— A History of Beer

The art of brewing is as old as civilization. Between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago, some humans discontinued their nomadic hunting and gathering and settled down to farm. Grain was the first domesticated crop that started that farming process.

Through hieroglyphics, cuneiform characters and written accounts, historians have traced the roots of brewing back to ancient African, Egyptian and Sumerian tribes. The oldest proven records of brewing are about 6,000 years old and refer to the Sumerians.  Sumeria lay between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers includingSouthern Mesopotamia and the ancient cities of Babylon and Ur.  It is said that the Sumerians discovered the fermentation process by chance. 

A seal around 4,000 years old is a Sumerian "Hymn to Ninkasi", the goddess of brewing.  This "hymn" is also a recipe for making beer. No one knows today exactly how this occurred, but it could be that a piece of bread or grain became wet and a short time later, it began to ferment and a inebriating pulp resulted. These early accounts, with pictograms of what is recognizably barley, show bread being baked then crumbled into water to make a mash, which is then made into a drink that is recorded as having made people feel "exhilarated, wonderful and blissful!"   It could be that baked bread was a convenient method of storing and transporting a resource for making beer.  The Sumerians were able to repeat this process and are assumed to be he first civilized culture to brew beer. They had discovered a "divine drink" which certainly was a gift from the gods.

The Egyptians carried on the tradition of beer brewing. They also used unbaked bread dough for making beer and added dates to the brew to improve the taste. The importance of beer brewing in ancient Egypt can be seen from the fact that the scribes created an extra hieroglyph for "brewer".

Although beer as we know it had its origins in Mesopotamia, fermented beverages of some sort or another were produced in various forms around the world. For example, Chang is a Tibetan beer and Chicha is a corn beer and kumis is a drink produced from fermented camel milk. The word beer comes from the Latin wordbibere, meaning "to drink", and the Spanish word cerveza originates from the Greek goddess of agriculture, Ceres.

After Egypt was succeeded by the Greeks and Romans, beer continued to be brewed. Plinius reported of the popularity of beer in the Mediterranean area before wine took hold. In Rome, wine became ambrosia from the god Bacchus. Beer was only brewed in the outer areas of the Roman Empire where wine was difficult to obtain. For the Romans beer was considered a barbarian drink. The oldest proof that beer was brewed on German soil, comes from around 800 B.C. in the earlyHallstatt Period, where beer amphora found near the present day city of Kulmbach have been dated back to this time. 

As Tacitus, who first wrote about the ancient Germans or  Teutons, put it like this: "To drink, the Teutons have a horrible brew fermented from barley or wheat, a brew which has only a very far removed similarity to wine".  Beer of that era could not be stored, was cloudy and produced almost no foam. Early civilizations found the mood-altering properties of beer supernatural, and intoxication was considered divine.

Beer, it was thought, must contain a spirit or god, since drinking the liquid so possessed the spirit of the drinker. The ancient Germans regarded beer not only a sacrifice to the gods but they, as in Egypt, also brewed beer for their own enjoyment. For example, in the Finnish poetic saga Kalewala, 400 verses are devoted to beer but only 200 were needed for the creation of the earth. According to the Edda, the great Nordic epic, wine was reserved for the gods, beer belonged to mortals and mead to inhabitants of the realm of the dead.

 

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