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The History of Homebrewing - Part 1

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I love beer (more on this later) and I love history. There have been many times I have gone down the rabbit hole that is Wikipedia and three hours later I find myself on some page about some obscure topic that I'm sure I'm the only one that's read it since the author wrote it.
My 16 year old daughter is taking A.P. U.S. History this year in school and I swear her textbook is bigger than the New York City phone book but I find myself going into her room just to "check on her homework" when what I really want to do is look through her textbook. I'll be enjoying myself reading about the Industrial Revolution when I find her eyes staring at me. "Dad? If you don't mind I've still got a lot of homework to do."

"Oh, sure, honey. I'm sorry." I leave slightly disappointed.
As I mentioned before I love beer, also. I wouldn't be here if I didn't and neither would you, I suppose. I agree with Michael Jackson (the departed beer writer, of course, not the departed singer) who said there is a beer for every moment. I love homebrew the best, of course, and especially the brews I make. I always drink locally as much as I can but on a hot, Texas summer day just after I've finished cutting the grass, an ice-cold Lone Star hits the spot. My favorite beer, though, is usually the one that's in my hand.
But, let's start talking about the history of homebrewing. Let's start at the beginning of brewing because the people that discovered fermentable starches were, of course, homebrewers. And for this early history, I am also including fermented grapes, rice, etc. as well as grains.
The earliest records indicate that people were brewing and drinking alcoholic beverages in China around 7000 BCE and in the Georgia area (not the state but the country near Russia) around 6000 BCE. The earliest records of brewing with grain come from Mesopotamia around 3100 BCE in an area called Sumeria (in present day Iraq).

I can imagine an ancient Sumerian man with loaves of bread lying outside the door of his house. It's getting close to nightfall and his wife says, "Please bring in the bread. I don't want it sitting out all night."
"Yes, dear."
It rains that night and the next morning he sees the ruined, mushy bread and says to himself, "I'll get to that right after I finish this" a few days pass and his wife says, "Would you please throw out that ruined bread!".
He picks up the pot, catches a whiff and says, "Hey, wait a minute!", musters the courage to take a drink and the rest is, of course, history. That's probably not accurate but I can see it happening.
Many anthropologists argue that the discovery of beer turned the Neolithic nomadic wanderers into farmers and that led to the domestication of grains. This domestication of grain also led to the discovery of bread. So what does this mean? Beer led to human society as we know it! These wanderers formed villages that led to towns that led to cities that led to the houses we live in now! I find that utterly fascinating! It is also widely believed that numbers, counting and writing developed because of the need to record transactions related to the sale and making of beer and the ingredients it uses. One of the earliest known writings to exist is actually a receipt for beer. The Alulueer receipt (pictured) records a purchase of "best" beer from a brewer in 2050 BCE.
One of the earliest know set of laws, The Code of Hammurabi, has a few lines set aside about beer. Written in 1754 BCE and enacted by the sixth Babylonian King, Hammurabi, the Code consists of 282 laws each with it's own punishment. Listen to this; apparently it was common practice at the time for brewers and tavern owners to water down their beer or to use inferior grains, so Hammurabi said if you were caught doing either of those two things, you'd be drowned in your own bad beer!
Beer, also, helped make the Pyramids. The Pharoah paid the workers: public officals, stonecutters, slaves, etc. in beer. This type of Egyptian beer was called "kash" and it's were we get our word "cash".
Thanks for joining me on this quick tour of beer and brewing from the ancient world.
I plan to make this a series exploring homebrewing throughout history and from different parts of the world, so if you would like to know more about a particular segment from history let me know! And, of course, your comments are welcome!
Thanks!
Tim
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Bibliography
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homebrewing#History
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_beer
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_alcoholic_beverages#History
http://www.collegecrunch.org/feature/25-fascinating-historical-facts-about-beer/
http://www.ancient.eu/article/223/

 
Tim,
I definitely appreciate you taking the time to write this article. The history of beer is definitely something that I feel we as homebrewers should learn and understand. However, being a professional historian and teacher I do have some issues with your article's historical accuracy. First thing using Wikipedia as a source of information is never a good idea. The reason being is that anyone can edit and change the information as they see fit and since Wikipedia is so big the people that run it don't always catch inaccuracies on specific topics. Secondly, many anthropologist don't argue that the discovery of beer led to nomadic tribes settling. Don't get me wrong there maybe a few out there (I've seen some on TV with Sam Calagione) but to say many is simply not true.
Next, your claim about Hammurabi's code is also inaccurate. I've been teaching Hamirabbi's Code to my history classes for the past five years. We look at the code translated into English and nowhere in it does it mention how beer is being made. The law which you are speaking of is actually discussing the payment for a drink and payment for corn to make the drink.
Lastly, and the part I take the most historical offense to is that beer built the pyramids. Claiming that the Egyptians paid slaves with beer is again not historically accurate. Slaves in Egypt were the most brutally treated class in Ancient Egypt. They were barely given enough food and water to live, so to say that the Egyptians gave slaves beer would simply not happen.
Please know I'm not trying to pick on you and completely disregard your article. I'm simply trying to make sure that the next article you write is accurate. If you'd like any help with sources and or proof reading for historical accuracy I would be more than happy to help you out.
Again, thanks for taking the time to write this article.
Cheers.
 
Discovery Channels video "How Beer Changed The World", is a great video on the history of beer. It is on Netflix. Thanks for writing this article, I to love to wonder about how beer and wine were first discovered.
Just checked, it is not on Netflix anymore :-(
It can bee seen here:
http://www.documentarywire.com/how-beer-saved-the-world/
 
I had also read that the domestication of grain led formerly nomadic people to settle in villages, but I have also heard that beer helped to make village life possible. Proper sanitary practices were unknown in those early times, so it was common for the populace to contaminate the water supplies. Drinking the water made them sick, but the brewing process produced a beverage they could safely consume.
 
Fascinating. I cannot get my head around whether folk learned that they needed to sprout grains to make beer (perhaps their bread was made with sprouted grains and flour) or whether their beer was very low alcohol (what happens if you simply take a loaf and soak it in water and add yeast or like Katz's Wild Fermentation - you use poorly baked bread (uncooked inside) and so you MAY have enough still active yeast - not killed by the cooking) to ferment the wort formed from the bread and water -)...I know that these are things I want to experiment with and see how interesting such brews may turn out...
 
I always thought home brewing as we know it today started during prohibition. I remember my mother telling me when she was a kid, my grandpa used to make home brew. They were able to sell the kit because it was non-alcoholic since it had yet to be fermented. Just my 2 cents.
 
Good stuff. Like the author, I'm a pretty big history nut and spend way too much time reading history, especially on subjects that I'm passionate about, like brewing!
Like Sammy86, I was going to point out that there are some historically-questionable points in this article. Sammy's point about Wikipedia is legitimate, however in defense of Wikipedia nearly all of the questionable parts of this article are sourced from the non-wikipedia portions of his Bibliography.
To add to the points Sammy made, the anecdote about Egyptian beer being called "Kash", and being the origin of the word "Cash", is completely baseless as far as I can tell. "Kash" was an Egyptian name for a region of Nubia. "Kash" was a word used by Sumerians to describe beer, but it has no relation to the modern word "Cash" AFAIK.
Also like Sammy, I look forward to the next one!
 
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