
Fortunately there are still breweries where you can see the traditional
processes used for the last two hundred years.
In the 60's the production of keg beer, increased rapidly. By filtering
and sterilising before it left the brewery, then adding gas at the pub,
the beer was easier to keep, always looked clear with lots of nice fizz.
The economics of this operation and the marketing opportunities arising
from it lead to an acceleration in the continuing process of takeovers,
eliminating small brands, closing smaller breweries to build larger, more
modern ones. Also at the time many brews suddenly became weaker.
It is easy to forget 25 years on how serious the possibility of the
complete elimination of traditional, unpasteurised beer really was. The
nucleus of consumer reaction was provided by the Campaign for real ale,
which struck a chord among many drinkers. This resulted in all the major
breweries except Guinness retaining a portfolio of real ales, even though
some of those left a lot to be desired, often being presented as if made
in small breweries or a completely different brew under a resurrected