The Surprising History of Beer
We all know beer is delicious. But what you may not know is this wonderful beverage is inexorably tied to the human experience. The history of beer is long, and its earliest records are as fascinating as the changes that are happening in the beer world today.
Beer Is Linked to the Development of Human Civilization
The history of fermented beverages is a riveting, if fragmented, tale. The earliest recorded recipe was a hymn to the Sumerian goddess of brewing dated to 3000 B.C. The hymn lyrically explained how to brew a beer known as kas, which means "what the mouth desires." Sounds about right.
But long before the Sumerians were brewing beer, ancient humans made a choice that would forever change civilization: they chose to give up their nomadic lifestyles and put down roots (literally).
What could drive early humans to abandon the hunter-gather strategy that persisted for tens of thousands of years? An often-cited reason is the cultivation of cereal grains. Writing for The New York Times, Jeffrey Khan sums up the theory, and some new ideas:
"Current theory has it that grain was first domesticated for food. But since the 1950s, many scholars have found circumstantial evidence that supports the idea that some early humans grew and stored grain for beer, even before they cultivated it for bread."
The theory that the nomadic tribes founded an agricultural society in order to brew beer is gaining prominence, as is an idea that beer helped our early ancestors live together and develop a social order. Kahn continues,
"…the alcohol would have had more far-ranging effects, too, reducing the strong herd instincts to maintain a rigid social structure. In time, humans became more expansive in their thinking, as well as more collaborative and creative."
The love of beer led not only to the cultivation of barley, but also to the technologies needed to maximize its production. The documentary How Beer Saved the World asserts that "the plough, the wheel, irrigation, mathematics and even writing, all of these world-changing innovations were dreamed up to help with the production and distribution of beer."
No one can say for sure if the desire for beer really was the tipping point in human history that led to civilization as we know it, but any beer lover will probably agree that it doesn’t sound like much of a stretch.