A Brief Lesson On The History of Beer

By: Yelena Keselman

beer history

On my plane ride back from the Big Easy my boyfriend handed me a book called “A History of the World in 6 Glasses” by Tom Standage. In summary, this book outlines monumental points throughout history starting from the beginning of modern man to the 1900’s and highlights the impact of 6 influential potions. The first chapter, of course, covers the most primitive and ancient of them all, BEER. To my surprise, the practice of wheat fermentation is thought to be the origin of alcohol altogether. The first evidence of brewing is credited to civilizations in ancient Mesopotamia in 10,000 BCE (before common era) in an area that presently makes up the Mediterranean coast.

As with many amazing innovations, beer was actually discovered by mistake when grain (the primary source of food at the time) was left untouched and made a chemical metamorphosis into a malted, slightly fizzy concoction modernly known as beer. As the ancient Mesopotamians started to play around with the intoxicating libation they realized they could alter it’s side affects (alcohol content) depending on how long it was fermented and began to add available ingredients such as honey and fruit to morph taste (archaic craft brews)

With the abundance of grain, beer quickly flourished into a large part of everyday life. According to researchers, beer played a significant role in the increase in quality of life, mainly due to the fact that it was safer to drink than water. The brewing process entailed boiling the liquid, therefore beer was a great source of hydration minus the water borne pathogens (water sources were often simultaneously used as toilets). The author also praises beer’s involvement in the most historic of human events, which was the transition between a nomadic existence to a more stationary form of living. Connecting their desire to produce and cultivate ingredients for beer to the formal adaptation of farming.

Even the earliest evidence of the written word from both the Mesopotamian and Egyptian cultures consistently mention beer. The illustration above portrays beer as symbol of social gathering, something to be shared among family and friends. It was often drank from large pottery jars through long straws. (The straw technique was initially used in order to avoid swallowing larger pieces of grain then eventually straining before consumption became a common practice). Despite those who believe that aliens built the pyramids of Egypt, there is strong evidence that it was actually a group of hard working beer lovers. Tablets documenting labor earnings have been uncovered and portray a combination of beer and bread to be the most commonly used form of compensation for a days work.

Fortunately for us, one would expect to earn much more than a lousy loaf of bread and the equivalency of one pint of beer for 12 hours of back braking labor in this day and age. Also, although it cannot be formally proven, I also have a hunch these ancient brews weren’t exceptionally good but hey it was still beer.  If its weren’t for the trials and tribulations of the past we wouldn’t have the delicious craft brews of today. So… every time you have a beer, be appreciative, as it is of course one of the longest lasting and monumental beverages of them all!