The History of Beer: Part 1

Since the dawn of human civilization, beer has been a huge part of the culture, making it’s way into people’s daily lives. Flashing back ten thousand years ago, people were shifting from a nomadic lifestyle to a life of settlement–which facilitated the agricultural revolution.  This made way for grain harvesting, and thus created the base ingredient in beer brewing and the beginning of beer’s long history.

Since the creation of beer transpired in a time without social media, we aren’t exactly sure how the brewing process was initially discovered. However, it is thought that some bread or grain got wet and fermented, and since food was usually scarce and wasting food that wasn’t apparently deadly was unheard of, people ate it.

What we do know is this: the oldest document humans have discovered so far that alludes to the brewing process traces back over 6,000 years ago to the ancient Sumerian civilization. Transcripts from the Sumerians let us know that beer made them feel “exhilarated, wonderful and blissful,” and they considered the beverage a gift from the gods. A 4,000-year-old Sumerian poem honoring the Goddess of Brewing contains the oldest known beer recipe and describes the Sumerian method of brewing beer from barley through bread.

The transcripts also give some insight into how the Sumerians drank their beer. As they had not yet perfected the art of filtering bitterness out of their brews, Sumerians preferred to drink their beer through straws.  The popularity of the beverage continued to explode, and by 2000 B.C., there were over twenty different varieties of beer. Every citizen had a daily beer ration which was determined by the individual’s social standing. Beer quickly became a vital part of many cultures’ economies–so much so that people’s wages were sometimes even paid in beer.

Beer brewing carried on, and eventually reached Egypt. Once there, the great civilization decided to alter the beer’s taste, in order to offset the bitterness, by adding sweet Medjool dates. The Romans and Greeks also brewed beer, but, in the midst of the rise in popularity of wine, beer ended up being viewed as the drink of the lower class.

Flashing forward a bit, the Catholic Church also got involved in beer making. At one point in time, many religious communities owed their existence to beer, because the profits they made from selling their brews kept them up and running. Charlemagne, himself, was thought to have trained people in the beer brewing process–that’s how much beer was considered a staple.  Much like their ancient ancestors, Christians also felt that beer was a gift from God.

Beer wasn’t held is such high regard only for its intoxicating abilities, it was also much safer to drink than water. During the middle ages, water was filled with disease-causing bacteria. Because beer went through a cooking process that eliminated the bacteria and made it much more sanitary to drink, it was often preferred over water and became a staple in diets for people of all ages.

Beer has been through a long evolutionary process, and we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface on its rich history. In next month’s blog we will discuss the history of beer from the 1800’s onward, so be sure to tune in!

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