How did they carbonate beer in ye olden times?

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Sep 11, 2020
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I've been wondering about this recently, but how did past brewers carbonate/pressurize their beer? I hope this is the right sub forum, but I'm curious how brewers from medieval times to around the 1700s managed to carbonate beer. Like, did they bottle condition it? Crown caps are a relatively recent invention though. Was every beer put in a glass bottle? Sounds expensive...

Did they have some way of carbonating large batches of beer at once? Can you carbonate beer in a barrel? Sorry, just very curious!
You can carbonate beer in a barrel by spunding it (sealing it up) just before fermentation is done. The yeast will continue to produce CO2 which will build pressure and force carbonate.
I was just reading some of Lars Garshol's writings about carbonation in traditional farmhouse ales earlier today. Historically, they were served with very little carbonation because most farmers didn't have anything solid enough to hold pressure, and even if they did, they wouldn't have a way to accurately prime to create a certain carbonation level. But farmhouse brewers still had some interesting ways to generate a little carbonation. They would often rack beer to serving/storage vessels after only 24 or 36 hours, before fermentation was complete, and then keep it at cellar temperature. To serve, they'd dispense a large portion of beer into a serving bowl and set it out for guests. As it came up to room temp, the remaining yeast in suspension would start up and try to finish fermentation, resulting in some extra carbonation. Smart!
Sugar has been available in Europe since the 11th Century and honey long before that (mead). Priming with sugar is definitely not a 20th Century invention.

In England bottled beer was allegedly invented by Alexander Nowell as far back as 1568.
Wooden beer kegs were lined with tree pitch to seal them up. Usually they were carbonated at the tavern or beer hall where they were being served. Publicans would put a carbonating charge in the keg through the bung hole, hammer in the bung and let them settle for a week or two before serving.
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