A (very!) brief history of beer, nectar of the Gods

What can one truly say about beer? It has had such a far reaching effect on society from heights of pleasure whereupon celebrations of life have occurred to the depths of desolation in the bar fights and many mornings of guilt and hangovers induced by that magnificent amber liquor.

Beer itself was a fortuitous discovery by the Sumerians about 6 millennia ago, at least that is as far back as the written record of beer goes, a majority of modern historians believe it has been brewed since grain has been cultivated. Back then the role of Baker and Brewer were interchangeable as it was the Baker of bread who knew the secrets of brewing. Also it was quite a different beast to the beer of today – being a gruel that was drunk through a hollowed reed to avoid nasty bitter solids left over from fermentation.

Despite these obstacles the brew was a most popular intoxicant also championed as the nectar of the Pharaohs by the Egyptians, only to go out of fashion when the wine drinking Greeks and Romans became the dominant powers in Europe.

Speaking of Europe what about the rest of the globe? Historically beer was not prevalent in Asia or America due to the staple crops being rice and maize respectively which are better suited to ferment into wines, and with the overall higher Alcohol By Volume (ABV) of these liquids there was little benefit to attempting to produce anything else.

What about Hops, when did they come about? Using Hops as a bittering agent only came about because Gruit; a mixture of herbs including horehound, dandelion and wormwood, was a sketchy mix at best, and apart from beers spoiling due to a lack of preservatives, the easiest foil to the sweetness of malt was the simple but difficult to cultivate bitter Hop flower – which also had the added bonus of adding an antibacterial effect to protect the brewer’s yeast from other microorganisms.

In 1516 William IV the Duke of Bavaria, adopted the Reinheitsgebot (purity law), which was for a time the oldest food regulation still in use (this passed from German law in 1987). The Reinheitsgebot only permitted the following ingredients to be allowed in beer: Hops, Malt, Water and Yeast. Due primarily to this the Hop became a staple brewing ingredient and we have the wonderful beers we have today.

Well I guess there’s nothing left to do now than crack open a nice American Pale Ale: Talking about beer is thirsty work, cheers!