“Mmm…beer,” says Homer Simpson while perching on a stool at Moe’s bar. Homer’s love of beer is legendary, but he’s not alone. Some might go so far as to say, “Beer makes the world go round.” In a way, it has with its long history that reaches back at least 6,000 years. No one is certain who the first brewer was or when the discovery of fermentation created a drink of epic proportions took place, but history tells us that humans stopped being nomadic and began farming grains, but how the process was unearthed remains a mystery.
The first known society to brew beer, the Sumerians, left behind evidence through a seal. As cultures come and go, the Sumerians’ time came to an end and the Babylonians took over. King Hammurabi, a Babylonian, passed a law rationing beer according to individual’s level of importance to the country. The Babylonians pushed brewing beer forward with twenty different types of beer under their belts before the next great empire grabbed the barley and ran.
The Egyptians became brewers and used unbaked bread dough for the fermentation process. The beer at this time often had the yeasty bits still floating around, so “beer straws” were used to keep the bitter remnants from getting into the mouth. The beer that we know today was developed in Mesopotamia. The Greeks and Romans continued the process of brewing beer and the word beer comes from the Latin word, bibere, “to drink.” The Romans being a snooty crowd discovered they much preferred wine and to celebrate with bacchanalia abandon, so beer was relegated to the outer most regions of the empire. In the mind of urbane Romans beer was a barbarian drink.
The people of Germany brewed beer as early as 800 BCE. In the Edda, a fantastic Nordic epic, “wine belonged to the gods, beer to mortals, and mead for the inhabitants of the underworld.” Until the Middle Ages, bread-making and brewing were women’s work. It wasn’t long though until monks in monasteries began brewing beer first for themselves and then to sell. Just as we drink water or soda today, ancient people drank beer due to the pollution of water sources. Beer or ale was the drink of the common people.
When a batch of brew failed, no one knew the reason; therefore it must be the doing of a “brew witch.” In 1591 the last brew witch burned to her death.
The Europeans brought many things to the New World, but brewing was not one of those things. Native Americans discovered brewing and wine making on their own. Early American beers were mostly top fermenting or ales similar to those made in the UK today. The influx of German immigrants brought with them bottom fermentation and a new beer came to the Americas. Early brewers with names like: Stroh, Pabst, Coors, Hamm, and Schlitz began brewing for a nation. The 19th century brought about scientific research with Louis Pasteur leading the way to pasteurization. Finally, the chemistry and science behind what makes good beer came to light. The 1870s witnessed the apex of American breweries, but the decline began, ending in January 1920 when Prohibition became the law of the land. Roosevelt repealed the law in 1933.
The US hasn’t looked back since the time of speakeasies and black market beer. In 1977 the first microbrewery began production. With travel more readily affordable, people returned to the US demanding the full-bodied beers of overseas. Breweries everywhere answered the call and the US now brews more different varieties of beer than any other country. In recent years a boom in hand-brewed beers has brought about restaurants that cater to all that is beer and people are drinking it up like a pint of good ale with foam moustaches for all. Benjamin Franklin summed it all up with, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”