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."
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!