History of Beer
A Brief History of Beer
Beer in Prehistory through the Middle ages
Archaeologists have found proof of beer being brewed from barley before 6000B.C. In Sumaria, and Babylonia. (Britannica on line) In
fact, Professor Solomon Kats of the University of Pennsylvania, among other noted anthropologists credits the accidental discovery of
beer as the primary cause of civilization for early man. They suggest the following scenario: Early man (actually, early woman) having
harvested grain that grew wild in the Fertile Crescent, would store it in clay jars. At some point, the jars were rained on, which allowed
the grain to start to sprout. Not knowing any better, the owner of the grain went ahead and baked it (thus making the first Malted barley).
The resultant loafs of bread would have been much sweeter than normal (more on this later) and thus very popular. If the jar that the
loves were stored in then got rained on, and some of the wild yeast that is found in virtually every corner of the world got into the liquid,
and voila, the first beer. With this as motivation to harvest more grain, grain went from being an occasional supplement to the diet, to a
major motivation on where to live. This went on to drive the shift from hunter-gatherer, to crop cultivation and commodity living,
according to Dr. Katz. (Smith 5-7) Recent archaeological digs have provided additional support for Dr. Katz's theories.
A glimpse of this early form of community can be found at Hacinebi Tepe, a site investigated by Dr. Guillermo Algaze, an Anthropologist
at the University of California-San Diego specializing in the colonialism of ancient civilizations. (Smith 8) There is further evidence that
the record keeping involved in the earliest trading of grain and beer was the driving force behind the first cuneiform alphabet; and we
have found records of loaf type beer, as described earlier, to include at least 19 different types complete with recipes dating from over
4500 years ago.
The Babylonians, who conquered the Fertile-Crescent, took over the brewing business when they took over the Sumerians. They also
traded in grains and beers, and interestingly developed the first "Premium Beer", which they differentiated from black beers, fine black
beers, red beers, spiced beers, and wheat beers. The Babylonians also developed the first Purity laws for beer, violation of which
brought a sentence of death. (Smith 11)
Beer was also developed in the area that would one day be known as Egypt, at the same time period. A fact that lends further credence
to the theory that beer was discovered by accident. The Egyptians became masters of the brewer's art, and documented their recipes
heavily. They also were the first civilization to add the step of boiling the wort (the liquid that will become beer after the yeast has had a
chance to work) to concentrate the sugar, the same technique used today. (Smith 12) The history of beer in the Egyptian Kingdom is
long and rich, documented in such varied places as King Tuts Tomb, The Talmud, and the works of Herodotus, the Greek Father of
History. Egyptians also passed their knowledge of brewing on to the Greeks, Romans, and through them, the rest of Europe.
The next major development in beer history came during the reign of Charlemagne. The Emperor seemed to place a large importance
on brewing, and imported a priest named Gall, (later Saint Gall) to refine the brewing process. St. Gall introduced methods for
Mashing, Fermenting, Storing, and Caring for beer that revolutionized the industry; most of these techniques are similar to the ones
used today. It is important to note that the Church had a major influence through out the early history of brewing. This Influence started
with the Egyptians and would continue through the Middle Ages, having a great impact on what was put in beer, and how it was made.
The Church used beer for two reasons; one was as a "Cash Cow". The control of the market in the items needed to make beer, as well
as some of the finest breweries produced a large financial benefit. The Second reason was personnel control, by being able to
regulate beer production and consumption, the Church had a powerful weapon in its battle to control the hearts and minds of the
"flock". This strangle hold on the raw materials included the only sources of items called Gruits. Gruits were things added to the beer
during the boiling process that helped preserve the beer and removed some of the cloyingly sweet taste that pure malt liquid had.
All of this came to a halt during the later Middle ages, when in eastern Europe someone discovered that hops, a plant first grown in the
area now known as the Czech Republic would preserve beer much better than the Gruits sold by the Church, and were a lot cheaper
too. Hops could be grown anywhere in Europe, instead of being imported from the Holy Lands, and while they produced a more bitter
beer than most of the Gruits currently in use, they weren't under the Church's control. This caused such a hue and cry that hops were
declared anathema in many places, and small wars were even fought over the issue of "to hop or not to hop" (Gayre75-80) (Smith
20-25) While there is much more to the story that could be told, it doesn't really bear on brewing in America, until we get to the
colonization of North America.
Beer in America
Beer was very important to the American colonists, so much that a brew house was one of the Priorities of the first winter's construction
at Plymouth colony. Beer went on to be of such importance that in 1667 in Massachusetts one of the countries first consumer laws dealt
with how beer could be made, and what could go into it. (Smith 33) As the history of the Colonies went on, more and more government
influence was seen in the brewing, taxing, and regulation of beer, including the licensing of brewers, and the hated Stamp, and
Townshend acts. Thus you could make a point that regulation of beer played an important part in the move to revolution! We Americans
decided that if King Gorge wanted our beer and our guns, he could pry them from our cold dead hands! Well, we of course won our
revolution, and beer drinking and making was a vital part of our culture for the next 130 plus years.
Prior to the advent of prohibition in 1919, virtually every neighborhood had it's own small brewery where beer was made in small
batches to a high quality standard. Then came prohibition, and virtually overnight these "mom and pop" operations went bankrupt. The
only breweries to survive were the ones that could convert their production to other items. By and large, these breweries were the few
that owned their own barley fields and their own malting ovens. They survived by making candy, malted milk, soda, malted pancake
flour, or malt syrup (from which illegal home brew was made.) Writer H. L. Mencken said of the bootleg homebrew industry, "...every
second household has become a home brewer, in one city with a population of 750,000, there are now one hundred shops devoted
exclusively to the sale of beer making supplies." At this time, one proprietor of such a shop, by no means the largest, reported sales of
two thousand pounds of malt syrup a day. (qtd in Smith 130)
In 1933, the eighteenth amendment to the U. S. Constitution (enacting prohibition) was first amended and then later revoked; repealing
prohibition, but the damage was done already. 1934 through 1938 saw the brewing industry trying to recover, retool, and start to pick
itself up. The Federal Government, who was desperately trying to put people back to work, supported this. The reader is reminded that
this was the height of the great depression, and any way to stimulate the economy was grabbed with both hands.
In 1938 the brewing industry took a second shot on the chin. The U. S. Government had been watching the events in Europe with
concern, and when war broke out, they were sure that the United States would get involved, either by supplying the Allies with goods
and material or by actually fighting alongside the Allies. As a result, malted barley flour, which was high in energy, relatively cheap to
manufacture, and had a long shelf life, was declared a "critical war material" by the War Department, alongside sugar cane, sugar
beets, rubber, and many other materials. This meant that the War Department had first claim on the barley malt that the brewers were
producing to make beer. The Anheuser Bush corporation made a deal with the war department that they would sell one half of their
malt production to the government for cost, in return for the exclusive right to supply beer to the troops. This deal single-handedly made
them the biggest brewery in America. As the gear-up for war continued, ship, aircraft, and war material production went in to full speed
and the demand for beer by thirsty workers rose as well.
In 1942,"Rosy the Riveter" and her sisters hit the work place, and shortly thereafter, the bar. "Rosy" wanted a lighter beer that the men
were drinking. This was just fine with the brewers, as they couldn't keep up malt production anyway, and more malt was used in
heavier bodied brews. Thus was born the move to add corn and rice to beer making a lighter beer that could be made in greater
quantity with the material available, and for less money.
After the war, commercial brewers saw no reason to go back to the old ways of brewing. After all, people were buying the stuff as fast as
they could make it, and they were making money hand over fist. This trend continued into the 1970's when something new entered the
In the 1970's, Americans started going to Europe in record numbers as tourists. They brought back with them tales of the wonderful
beers that they had experienced overseas. Add to that the "do-it-yourself" craze that started around then, the lack of a commercially
available comparable beer, and the apparent disinterest in change by major brewers, and you have all the drive that was needed to
start the home brew and micro-brew craze. People demanded a beer that was more inline with traditional old-style brewing, a beer
with more body; a beer with more character; a beer that got all of it's flavor from barley, oats, and wheat, not corn and rice.
There were of course other contributing factors, from the "back-to-the-land" commune folks, to the entrepreneurial types that saw a
niche market and jumped at the chance to make a profit. But if the hometown breweries hadn't been driven out of business and the big
breweries hadn't been forced by the war to change their recipes, and then been too blinded by greed and inertia to change back, there
never would have been a reason to develop the home brew industry. In reality, we are just returning to the roots of brewing in America,
the neighborhood brewery.
Beer Institute Annual Report. Washington D.C.: 2001
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Gayre, Robert G. Brewing Mead, Wassail in Mazers of Mead. Boulder CO: Brewers Publications, 1986
Griffiths, John R. "Single Step Infusion Techniques." Zymurgy Vol. 18 No.4 (1995) 58-62
Moylan, Mark. "All-Grain on a Shoestring." Zymurgy Vol. 18 No.4 (1995) 88-92
Papazian, Charles N. the New Complete Joy of Home Brewing. New York: Avon Books, 1991.
Richman, Darryl. "Decoction for Beginners." Zymurgy Vol. 18 No.4 (1995) 62-66
Shaw A. H. Hops/Beer/Ale/AAAARG Online Posting.21 Nov. 1995 Stefan's Florilegium Archive.
Referencing Alcohol in Western Society from Antiquity to 1800 a Chronological History. Austin, Gregory A. Staff of Southern California
Research Institute 1985
Smith, Gregg. Beer: A History of Suds and Civilization From Mesopotamia to Microbreweries. New York: Avon Books, 1995
Wiemann, Charlie. "A Grain Brewer's Glossary." Zymurgy Vol. 18 No.4 (1995) 20-27