The art of brewing is as old as civilization. The transition from nomadic hunting and gathering to establishing settlements where farming was the source of nourishment transpired and grain was the first domesticated crop that started that farming process. The word beer comes from the Latin word bibere, meaning "to drink", and the Spanish word cerveza originates from the Greek goddess of agriculture, Ceres.
Historians have traced the roots of brewing back to ancient Sumerian and Egyptian peoples through the study of hieroglyphics and cuneiform characters pointing us to believe the art is around 6,000 years old. A Sumerian seal found contained an ancient recipe for beer making. The pictograms seem to picture a barley infused bread dropped into water that became a lubricant for pleasure among these peoples. It is hypothesized that a piece of bread or grain unintentionally became wet and began to ferment and an intoxicating mash was the result. Given the goddess images used on the seal, it is believed that the Sumerian people attributed glory to the gods for this heavenly beverage. Additional artifacts from this ancient era, point us to believe that the Sumerians had over 20 types of beer.
After the Babylonians commandeered the land of Mesopotamia, they adopted this beer-making lot and also became masters of the trade—so much that beer from Babylon was distributed as far as Egypt. Babylonian ruler, Hammurabi, most commonly known for the set of laws he created known as the Hammurabi Code, is likely to blame for the wide spread use of beer. One of the laws in the code established a daily beer ration. This ration was dependent on the social standing of the individual; for example, a normal worker received 2 liters, civil servants 3 liters, administrators and high priests 5 liters per day. In these ancient times beer was often not sold, but used as barter.
The ancients were known to spike their drinks with a variety of strange ingredients—carrots, olive oil, bog myrtle, cheese, mugwort, even hallucinogens like hemp and poppy. As you can imagine, this ancient brew was cloudy and unfiltered, but the people were wise and utilized a sort of drinking straw to filter the brewing residue.
Beyond Mesopotamia, artifacts show us that beer was produced in many uniques forms around the world; for example Tibetans have a beer known as Chang and and South and Central America brew a corn beer called Chicha.
After Egypt was succeeded by the Greeks and Romans, beer continued to be appreciated. Before wine was the dominating beverage of choice in the Mediterranean, beer was the drink of choice. In Rome, beer was only brewed in the outer areas of the Roman Empire where wine was difficult to obtain and was considered a barbarian drink. However, ancient peoples of Germany deemed beer not only a sacrifice to the gods but they also brewed beer for their own enjoyment. Early civilizations in Germany found the mood-altering properties of beer supernatural, and intoxication was considered divine. They thought of beer, as a spirit or god-containing substance that empowered those who would partake.
The cultivation of barley spread north and west and brewing ensued. The Roman Church began to rule over the production of beer. Because Christian abbeys were centers of agriculture and science, they used their knowledge to purify the process of brewing. Though there was still little to no knowledge of the place for yeast in the fermentation process, beer production was a means of financing these communities. Beer welcomed in once nomadic groups into village life and was often used as payment for work.
By the fifteenth century, Flemish beer contained hops, and by the sixteenth century hops had gained ubiquitous use as a preservative in beer, replacing the previously used bark and leaves.
The establishment of German standards for brewers was monumental to the future of beer. These regulations incentivized the proposal of the Reinheitsgebot of 1516 - one of the most historically famous beer purity laws. This pledge of purity demanded the limit of only four specific ingredients in the production of beer: water, malted barley, malted wheat, and hops.
Though yeast was not one of the four permissible elements, it was an exception to the rule, because of the lack of understanding of how instrumental of a role it played in the brewing process. This Reinheitsgebot proposal demanded that German beers be of the highest quality in the world and set its beer apart from its beer-making constituents in other European countries.
Louis Pasteur came onto the beer production scene in the mid-nineteenth century, and his work revealed the purpose and explanation of how yeast was influential in the process. Just years later, Bavarian yeast produced a single-cell and strain of bottom-fermenting lager yeast then German brewers began making beer by lagering.
In warmer seasons kept brewing was nonexistent because of the wild yeasts that would sour the beer. However, brew masters discovered that brewing in the cold months and storing the beer in caves in the nearby Alps impacted stability to the beer and enhanced it with a cleaner taste because the chemicals and bacteria responsible for clouding beer were unable to thrive in cold temperatures.
Advances in storage and processes sped the production and accessibility of beer and in 1612 the first commercial brewery opened in New York City after colonists advertised in London newspapers for experienced brewers. Harvard College along with a handful of our presidents including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had their own brewhouses.
The modern era of brewing in the US began in the late 1800's with commercial refrigeration (1860), automatic bottling, pasteurization (1876), and railroad distribution. By the late 1800s, there were roughly 2,500 breweries operating in the US embracing many of the classic brewing styles. Then in 1919, The National Prohibition Act of 1919 (commonly called the Volstead Act) was the enabling legislation that enacted to provide for the implementation of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which established National Prohibition of alcoholic beverages. During this time, the smaller breweries remained idle as the larger establishments limped by with the production of cereal malts and near-beers leaving only 160 breweries that survived Prohibition. In 1935 the beer can is introduced and beer production continued to spike.
World War II, brought corresponding food shortages and therefore increased substitution of adjuncts for malt and a lighter beer resulted. Women dominated the workforce and a lighter-styled beer appealed to them. Following the war, the large national breweries catered to the tastes of this expanded beer market.
By the turn of the 21st century, the United States alone produced 6.2 million barrels of beer annually with the US brewing industry totaling $51 billion. The U.S. now has a record-high 3,700 active "permitted breweries" overseen by the Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
So heres to beer: a potent concoction that has historically been used in 100+ medical prescriptions in one culture alone, used in infant baptism ceremonies, and even as a vehicle for modern inventions.