All the fat guys watch me and say to their wives,
"See, theres a fat guy doing okay. Bring me another beer." Mickey Lolich
|Turn your home into a brewery and have some fun.
What is this thing called beer? Why does it taste the way it does and who can solve the mystery of its origins? If you have never wondered about the answer to these questions, its high time that you did. As a wine drinker, beer is an alien brew upon whose qualities I can only speculate. (My tasting is limited to when I used to condition my hair with beer. Every once in a while, a drop would spill down my face and end up in my mouth.) Like the proverbial cat, however, I am curious about this colorful concoction and its power over mankind. Arent you? (Say yes or nod.)
Beer is almost as old and controversial as civilization itself. Made from barley, grain, hops, water and yeast, the word "beer" most likely originated from the old English "beer" or "beere", which was the plant once used in making beer. Later, when barley was substituted, the drink retained its name. The word may also have come down to us from the Latin verb, bibere, which means to drink and which later became biber and then bier. In Spanish, the word for beer is cerveza which has its origins in Ceres, the Roman god of agriculture. Fermented beverages in various forms were well known to the peoples of the ancient world. Chang is a Tibetan beer, chica is one made from corn, and kumis is a fermented drink produced from camels milk. While exact origins will never be certain, it is clear that beer (like some relationships and all taxes) is here to stay.
The oldest records of brewing date back six thousand years to the first written language (cuneiform). They refer to the Sumerians, who lived in Southern Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in the cities of Babylon and Ur. The discovery of fermentation was probably an accident. A likely scenario could have involved a piece of bread or grain that became wet and a short time later, fermented, resulting in an inebriating blob. An ancient engraving which is also a recipe for making beer bears a hymn to Ninkasi, the goddess of brewing. It describes barley and a pictograph of bread being baked, crumpled into water to form a mash and then transformed into a divine drink that made the Sumerians forget about the significance of inventing the wheel.
The Babylonians under the leadership of Hammurabi became the rulers of Mesopotamia after the second millennium, BC. Their culture was derived from the Sumerians and thus they had mastered the art of brewing beer. In ancient times, beer was cloudy and unfiltered (like Pall Mall and other cigarettes). Drinking straws were employed to avoid ingesting the brewing residue, which floated unattractively across the top. (Talk about smoke getting in ones eyes!) Still, beer was a vitamin-rich drink, which when consumed daily reduced disease and malnutrition. The Egyptians also brewed beer, adding dates to the amber fluid to improve the taste (not Saturday night acquaintances, fruit). Under the Romans, beer was only brewed in the outer regions of their empire where wine was difficult to obtain. To the Romans, beer was considered the drink of barbarians. (Throwing Christians to the lions was the modus operandi only of gentlemen of the highest caliber.) In general, early civilizations found the mood-altering properties of beer supernatural and intoxication was considered divine. (W.C. Fields could have been a god among men and much happier here than in Philadelphia.)
Until the Middle Ages, brewing and the baking of bread were exclusively womens work. This began to change shortly before the first millennium, when the centers for learning, the monasteries, turned their attention to beer brewing. Perhaps one reason that beer became associated with them (the monasteries in Holland and Belgium in particular) is that in ancient Babylon women brewers were priestesses of the temple, thus connecting beer and religion for the first time. The monks desired a pleasant tasting, nutritious drink to serve with their meals, which could be lacking, especially during periods of fasting. The consumption of beer in the monasteries of medieval Europe reached astounding levels; historians claiming that each monk was allowed five liters per day! (W.C. and his drinking buddies really did miss their calling!)
Monks began to sell their brews and many monasteries developed into well managed commercial enterprises. Their beer was popular, of the highest quality and sold in "monastery pubs" throughout Europe. After the Reformation and the weakening of the church, brewing beer fell into the hands of commercial brewers. Local sovereigns introduced beer taxes, which rapidly began to add to their wealth. Many monastery pubs were forced to close because their previously privileged status had exempted them from these taxes. Still, civilization owes much to the monks for being the first to scientifically develop the brewers art. As the local water supply was often contaminated, beer provided a safe drinking source and was promoted by the authorities.