The History of Beer

The History of Beer | By Michael Russell

Beer is one of the oldest drinks in the world. It dates back to at least the 5000 BC as recorded by the ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians. A six thousand year old Sumerian tablet shows people drinking a beverage from a large bowl using straws made from reeds. The oldest recipe for beer is contained in a 3900 year old poem which uses barley to make the drink. Some anthropologists believe it was the production of beer that led nomadic humans to cultivate cereals and settle in villages. The knowledge of brewing was transferred from ancient civilizations to the Greeks, who in turn passed their techniques on to the Romans. Soon, Romans came to prefer wine to beer, viewing it as a drink for barbarians such as the Germanic tribes.


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During the middle ages, there was much experimentation in Europe as to which ingredients to use. Hops began to be used as early as the 11th century. By the 14th century, beer brewing had become a commercial industry in which monasteries and pubs produced large amounts of the drink for mass consumption. During the 15th century in England hops were imported from the Netherlands. At first, the English did want the hops added to their beers. However, with a couple hundred years, nearly all English ales and beers contained hops. In 1516 the Duke of Bavaria proclaimed that beer should only be made from water, hops and barley. Yeast was later added to the list after its discovery. When Otto von Bismarck unified Germany in 1871 this Reinheitsgebot (“purity requirement” in English) was adopted into German law. Most beer during this time was actually what is now referred to as ale. Lagers were first created by accident in the 1500s when beer was stored in cool caves.

During the Industrial Revolution beer brewing was also industrialized. The invention of the hydrometer and thermometer in the 19th century allowed brewers to make beer more efficiently. Before the 1700s, malt was dried over fire, which gave it a strong smoky flavor. The malt was shielded from the smoke with the invention of the drum roaster in 1817. The discovery of yeast and its part in fermentation further streamlined the process of brewing.

In 1900, there were over 2,000 independent brewers in the United States. After Prohibition in the 1920s, many American brewers that had been making European-style beers went out of business. There are now less than 20 still in operation. Water was often added to bootlegged beer during this time to increase the bootleggers’ profits, which led to Americans preferring lighter-tasting beers. Today, most beers brewed in America are light-flavored lagers.

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Founded in 1852 in St. Louis, Missouri, the largest of these American brewers is Anheuser-Busch, which is the also third largest brewer in the world following InBev and SABMiller. Anheuser-Busch is most famous for brands such as Budweiser, Natural Light and Michelob, but brews over 65 different beers. The corporation has 11 breweries in 10 states, including facilities in Los Angeles, California, Columbus, Ohio and Jacksonville, Florida, as well as 15 overseas breweries: 14 in China and 1 in England.

Michael Russell, Your Independent guide to Beer

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