The first known photo of people enjoying a beer is believed to have been taken in Scotland in 1844, just 18 years after Joseph Nicéphore Niépce took the world’s first photograph. Scottish photographers Robert Adamson and David Octavius Hill captured and produced the image.
The skills involved in producing calotypes were not only of a technical nature. Hill’s sociability, humour and his capacity to gauge the sitters’ characters all played a crucial part in his photography. He is shown here on the right, apparently sharing a drink and a joke with James Ballantine and Dr George Bell. Bell, in the middle, was one of the commissioners of the Poor Law of 1845, which reformed poor relief in Scotland, and author of Day and night in the wynds of Edinburgh. Ballantine was a writer and stained-glass artist, and the son of an Edinburgh brewer. On the table we see a beer bottle and three 19th-century drinking glasses called “ale flutes”. One contemporary account describes a popular Edinburgh ale (Younger’s) as “a potent fluid, which almost glued the lips of the drinker together, and of which few, therefore, could dispatch more than a bottle.