The History of Beer

The history of beer found in most places is long, wordy, and pretentious. What we have here is a concise and friendly guide to the history of beer, fit for reading on a coffee break. Of course if you want to read the full chronology we recommend Ian Horney’s book, A History of Beer and Brewing. It ain’t cheap but if you’re serious it’s worth buying. Meanwhile here’s a guide for the rest of us who’d like to be a little savvier but would rather drink beer than read a textbook about it.

Brewing beer is an ancient tradition that began almost 10,000 years ago. Back then beer was a sludgy, rancid concoction akin to oatmeal.  It was really just food with alcohol in it, like a sloshy rum cake. The recipe was meant to keep grain from going bad, so that people could eat in the winter. The first recipe we have is from Sumeria around 3800 years ago. It was written as a hymn to the goddess of brewing, Ninkasi, who coincidentally looks exactly like Megan Fox (if Megan Fox had chubby arms and collagen-free lips). The recipe included honey and raisins, and probably tasted like the chewed up lunch of a kindergartener. Needless to say, they could have used a “Ninkasi Light” version.

The history of beer - Ninkasi getting crunk

Ninkasi getting crunk with a few lucky worshippers


The ancient Egyptians were renowned beer drinkers. Beer making was an art and, oddly enough, the artists were women.  If you think the folks at Budweiser were the first to tie images of attractive women to images of beer then you were way off. The tombs of ancient pharaohs are decorated with hieroglyphs depicting women brewing beer.

The History of Beer - Egyptian woman

Egyptian cocktail waitress?

Beer became more clean and clear over the years but remained a somewhat sweet, syrup-like beverage. That is until monks took over the business in 1000 AD and added hops to the mixture. It was their innovations in the brewing process that made beer the excellent beverage it is today. The first record we have of beer brewed with hops comes from Hildegaard of Bingen, a nun who also wrote music and a thing or too about the female orgasm. She was pretty much the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll nun like the Joan Jett of the 11th century. And you thought nuns were lame.

The History of Beer - Hildegard Bingen

Beer goggles anybody?

Sadly, men took over to play their part in the history of beer. After that beer got a lot less sexy. In fact it got way unsexy. Monks sold many of there brews but kept the best for religious ceremonies. So if you wanted to drink the good stuff you had to live a chaste life. Of course it wasn’t all bad. Plenty of times beer was given to the public for free as a means of winning their hearts. I’d like to see missionaries show that kind of generosity, today.

However unsexy they may have been, those monks were without a doubt the most educated men of their day and that meant that beer became a lot better. In 1400 bottom fermenting was developed which meant lagers. Finally a beer that tasted as crisp and clean as the beer we have today. If only they had ice machines…

Of course beer couldn’t remain in the stronghold of monasteries forever. Soon modern industry took over.

With the industrial age came advancements that allowed beer to be shipped further than ever. The steam engine meant beer got there sooner and a new understanding of yeast made it so that beer no longer went sour. The discovery of thermometers allowed for accurate brewing temperatures while the invention of hydrometers allowed brewers to get more for their malt. Beer was made to taste better, to last longer, for less money and less work and to travel further than ever before within a single century. Together these inventions made for a beer called the Pilsner, the most popular beer in the world then, and today.

The history of beer- German-Pilsner

A Yodeler Holding a Pilsner: The Stereotype Germans Prefer

Remember when you got to the end of the history book in class, the teacher always stopped around World War II and you were like “WTF?!?! What happened? I need to keep learning!” Of course I could go on to describe all the history of micro-brews, cross-fertilization and the effect of the cold war on beer but you’re probably better off going to the store and picking up a six-pack of what happened.

If you really want to read more about the history of beer, then find your way over to Amazon and throw this in your shopping cart, The American Brewery: From Colonial Evolution to Microbrew Revolution.






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