The History Of Beer
Archeologists and historians have found traces of beer throughout our whole history. Some of the oldest findings are the Egyptian papyrus scrolls which go back over 7000 years and the earliest known alcoholic beverage of any kind is from China’s Yellow River Valley, dating back over 9000 years.
The fermented beverage has filled our history with mythological and audacious stories. Like todays modern brewing the early age brewers experimented with many kinds of ingredients found in their surroundings. The old methods of brewing and fermenting has shaped some of the beers we come to love today for example sour beer, smoked beers, porters/stouts etc.
How the first beer was made is not known, but like so many other things coincidence and chance has played its role. It is thought that grains were left out in the rain and it started to sprout which would lead to the malting process and the enzyme development inside the seeds. At some point heat was applied, maybe in a pool of water warmed by the sun, but the grain fermented, and the water turned into a thick dark liquid – and who didn’t want to drink that. Before pasteurization and sterilization was entirely understood the sour beer was one of the most common beers. As pure yeast cultures were not available, it is believed that the starter used from one batch to another usually contained some wild yeast and bacteria, which are they key ingredients. Some say it also originated from when bacteria cultures from wooden pillars spread to barrels with sour liquids.
The name beer said to originate from “bier” in the German language, brought to England by the Saxons. The Norseman or the Vikings used to drink “mjöð or mjöðr”, which was a water and honey-based beverage and is believed to be even older than wine or beer. Later the word “alu” from the Proto-Indo-European is said to have given the name to the English “ale” and the northern “öl/øl”.
If we are to be believe in the stories over 4000 years ago in Babylon it was tradition, after a wedding, for the father of the bride to give his son-in-law all the mead he could drink for a whole month, or a moon cycle. Since mead, or “mjöð”, was made of honey this was often referred to as honey-moon period! The modern beer as we know it today was born in the early Middle Ages. Malted barley was the main source of fermentable sugar for hundreds of years, herbs and spices were added to enhance the flavor.
In the twelfth century, German monks commonly used hops in the beer and since monasteries were often a place for travelling pilgrims. it quickly caught on. Monks were amongst the first brewing innovators and in addition to adding hops they came up with cold storage, or lager. Hops added a very pleasing, thirst quenching bitterness to the beer and as a bonus the hops also acted as a natural preservative, thus extending the life of their beers. Belgian monasteries have a long tradition of brewing beer and some of them are the highest-ranking breweries in the world today.
Germany, Belgium and the British Isles became the brewing centers of Europe. The porters, stouts and pale ales became part of everyday life in Britain and even the British army handed out daily rations to their soldiers. As the British empire expanded, the Royal Navy shipped beer to their soldiers all the way to India, but unfortunately the beer often arrived sour or stale as in India it was too hot to make a proper Pale Ale. It was then discovered by adding hops and increasing the alcohol level, the beer would survive the long journey. This beer became known as the new pale ale or commonly the Indian pale ale, hence the birth of IPA.
However, with the development of proper refrigeration the traditional IPA itself almost died out. The strong, hoppy IPA as we know it today became that way only when American brewers, in the 70’s, set about recreating forgotten British styles, including IPA, the American way! It is said that the fist refrigeration system was developed as a request from a brewery in München, around 1876, to Carl von Line. After this discovery beer was no longer relying on seasons or weather. With the industrial revolution, modernization changed the nature of beer, both in the production and the consumption. A porter was the first beer to be aged at the brewery and made fit to be drunk immediately. It was also the first beer that could be made on any large scale. With large scale production other technologies advanced, like the invention of the thermometer and the hydrometer.
The beer pump was discovered, allowing the pub owner to pump the beer from large containers in the basement to a device in the pub, often placed under a long table known as the plank or the bar. Instead of pouring beer into jugs carried from the tap room, it could now be served directly to the customer and a large handle was placed on the bar which operated the main valve. Beer has been a part of our civilization and culture from the earliest man and some say, civilization was created because of beer. It is said that agriculture was a direct result of beer, people had to stay in one place to grow crops to be able to make beer. Writing was discovered to make inventories. Beer quickly became a known currency and is said to have been used as medicine and payment for the workers building the great pyramids. Contaminated water brought disease and other health issues, but since the brewing process for beer involved boiling water, then fermentation, the final product was free of bacteria. Some say that in the sixteenth century England beer consumption was three times more than what was consumed in the twenty-first century. Midwives administered beer, instead of water, to their patients and the newborn babies were washed with old ale. This is thought to have saved many lives.
History mentions a war in Poland around 1380, which started in the Polish city of Vretslav, now Wroclaw. The war started over a dispute about the profit from beer sales, the profit was split between the city council and the Church. Intervention from the Pope was required to get the city under control. In 1857 a French biologist and chemist was conducting experiments on beer. He was trying to find out why beer was sometimes spoiled. Something was making the beer “sick”. His name was Louis Pasteur and he discovered bacteria. He theorized that if it could make beer sick, it could make humans ill to. It is said that Sir Hugh Beaver, who was the Managing Director of Guinness Breweries, was on a hunting trip in 1951. After missing a shot during the hunt, he had a disputed argument, with his fellow hunters in a nearby pub after a few pints of beer, of which bird was the fastest bird in Europe. He then decided to make a book that would settle such arguments. The Guinness Book of World Records was first published in 1955. In 1767 an English chemist, by the name of Joseph Priestly, moved in next to a brewery and was intrigued by the gases that came from the vats, so he started to experiment with them. Pouring water over the vats he discovered what he called “soda water” which was water and “fixed air”. Later he went on to discover Oxygen.
The Pilgrims on the famous Mayflower were initially heading to Virginia to start their lives in the New World. The journey took longer than expected and they ended up at Plymouth Rock, instead of pushing down the coast. The reason for Captain Jones decision was that they ran out of beer. They met a well-travelled, English speaking Native American named Squanto which helped them survive the first winter. In 1516 the German beer purity law “Reinheitsgebot” was introduced in Bavaria and is still active today, in its revised form. The purpose was to not only prevent price competition but to also restrict the ingredients in beer. The original laws permitted beer to be made only with barley, hops and water, later acknowledging yeast and also permitting wheat. This law has been widely debated, but at one point this lead to something that we today now know as “Marketing”.
German brewers have used this law to market German beer internationally and was one of starting points for brand recognition. Another pioneer in the marketing industry is the English Brewery Bass, founded by William Bass, in 1777. The brewery’s most common known product was the Bass Pale Ale and it became the largest brewery in the world by 1877. The company, and the beer had to stick out from all the other beers and they were one of the first companies in the world to introduce the “logo”. Their logo was a red triangle. To prevent other companies to copy their product they became the UK's first registered trade mark.
With the growing consumption of beer and other alcoholic beverages the term alcoholism was born. Both political and religious powers led to the famous “Prohibition in the United States” from 1920 – 1933, banning production, importation, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages. Breweries were only allowed to make “near beer”, beer not exceeding ABV 2,75 % (later reduced to 0.5 %). Before Prohibition, there were over 1300 breweries in the United States, only a handful survived. The breweries were often big, tax-paying companies that required massive equipment and not easy to go “underground”. Most breweries were owned and staffed by German-Americans. Many breweries had to start making the “near beer”, others had to shut down or become creative and many companies changed their strategy to making ice-cream, malt extract or even pottery. Some say that the American light beer is a direct consequence of the prohibition. A similar ban was set in Iceland in 1908, to take effect on January 1, 1915. This ban, with a few exceptions, was not lifted until March 1, 1989. March 1. is celebrated in Iceland today as the Beer Day. It’s said the international beer day is august 2.
As we can see beer has been part of mankind since the start of civilization and maybe the reason for civilization itself. It has produced some remarkable stories, a lot of hangovers and a lot of foolish behavior. Today beer is a huge industry and the love of beer is growing throughout the world. My final words will be words spoken out in many countries, many different languages and from many different time eras. The words for toasting, praising, blessing or thanking: Cheers, skål, proost, prost, na zdravi, santé, cin cin, salute, kippis, 干杯 / gān bēi; 乾杯/ Kanpai, ΥΓΕΙΑ.