The History of Beer
Beer was among the first alcoholic drinks known to man. Have you ever wondered who invented beer? When was the beer invented? Where was beer invented? How was beer invented? So, we decided to explore the history of beer.
Beer history begins in the area between the Euphrates and the Tigris, parts of present-day Iraq and Iran. This area is considered the cradle of civilization, and as scientific research confirms it is the cradle of brewing as well.
The first known human civilization was the Sumerian. In addition to being credited for the discovery of cuneiform, time measurement, it turned out they have also contributed to the discovery of beer. The first written records about beer can be found on a Sumerian 6000-year-old clay plate. On it featured drawings of people drinking beer from clay bowls using long straws. Also, from 3900 years BC dates song which contains the first written recipe for beer production, dedicated to the goddess Nikas. She was Sumerian brewing protector. There are various beer ingredients mentioned there, but the most important ingredient was barley or barley bread.
However, the history of beer is certainly older than the first written records. Scientists agree that beer production begun when people discovered the cultivation of crops and therefore hunting switched to sedentary way of life. The grains were given bread, but inadequate storage of the grain attracted moisture and with the help of ubiquitous wild yeasts, fermented into the unknown mixture. This was the first beer. Curiosity and pioneering spirit drove people to taste this mixture. Then they learned about what makes beer so desirable – a pleasant taste, nutritional value and, of course, intoxication. Very soon people mastered the process of alcoholic fermentation and beer began its journey around the world.
The earliest evidence of beer history is the chemical tests carried out on glittery pots 7,000 years ago in the area of present-day Iran, where traces of fermentation and brewing have been found.
The Sumerian civilization was destroyed by the Babylonians, but they did not destroy their technological achievements, especially not beer.
One of the most important rulers of Babylon Hammurabi passed the world’s first known law, and in it several paragraphs are dedicated to beer. So, among other things, he stipulates that beer must not contain too much water and should not be sold at a high price. The law also cites penalties if barmaids are cheating guests: “If a barmaid (female) does not accept grain according to gross weight in payment of drink, but takes money, and the price of the drink is less than that of the grain, she shall be convicted and thrown into the water.”
It is interesting beer fact that the parts of the Hammurabi Code relating to beer are written in the female gender. It suggests that working in the brewery then was a woman job.
As we already mentioned, beer production is closely related to the production of wheat and bread, and the Egyptian civilization was created on bread production. So, you should not be surprised that Egyptian raised beer affinity to a new level.
The production of beer in ancient Egypt was already known in the 3000 BC, and beer had become an integral part of the life culture at that time. Over the course of time, beer became a daily drink for Egyptians, from Pharaohs and nobility to ordinary peasants. They made beer from wheat, barley and other cereals. The historical writings mentioned many types of beer, so they had a “dark beer”, “Sweet beer” “dense beer”, “friendly beer”, “decorated beer”, “protectors’ beer” etc. Like the Babylonians, beer production was a woman’s job, and it would remain that way until the Middle Ages.
God Oziris, besides Raah, the most important deity in Egypt, was the god of the most important things of life – fertility, death, resurrection, and beer production. Images of people drinking beer out of a bowl, through the long straws, are common in Egyptian tomb interiors.
Although it may seem unusual today, much of its popularity was owed to one very important element. Due to cooking during brewing, beer was much healthier than water. Namely, the very questionable quality of water supply caused illness, epidemic and death. Although people did not have knowledge of bacteria, it was clear that common water increased the likelihood of getting infectious diseases.
Greeks and Romans
Under the leadership of Alexander the Great, the Greeks occupied Egypt and ruled over the next 300 years, until the legendary Cleopatra. Though they admired the Egyptian culture and way of life, they didn’t share Egyptian enthusiasm about beer.
Even before the conquest of Egypt, the Greeks knew about beer. It is not entirely clear where they learned about the production of beer – from the Egyptians or the Jews. The Jews called beer a sheher, and they produced it from malt, which they called maza. It is an interesting fact that the Arabs still call beer maza.
Aristotle called beer a pinon, from the verb pine, meaning to drink. Later beer will be known as zythos, due to its foaminess.
Although they were great colonizers who spread their culture to the Mediterranean, beer was not among their cultural or export assets. They considered it a drink for the weak or wine for the poor. The Greeks were and remain wine lovers, and so it is today, which clearly shows this WHO research.
After the Hellenistic civilization, the new great civilization was the Roman Republic, and later the Empire. There, beer was called Cereale Vinum, and among other things, it was used in honour of the goddess Ceres. Thanks to this, beer was given a simpler name cerevisiae. This remains the name for a beer in the Roman languages like in Spanish, Portuguese, Welsh and in parts of Switzerland. Interestingly, although the common Italian word for beer is Birra, in Rome still is the common name Cervisia.
Apart from producing it, the Romans “imported” a few types of beer. Therefore, they knew Celtic beer called Cerevisia, Egyptian zythum and Scythian Beer Camum. Just like in Greece, beer has never become popular in Rome. They regarded beer as a barbarian drink and probably this is the reason why wine was rarely mentioned in Roman literature. When mentioned this is mostly for medical purposes, as a means of purifying the organism. Another interesting fact is that the Roman women used beer for cosmetic purposes!?
On the other side of beer history, Germanic tribes did not like wine, because when drinking wine they got drunk quickly and fall asleep, which was not appropriate behaviour for a free man and a warrior.
Hops – Next Big Thing
There is no accurate record of when the hops were first used in beer production. It is only known that it was used by the Slavs, Germans and Celts. It is considered that the oldest preserved data of using hops in the brewery, is the one from Finland. However, it is known that hops was used as an ingredient for beer production in the 6th century. Hops is also mentioned in Kalevala – the Finnish national epic.
In the history of beer, it was recalled that monks in Brabant, present-day Netherlands, used hops for the first time. From there comes the story of Brabant king Gambrinus who invented beer, which is why he is celebrated as the patron saint of brewers.
Anyway, adding hops to beer has proved to be a key factor that will remove all the prejudices and make it such a popular drink. In addition to giving a pleasantly bitter taste, hops slows propagating bacteria, therefore it was possible to keep beer longer. Also hops accelerated beer clarification. At that time, between the sixth and seventh century, at the same time of entering of the hops, word beer (birra, bier, beer, bière) was introduced. It is interesting that hops belong to the same family of herbs as marijuana.
Until the introduction of hops, a mixture of different herbs and spices, called “Groot”, was used as a supplement to the beer. Each brewery/monastery produced its own Groot whose recipe was strictly kept as a secret. Like many times before and after the Church tried to stop hops used, fearing for their monopoly on Groot. Fortunately, without success.
During the 8th and 9th century in the empire of Charlemagne, beer became increasingly popular and its production overtook wine.
Over time, due to better storage and medical benefits, even monks accepted hops. On the church council in Aachen, in 817 AD, the decision was made after which beer was no longer considered a pagan drink. It was proclaimed a Christian healing potion and became a regular part of the monastic diet. It was allowed to be consumed even during fast.
The Council evolvement gave an additional boost to monasteries to continue and improve production. For the history of beer, it was an important point, because monasteries became the first research centres. They were experimenting and improving the recipe for the production and storage of beer. Monasteries were even allowed to sell beer, and all that led to the emergence of a new branch of industry – brewery.
Soon beer became so popular that it was increasingly produced in households. With the emergence of larger cities and artisans, first breweries started to appear, with trained workers and purpose-built facilities.
This was particularly the case in Central Europe. The city of Hannover in today’s northern Germany became by the mid-14th century the largest centre of the brewing industry in the world. There were more than 450 manufacturers who were producing beer with exports exceeding 100,000 hl.
Then the first laws and regulations governing the production of beer were made, from Augsburg in 1158, Paris in 1268, and Nuremberg in 1293. The most famous of these is the Reinheitsgebot (“Beer Purity Law”) issued by Bavarian Duke Wilhelm IV. It was one of the most important milestones in the history of beer. An interesting fact is that Reinheitsgebot stated that beer should be produced only from barley, water and hops.
There was no word about yeast because in a process of fermentation no one could see yeast cells and their role, since the first microscope invented some century and a half later, to be precise in 1674. A detailed study of the role of yeast in alcoholic fermentation discovered by Louis Pasteur in the middle of the 19th century. That was almost 350 years after the Beer Purity Law.
Until the 19th century, beer production was not based on scientific facts. It was more about the experience and the principle of attempts and mistakes. Perhaps the best illustration of the methods used by the brewers of that time is that they accused so-called “Beer witches”. These were women accused of beer spoilage. Although it seems incredible today, women accused of being beer witches ended up at the stake. The last among them was burned in 1581 in Switzerland.
The Emergence of Modern Beers
The first industrial revolution led to a whole series of discoveries, especially in England. A new way of brewing was discovered there, using brawn malt, with many hops and matured for months. The result was what today is known as dark porter beer. It was another breakthrough moment in the history of beer.
This production method has enabled a stable supply of pubs and the foundation for industrial production of beer was set. Soon the process was perfected and the pale malt started to produce.
This kind of production was a remarkable breakthrough in beer production and it did not go unnoticed by German producers. What did they do? They simply stole the secret of pale malting.
In the meantime, Bavarian brewers have been trying to solve the problem of beer sustainability in their own way. Because of deterioration, the law forbade to produce beer in the summer, so brewers kept beer produced during the spring, in mountain caves at low temperatures. They even brought ice from nearby lakes during the winter in order to somehow preserve beer.
Over time some of the yeasts showed the ability of fermentation at low temperatures. In this way, the beer obtained was easier and more durable than known before. Due to a somewhat longer maturation, it was even more durable. This beer was named a lager. Namely, the word lager comes from the German word lagern meaning “to store”
1843 Josef Groll, a Bavarian brewer who worked in the brewery in Plzen, in today’s Czechoslovakia, produced the first golden beer, today is known as a pilsner.
The Industrial Revolution brought a whole series of inventions and innovations that will further accelerate production and consumption of beer. The cheaper and more accessible glass bottles and the ubiquitous presence of railways allowed more convenient, safer and cheaper transport. The invention of mechanical refrigeration technology meant that brewing is not dependent on the availability of ice. In other words, beer is now able to be produced anywhere.
All this, as well as easier and lighter flavour of lager beer, made it quickly popular all over the world. Lagers have squeezed out the current way of beer production and make up more than 95% of the world’s beer production today. However, ale remained in the UK and Ireland, as well as Belgium and even today is widespread and more popular than lager. In Belgium breweries still produce beer using centuries-old technology of spontaneous fermentation using wild yeasts, or other supplements such as cherries for Kriek beer, which is the top malting art and extravagance today.
The Industrial Revolution paved the way for huge factories and new technologies of industrial production of beer. However, it has not destroyed the tradition of microbreweries around the world and many of them successfully work today.
In any case, no matter how interesting the history of beer is, it is even better to be devoted to drinking beer in the future. Cheers!