How Beer Changed the World

Not to make it sound like some sort of scholarly treatise, but beer has influenced cultures for as long as the written word has been around to record history. There is also every probability that beer in some form predates the written word.

There are clay tablets from Babylon that provide detailed recipes for beer, meaning that all that effort language scholars expended on deciphering the Rosetta Stone was well spent.

Beer was an important part of Babylonian civilization and also figured prominently in The Egyptian, Hebrew, Chinese and Incan cultures. It had so much value, that it was sometimes used to pay workers. Good work if you can get it.

The Egyptians had the right approach, prescribing beer for over 100 different medical maladies. Men would frequently return from a visit to the doctor with huge smiles on their faces, saying things like, “Honey, wait until you hear what the doctor says I have to do.”

Probably the most significant historical event regarding beer would have to be when the Romans spread it to Northern Europe sometime around 55 BC. The resourceful German natives learned to brew it and modify it to versions that still exist today. By 1200 AD, commercial beer making was firmly entrenched in Germany, Austria and England. The Germans were developing lagers at this time, while the British were producing ales. As these cultures embarked on territorial expansion, they spread beer first all over Europe, then to every continent, where it complemented the brews of native populations.

In short, beer played an important role anyplace where wine was not fermented, but also in many places that did produce wine.

The world continued to be influenced by historical events that involved beer in more recent times. The wildly popular India Pale Ale was the result of the British Empire’s colonization of India. A beer that could tolerate the long overland journey from England to India was needed for thirsty soldiers. Beer was much too heavy and space on ships too valuable to transport it by sea. It was discovered that extra hops could serve as a preservative, and India Pale Ale was convoyed across Europe, making many stops along the way.

Of course, any mention of beer influencing culture must include some mention of the 18th amendment to the Constitution of the United States, usually simply referred to as Prohibition. For 13 years, the national ban on the sale, manufacture and transportation of alcohol created a serious case of the blues for Americans who believed that the freedom to drink beer was one of the original provisions of the Bill of Rights. The unintended consequences of Prohibition from 1920 to 1933 are still felt today whenever organized crime, which got its foothold during Prohibition, exercises its influence by meeting some demand for illegal supplies.

This was also the time when home brewing first became popular, an activity that continues to this day, and has resulted in the creation of thousands of micro-breweries which dot the map all over the country.

Home brewing is a fun, easy hobby. If you can boil water, turn it into soup and clean things like bottles and brewing vessels, you can not only make beer, but you can make some of the best beer you will ever drink. Maybe it’s the freshness that accounts for this. Maybe it’s the sense of accomplishment you receive instantly when you taste, for the first time, how beer is really, really supposed to taste.

Whatever the reasons, you can get started making beer, including brewing equipment, bottles and ingredients for your first five gallon batch for $100 or less. From that point forward, a five gallon batch will cost about $30, give or take a few bucks.

It takes about 31-40 days to make a batch from start to finish, meaning that you get to have Christmas every six weeks or so.