It’s well known that beer as a beverage dates very far back, although its original incarnations might be somewhat different than the lagers, ales, and stouts we’re used to quaffing today.
However, most people really don’t know how much influence beer wielded in ancient times. So we’re going to list a few interesting beer facts that come from a time long before kegerators and cushioned bar stools.
Picture by irum.
No one really knows when beer was first discovered. It was never invented but was likely discovered by accident, as any cereal-based product can potentially undergo spontaneous fermentation due to airborne natural yeasts, but records show that folks were drinking beer in China and Mesopotamia as far back as 7000 B.C. In fact, the oldest recipe ever discovered was for brewing a batch of beer, although this version of beer did not include hops and was sweetened with honey and dates, so it was much sweeter than what we’re used to throwing back today.
The origins of the beer that we are used to consuming today has its roots in the German Beer Purity Laws of 1516, which dictated that beer can only contain water, barley, and hops. However, this was not the first law that regulated beer production. Rather, the first mention of a beer law was in the Code of Hammurabi set forth by the infamously harsh Babylonian leader. By the time the Code was set forth in the 2nd Century B.C., beer had become an extremely popular beverage in Mesopotamia and in the rest of the biblical world (although the Bible doesn’t mention beer specifically). Many brewers and bar owners at the time would water down their product or use inferior grains to maximize profit, which great disgusted the ancient ruler, so he put forth a law forbidding brewers or merchants from doing this. The punishment? The offending party was to be forcibly drowned in the swill that he created, in true Hammurabi fashion. Fortunately, there were no laws against public drunkenness!
Beer over time became extremely commonplace in Egypt and then it spread onward to Greece and Rome, although in those civilization it was a distant second to wine in terms of popularity. However, in the Middle Ages beer consumption spiked upward again, especially in modern-day Germany, England, and Belgium, as it was too cold in these areas to effective grow grapes at the time.
At the time, water was by and large unsafe to drink due to the lack of sanitation, but the fermentation process effectively killed off most harmful microbes and bacteria, so it became the dominant beverage to drink during daily meals. Today, it is estimated that the average person in Northern Europe consumed 65 gallons of beer over the course of a year!
The Purity Laws and advances in brewing technology (especially during the Industrial Revolution, when the steam engine and the thermometer were invented) helped improve the quality of beer and helped establish many of the brands that we know and love today. However, there have still been some attempts to recreate the recipes and methods from ancient times. Anchor Steam Brewing in San Francisco in 1989 recreated the original Sumerian beer recipe when they released for a limited time its Ninkasi beer (Ninkasi being the Sumerian goddess of brewing). And Newcastle Brewery in conjunction with the University of Cambridge archeology department, was actually able to recreate a beer recipe originally found on the walls of the tomb of King Akhenaton.
The beer, named Tutankhamen after Ahkenaton’s more famous son, is an accurate representation of the original brew, using an ancient strand of wheat only found in the Nile Delta along with coriander seeds. But it’s not just something you can pick up at a local corner store; only 1,000 bottles were brewed, and the final price tag of a Tutankhamen comes to $520 per bottle, making it one of the most expensive beer of all time! A nice piece of history, although I’d rather pay much less for a Sam Adams. But it goes to show that beer’s popularity has truly stood the test of time, and that it remains to this day the nectar of the gods.