OK – this isn’t going to be a doctoral dissertation, so I’m not going to worry about precise accuracy – I just want to convey an idea. I propose that those of us with European ancestry are descended from the survivors of the olden times, and those survivors, more likely that not, owed their survival – at least in part – to having been beer-drinkers.
Here’s how this story goes: Once upon a time, long, long ago ….. shaggy humanoids were scurrying around the Fertile Crescent – what is now the middle east – trying to scrape as much life-sustaining food from their surrounding environment as was possible, using the only life strategy that anyone had ever had: hunting and gathering. Families and their clans used caves for shelter, and lived mostly off meat and naturally occurring wild foods – fruits, berries seeds, nuts, and similar.
Then, one day, some enterprising individual – and his family – decided to take a crack at another approach toward life – staying in one place, and developing the immediate surrounding environment to provide enough sustaining calorific food to stay alive. Very early in this experiment, some of these newly sedentary individuals – probably on the female side of the equation (because – all the males were off hunting mastodons, or similar) figured out which wild grasses gave them the highest volume or quality of edible seeds, and figured out how to cultivate these grasses – which became the cereal grains that we now take for granted – wheat, oats, rye, barley, etc. They figured out how to grind the grains between two rocks, or between a rock and wooden pestle, to separate the inedible outer husks from the edible inner meats of the grains.
Finding dry grain difficult to swallow, they created gruel – mush – cereal – by adding water. And – through sparks of contemporary brilliance – some of those long-forgotten folks had the powers of observation to note that if wet grain (gruel) was left out in the open, some magical effect sometimes occurred, whereby the grain would ferment, and taste different – sometimes a bit pleasant.
Through much experimentation several new discoveries were made:
- If you had pleasant-tasting fermented gruel, you could set aside some of this fermented gruel, and then later use it to create a batch of fresh gruel, and the magical effect (of yeast) could be replicated in the new batch of gruel.
- Heated gruel tasted better than unheated gruel.
- Gruel that had been heated would allow faster/better fermentation of the gruel.
- Oh yeah – somehow, someone figured out how to make bread – which can be thought of as very weak , solidified beer – but we will leave that subject to a bangkokbreadguru – should any such luminary individual ever emerge.
- Eventually. someone left the fermented gruel in an enclosed vessel, and then tasted it – and discovered the first alcoholic beverage. Figuring that this new discovery might have some promise, the lucky soul to whom this fortuitous accident occurred began experimenting – and learned that the best results came from boiling the grain in water, then “seeding” it with a small amount of previously fermented gruel, then sealing the “wort” up in a vessel that was sealed almost tight – and leaving it alone for an extended period (ten days). The result: nectar of the gods!
- Shortly thereafter, the first pub probably opened, and a year later, the pub owner had been appointed chief of the clan,by affirmation. Or not … I dunno.
- But – bread and beer were two keys to the creation of the first civilizations. The earliest known writing, cuneiform from Mesopotamia, contains recipes for brewing beer, and includes accounting entries for beer production and distribution.
So – at the first level – because we all descended from the tribes and clans that became agrarian – we have beer in our roots.
But – that is just part of the story. Once people settled down and began prospering, and as village populations grew, they began fouling their local environments – with human wastes, animal wastes, and similar. There was no “germ theory of disease” – that concept did not really take hold until the 19th century. As late as the 1880’s, the most widely prevailing theory of disease was the”miasma theory” of “bad air”. Using a microscope, Anton van Leewenhoek was among the first discoverers of microorganisms in pond water – but that was in the 1670’s.
It was not until John Snow published his study of the 1854 cholera epidemic in the Soho district of London – pinpointing the Broad Street Pump as the source of the disease – that the concept of boiling water prior to drinking began to take hold, in general.
But – via lucky accident – all those early Europeans who drank beer, instead of water, enjoyed the unrecognized second-order benefit of imbibing a (mostly water) beverage that already been boiled. It was beer drinkers who served as the pall bearers for the water drinkers. And – here we are today – descended from the pall bearers who survived!!
And- yes – in olden times – even children drank beer – very weak beer – but still brewed from beer “wort” that had been boiled to release the sugars in the grains, for maximum yeast metabolism.
By the way, here are few other historical facts about beer:
- Barley beers were first mentioned in writings dated to 3000 BC, from what is now Iran
- The Greeks and the Romans DID NOT drink beer ….. hmmmm.
- It was only in the 400’s, when the Romans had dwindled away, that the Germanic and Celtic tribes once again “made beer great again” in Europe.
- Later, beer brewing in Europe was the occupation of monks, cloistered in monasteries. The Bangkokbeerguru had the pleasure of drinking monk-brewed beer at the Kloster Kreuzberg am Rhön, in 1981 – during their 250 year anniversary year: https://www.kreuzbergbier.de/brauerei/index.php
- The first recorded mentions of the use of hops in flavoring and preserving beer date back to 822, and then 1067. Prior to about 1,000 years ago, “beer” must have been pretty grim stuff.
- Germany’s “Reinheitsgebot” – a Bavarian law directing that “beer” could only include water, barley, hops, and yeast – was issued in 1516 by Bavaria Duke William IV.
- Today – in 2017 – beer is the third most consumed beverage in the world – behind water (#1) and tea (#2).