It’s been part of our culture since before the Romans. Celtic pagans considered it sacred, fifth century monks prized it for its purity.
But Britain has no national museum dedicated to the contribution made to our society – by beer.
This could be set to change, as a coalition of politicians and ale enthusiasts are planning a centre dedicated to the history of the nation’s favourite drink, in Burton-on-Trent, the former brewing capital of England.
The campaign began in response to an announcement by brewers Coors it was closing its vistors centre in the Staffordshire town.
The firm, which produces Carling, said it could no longer afford to run the former Bass Museum, focused on the history of brewing in Burton.
The centre closed at the end of June.
But Burton MP Janet Dean (Lab) is working with Staffordshire County Council, the West Midlands Regional Development Agency and the Campaign for Real Ale to ensure it is replaced by something even better.
They want to create a full-blown national museum which covers the enormous contribution beer has made to the history and culture of the British Isles.
Coors has agreed to back the project by providing the premises at a nominal rent and providing funding of £100,000 a year.
But it would need up to £256,000 more to survive, even though it is expected to attract 18,000 vistors a year.
Now the hunt is on for sponsors from the world of business or the National Lottery, to ensure the tale of the drink known as liquid bread is told.
And the project has won the support of the Government, after Culture Minister Gerry Sutcliffe told the House of Commons: “As a nation, we take our beer pretty seriously.”
England’s ancient brewing industry centred on Burton because of the quality of the area’s water. The monks of Burton Abbey are recorded to have been hard at work making ale in the 11th century.
Beer was important partly because the brewing process meant it was safer to drink than water, which was unlikely to be pure.
The Bass Museum was opened by brewers Bass in 1997, to celebrate the firm’s bicentenery.
Coors took over the company in 2002, and continued to operate the museum as the Coors Visitor Centre.
The announcement that it was to close its doors prompted letters of protest from as far afield as France, Canada and America.
But Ms Dean said the decision could be an opportunity to create a truly national museum – rather than one dedicated to a particular brewer – when she urged Ministers for their support, during a House of Commons debate.
She pointed out that Belgium, Denmark and Poland each have brewing museums, while the Czech Republic has two.
The visitors centre is currently closed, but Coors had agreed to keep everything in place ready for it to be re-opened if funding could be found before the end of the year, she said.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Ms Dean said: “I also urge the brewing and pub industry to come forward with offers of financial support. I know that these are not easy times for the industry, but this is a golden opportunity to have a museum that reflects the industry as a whole.
“When the museum was run by only one brewer, it could not be a national museum, nor could it draw down financial support from the lottery and other bodies. The opportunity is now there to develop a national museum of brewing. This is a one-off opportunity, and one that we cannot afford to miss.”
Culture Minister Gerry Sutcliffe gave enthusiastic backing. He said: “As a nation, we take our beer pretty seriously, and a national brewing museum has the potential to be the public front door for the brewing industry.”