A Crash Course in the History of Beer

Beer GlassThe rich history of beer spans thousands of years.  The earlier parts of beer history can be unclear depending upon how you define beer and if you include when beer was first produced on a domestic scale.  The full history of beer is as interesting and intriguing as it is exciting.  In fact, beer is considered to be one of the oldest beverages ever produced.

The Beginning of Beer

It is impossible to pinpoint exactly when beer was first created, however it has accurately been depicted as far back as the fifth millennium BC.  It is written in the history of Asia and Egypt as well as in Mesopotamia.  In most cases, beer was created by cultures soon after they developed any serial type food containing certain sugars.  This is because the cereals could undergo spontaneous fermentation due to wild yeasts in the air.  Chemical tests on ancient pottery jars reveal that nearly 7000 years ago is when the first biological process of fermentation was used.  The oldest hard evidence of beer is a 6000 year old Sumerian tablet.  Additionally, a nearly 4000-year-old Samir in Holland contains the oldest surviving beer recipe.

The Middle Ages to Early European History

The importance of beer in cultures ebbed and flowed until the Middle Ages as wine was often the more popular beverage.  For example, beer was important to early Romans however it was quickly replaced by wine because it was considered fit only for barbarians.  During the medieval period, as many as 500 monastic breweries existed in Germany alone.  Some historians credit monks as the first to introduce hops as an ingredient in beer.  They also are responsible for a number of beer-related scientific breakthroughs of the time.

Many European drinkers didn’t immediately take to the addition of hops.  For some time, ale was considered a separate beverage from beer which was brewed with hops.  In fact, during the late 15th century English ale and beer were brewed separately because no brewer was allowed to produce both at the same time.  By the 16th century, ale had come to refer to any strong beer and all ales and beers contained hops.  Historians note that lagers were discovered by accident in the late 16th century because beer was stored in cool caverns for extended periods of time.

The Industrial Revolution

With the invention of the steam engine, the industrialization of beer quickly became a reality.  Since then, a number of additional innovations to the brewing process have been created and implemented to improve efficiency and attenuation.  Several important breakthroughs were made during this period.  For example, the drum roaster was invented in 1817 which allow for the creation of very dark, roasted malts.  In 1857, the role of used in fermentation was officially recognized as a way to prevent the souring of beer.

Modern Beer

Prior to prohibition in the United States, most brewers focused on European-style beers.  Since Prohibition forced most breweries out of business, beer was often little more than a watered down light lager.  Today, the brewing industry is a global success.  The size and scale range from multinational companies to successful home brewers.

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