Brewing could well be the most ancient manufacturing art in the world. The brewing of beer was common to many civilisations. The Chinese were brewing beer 5000 years ago and beer was a significant
part of the diet for ancient Egyptians. In fact it was quite common for ancient Egyptians to spend evenings socialising in beer houses. Beer was so important to the Babylonians that in 2100 BC the
King of Babylonia imposed a law to protect the consumer. Punishment for short measures served by an innkeeper was death by drowning.
The art of brewing beer was brought to Britain by the Romans. Although beer had been brewed for centuries by this time it had always been kept in earthen jars, dried gourds or bags made of skins or
leather rather than wooden barrels. It was actually the Celts who first made wooden barrels. Celtic tribes had settled in much of Europe including the British Isles. They were a non-literate
culture and so there are few written records of their civilisation.
Wooden barrels became popular for beer because of the advantages of their great robustness and the fact that they could easily be moved by rolling. By the 16th century they were widely used
despite the fact that they often harboured bacteria that spoiled the beer. Brewers often cleaned affected barrels, called "stinkers", with chemicals such as lime and lye before refilling
them. UK beer kegs were coopered to the standard size of 36 gallons.
In the mid-20th century stainless steel and aluminium barrels started to become prevalent. Today wooden beer barrels are a rarity and are generally only used by home brew enthusiasts and some
specialist real ale breweries.