Beer: The More You Know

posted on 3/6/13

Beer. A magical liquid with powerful capabilities. It alleviates awkward tension and humbles the greatest leaders. Even President Obama, the most powerful person on the planet, kicks back every now and then with his home brew.
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The memory of my first beer is so firmly rooted in my cerebrum that thinking about it often conjures a feeling similar to how a parent feels when they remember the birth of their child. The only difference is that my memory involves a frosty can of Keystone Ice at a shitty frat party and not a $10,000 hospital bill or new mouth to feed. St. Patrick’s Day is quickly approaching and it wouldn’t be complete without a few green beers. But have you ever thought about this drink’s history? Like wine, beer has an ancient and complex story.

1. Beer is really old. 

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I’m talking before the birth of Christ old. The Ebla tablets date back to 2500 BC and detail Mesopotamian life at the time and one thing they all shared was their love of beer, regardless of class or social standing. In lieu of currency, the drink was often paid to workers as rations. This is probably the origin of the phrase “functioning alcoholic” as well. Brewing was a well-respected profession that was made up primarily of women. Be sure to thank the nearest woman the next time the mountains on your Coors can turn blue.

2. Egyptians continued the beer-loving tradition. 

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The Egyptians went ahead and topped the Mesopotamians by leaving behind detailed records of their ancient brewing techniques. A healthy Egyptian diet included beer, dried fish, and bread. Minus the fish part, the Egyptian diet essentially makes up my dream last meal. Egyptians also considered beer to be an acceptable medicine and used it frequently to treat illness. The beverage also served as a perfectly acceptable gift for pharaohs and was often offered as a sacrifice to the gods. At its most basic element, beer basically kept everyone in ancient Egypt happy.

3. Beer and Christianity rose to fame together. 

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Shocking absolutely no one, brewing rose drastically with Christianity. Monks built breweries strictly to keep the thirst of passing pilgrims quenched. Since rivers and streams were filled with sewage, beer was pretty much the only thing people drank in the middle ages. And the monks brought dedication, passion, and skill to brewing. You can thank them for being the pioneers of sanitation.

4. The Germans were sticklers for uniformity. 

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In early modern Eruope, Germans began brewing lagers—a bottom-fermenting beer that requires a long, cold fermentation process. The Germans quickly created purity laws, or “Reinheitsgebot,” which states that the only ingredients allowed for beer brewing were water, malted barley, malted wheat, and hops. Foreign brewers criticized the law, claiming it prevented other country’s beers from being imported to Germany. Many German and American breweries still abide by the outdated law.

5. The first glass beer bottle may have been the product of a fishing trip.

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There are no records of storing beer in glass bottles until the late seventeenth century; however, Thomas Fuller, a seventeenth century historian, credited Dr. Alexander Nowell with being the first. As the story goes, Nowell had left a glass bottle of his home-brewed beer in the bank of a river on a fishing trip. When he returned to the spot several days later, Nowell found the bottle, popped off the cork, and instantly heard a loud bang. In the bottle, the ale underwent a second fermentation process which created an excess of carbon dioxide pressure that caused a loud noise when released. I’m no scientist but I’m pretty sure you have opened a bottle once or twice and are familiar with the noise I’m talking about here. Should Nowell really be credited with being the first successful beer bottler? Who knows, but the story is fun nonetheless.

6. The Mayflower colonists originated the beer run. 


More or less, the Mayflower colonists settled at Plymouth because their beer supply was dangerously low. After a lot of trouble, the Mayflower finally reached Plymouth Bay. The land had already been cleared by Native American farmers who quickly died because of European viruses. The Europeans decided to stay put because they knew they did not have time to find a better area with such a low beer supply. Though it’s funny to think that the colonists had their priorities straight in needing to get tanked all the time but truth be told, beer was such a huge part of their diet that they probably feared illness without it.

7. Ireland has always loved its beer.

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In the 1700s, the population in Dublin was about 70,000 residents. Those residents were served by more than 1,500 taverns and hundreds of small breweries. It’s safe to say that people probably didn’t have to worry about running into an ex at the pub back then. Kilkenny is home to Ireland’s first big commercial brewery and was founded by John Smithwick in 1710. Guinness may be Ireland’s most famous beer but it certainly is not the oldest.

Since you know everything about the history of beer now, learn how to truly enjoy your favorite beverage with Tasting Beer: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink

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