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The Origins Of Beer (sort of)


Pyramid and Beer Ah, Beer… no one is certain when beer first came to be, much like the origin of the Universe or the birth of creation, it is one of our great mysteries. The notion of fermentation probably occurred immediately after some pre-historic squabble, and some caveperson took an angry shuffle walk into the forest. While observing a now extinct species frolicking in some fermented berries, the caveperson noticed that they seemed a hell of a lot happier than he did. So, like all great creations, the caveperson experiments and eats the berries while contemplating on his rock, and finds that he feels decidedly better. This really should have been the Space Odyssey 2001 sprawling drum roll moment, because here lays the beginning of self-medication, the ultimate coping tool to propel the survival of our species.

“Hey, Zog… bummer about missing that woolly mammoth. Let’s have some magic berries. ” Which evolved into:

“Oh my god, I can’t believe the Pharaoh wants to erect this 480 foot pyramid and we have to build it in 110 degree weather.. Oh hey, are they paying us in beer? Sweet!”

Which evolved into:

“Wow. Too bad about the Romans kicking our asses and taking our land… hey- let’s have an ale or 10 and forget all about it.”

Which evolved into:

“Damn, these syphilis sores hurt, and these tights are really riding me. But, if I keep drinking beer, I don’t seem to mind as much.”

You get the idea.

The Egyptians brewed beer over 4,000 years ago, and it was a daily staple for the whole family. It was also the official beverage offered to the Gods and placed in tombs of the dead. This is was ancient equivalent to tipping one to your homies. The Egyptians probably taught the Greeks to brew beer, and in turn the Greeks taught the Romans, who in turn taught Britain and Germany, whom in turn brought it with them to the United States. However, The oldest record of brewing ale dates back to around 6,000 years ago, in a Sumerian document. So, it was right alongside the first written language. Nice to know they had their priorities down. Communication? Check. Beer? Check.

For an interesting piece of beer bible trivia, it is possible the Saxon translation of the moment Jesus turned wine into water was incorrect. There was mention of ale vats lining the room. Maybe Jesus turned water into beer. Okay, if that’s the case, then I’m sold - Truly, a Festivus miracle.

By 1000 AD Beer was in full swing. Hops was believed to have been used primarily to help preserve the ale, but they probably recognized that it tasted better, too. The origins of Hops are said to have been used first in Brabant monasteries in modern day Belgium. The monks desired a pleasant tasting, nutritious drink to serve with their meals. The consumption of beer in the monasteries of medieval Europe was pretty high, I have read historians claiming that each monk was allowed five liters per day. Hmm, pleasant taste or pleasantly tanked?

By the year 1250, beer was the common drink, for old and young and with all meals. It was a popular beverage choice in a time where such options as freshwater, tea or coffee were not readily available, and beer had a nutritional value that could not be ignored when breakfast could consist of a slab of bread. Beer nourished the body as well as the soul. Plus, if you had to empty out royal chamber pots, wouldn’t you prefer to do it inebriated?

Beer was a mainstay in virtually all households, and in the 17th century version of Good Housekeeping, “The English Housewife”, it states: "It is most requisite and fit that the Housewife be experienced and well practiced in the well making of malt... for as from it is made the drink by which the household is nourished and sustained". Ha. Wife, get your family good and snockered, and then no one will complain that the stew isn’t quite right, or that they have a hole in their tights.

Benjamin Franklin lived in London in the 1700’s, and recorded the daily beer consumption in a particular establishment he frequented. The employees each had a pint before breakfast, a pint between breakfast and dinner, a pint at dinner, a pint at six o'clock and a pint when they finished work. Whoo-hoo! Are they still accepting applications?

By the 18th century the annual consumption of spirits in London was about 14 gallons a head, however, the average Londoner drank nearly 90 gallons of beer yearly. Beer began to fall out of the spotlight a little when tea and coffee was introduced to England; home brewing began to wane, although beer certainly was still a staple.

In 1620, The Mayflower lands at Plymouth Rock. It is noted in the ships log that they landed early due to the ships dwindling supplies, “Especially our beere..” So, beer wasn’t on the way out, it was just that the average English household lacked the commitment to drinking it at the same rate. The pilgrims, though- they were scared about their dwindling beer supply. When they met up with the Native Americans, they were making a beer-like beverage using Maize. This is also probably the reason we celebrate Thanksgiving today. “Thank you, I will not have to detox in this unknown land.” Little wonder that people began filing out of England to the New Country, with the induction of teas and coffee and other namby-pamby beverages. Most of the founding fathers of The United States were brewers, so I am thinking the beer drinkers had themselves an exodus.

The United States experienced a massive European immigration in the nineteenth century, and Germans establish breweries all over the country, making a pilsner style beer quite popular. By the year 1900, there were over 4,000 breweries in operation, mostly small brewery style houses. Teddy Roosevelt knew the power of beer - while training the Rough Riders in San Antonio, he bought the men all the beer they could drink. Also, when Roosevelt went on safari to Africa in 1909, he brought with him over 500 gallons of beer. Hey, if you are going to confront a rhino…

Sadly, The 18th amendment outlawed the manufacturing and sales of beer. This was mostly a puritan value push, but with the onset of WWI, the prohibition act was pushed through, due to a non-foreign sentiment in the United States, and there were a lot of German brew houses. Of course, the only success prohibition can offer history today is the birth of organized crime, because much like Calvin Klein jeans in the 80’s, nothing can come between the common person and their beer. Short-lived, the 18th amendment was repealed during the Great Depression of the 30’s. Again, coincidence that it was called the Great Depression because it started with no beer? I think not.

I think you all can trace the history from here on out pretty well. We all know, somewhere within us, we just work better as a species if we have beer by our side. We have proven that we don’t want to live without it, and today there are over 2,000 microbreweries in the United States. Hopefully we are moving toward the number that we had at the turn of the last century. Budweiser is the world’s best selling beer, so clearly we still have lessons to learn, but, this is one of the joys of being human. Drinking beer, and learning how to be better.

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