A Brief History Of Beer

Beer is one of the oldest alcoholic drinks, having been in existence for at least six thousand years. It is referred in history and literature of most ancient civilizations, as also finds mention during the medieval era across the globe. The history of beer is an additional flavor that you might end up enjoying as much as the modern drink.
A Brief History of Beer
Source - Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AEgyptian-woman-painting_Beer.jpg)

The stack of beer bottles that you purchase every week provides no clue about the long and arduous journey this glorious drink has taken to reach this far. This journey has gone parallel with that taken by mankind from a nomadic hunter roaming in the woods to the modern high flier wanting to visit the moon to kill his boredom. History of beer is just about as inseparable from human history as is the modern beer from our lives.

Origin of Beer

The history of beer begins from a point about as ancient and pre-historic as the history of grains. Beer, in

contrast to wine, results from fermentation of grains, usually barley but also wheat, corn and rice. It is believed that the first sample of beer tasted by humans would have been a product of fermentation of left over staple food, something like bread or rice left in water, which, infected by common yeast available in surrounding environment, would have fermented the starch. Subsequently, this effect of fermentation would have been observed, repeated and gradually improved upon by ancient agrarian societies, gradually developing and refining their brewing skills.

Thus, one thing that seems certain is that beer was introduced to humans after they shifted from nomadic tribal hunting lifestyle to agrarian societies harvesting cereals and using them as their staple food. This, incidentally, coincided with the first steps of the human civilization, making beer one of its first luxuries and enjoyments.

Beer in Ancient History

It seems that different civilizations discovered and refined their own beers at different points of time in their individual history. The first historical account of beer comes from the chemical analysis of ancient pottery jars pertaining to pre-historic Indo-Iranian societies that existed where modern Iran thrives, around 6000 years ago, even prior to the development of Mesopotamia as one of the oldest centres of civilization.

Mesopotamia provides the oldest historical artefact suggesting consumption of beer, in the form of a 4,000-year-old Sumerian tablet that is showing people drinking beer from a communal bowl. Greater supportive details about the consumption of beer in Mesopotamia come from a contemporary Sumerian poem in the honour of Patron goddess of brewing, Ninkasi, which contains what is probably the oldest surviving recipe for making beer. Sumerian people brewed beer from bread made of barley.
Another historical account of beer in ancient Sumerian civilization comes from the Epic of Gilgamesh, the story of King Gilgamesh who was two thirds god and one third human, and his friend, the wild man 'Enkidu'. In the story, Enkidu was given beer to drink, and he drinks seven pitchers of beer and enjoys it.

The Romans called their beer 'Cerevisia', derived from the words, 'Ceres', the goddess of harvest, and vis, Latin for strength. During the Roman times, wine gained greater popularity and beer was relegated as a drink for the people of the lower orders.

Other civilizations also brewed their own beer, and its historical accounts can be found in history of Babylonian, Assyrian, Egyptian, Hebrew, Chinese, and Inca cultures. Beer was an important drink in Babylonia, where almost 20 varieties of beer thrived, and it was so popular that along with grains, it was used as wages for labor in their barter economy.

Egyptians were probably the first people to brew it commercially. This was due to the demand of beer in royal families who patronized its commercial production by experts, perhaps because of the higher quality of commercial beer. Ancient Egyptians medicine also prescribed beer for hundreds of ailments and as part of several remedial medicines.

Different ancient societies used different grains for brewing beer. In Africa, millet, maize and cassava were used. In North America persimmon was used. In South America corn was used, although sweet potatoes were used in Brazil. Indo -Tibetan cultures used rice. China used wheat to make 'samshu'. Rye was used by Russians to make 'quass'.

In India and Tibet, beer made from rice, known as 'Chang' is popular even to this day. It is brewed in a very simple manner in the home, and its fermentation gradually increases with time. The early fermented drink is very popular as a nutritious drink, which is also prescribed as medicine for the sick and the elderly, as also for the pregnant women. Japan used rice to make 'sake'.

Beer in Medieval History

In medieval Europe, beer was one of the most common drinks in practice. This was especially so in territories where grape cultivation required for wine was inadequate. In Britain and low lying areas daily

consumption of beer was significant.

Subsequently hops was used in beer. The oldest account of this practice in Europe is found in writings of Carolingian Abbot in 822 A.D. and later writings of Abbess Hildegard in 10th century. These suggest that flavoring beer with hops began in the 9th century. Mixtures of different herbs were also used for making beer and adding flavor to it. The art of brewing hopped beer was perfected in the towns of Germany by the 13th century.

BY thirteenth century, beer making was established as a commercial enterprise in Germany and Austria, and later spread to Holland and England. Beer also became an item of trade and export, and in the process gave rise to longer lasting beers, and standardized barrel sizes, allowed for large-scale export. Commercialization also lead to evolution of laws to enforce this trade, in England in the 14th century, and later similar laws were introduced in other countries. These laws also created dissatisfaction among peasants and lead to their uprising which was forcefully put down. In 1420 German brewers developed the lager method of brewing. Later, in 1489 Germany's first brewing guild, Brauerei Beck, was established.

In 1553 Beck's Brewery was founded and is still brewing today. In the late 1500's Queen Elizabeth I of England is said to have drunk strong ale for breakfast.

History of Beer in America

In 1490s, when Columbus entered North America, he found native Indians making beer from corn and black birch sap. Subsequently as settlers from Europe settled they also brought beer and its brewing expertise with them. In 1587 the first beer brewery was established in Virginia at Sir Walter Raleigh's colony, but the preferred beer was still the one imported from Britain. In 1612 the first large scale commercial brewery was opened in New Amsterdam (NYC, Manhattan) for which advertisements were published in London newspapers for experienced brewers.

In time, private breweries flourished in America. In 1674 Harvard College had its own brewery. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had their own private brew-houses. In 1757 Washington wrote his personal recipe "To Make Small Beer." Beer was part of daily ration of soldiers in the revolutionary army.

History of Beer in Modern Times

Till the eighteenth century, yeasts used were exactly the same as those in bread. Till this point of time, most beer was more of an 'ale' rather than the modern beer as it is consumed and produced today. In 1810 Oktoberfest was established as an official celebration in Munich. In 1830's the lager method of beer production was developed by Bavarians Gabriel Sedlmayr of Munich and Anton Dreher of Vienna. In 1842 the first golden lager was produced in Pilsen, Bohemia.

The modern era of brewing in the US began in the late nineteenth century. Commercial refrigeration was introduced in 1860 followed by automatic bottling and subsequently pasteurization in 1876. Later, in 1870's the use of double-walled railcars and a network of icehouses were introduced by Adolphus Busch to make Budweiser the first national brand.

In 1876, yeast and its role in the fermentation process was discovered by Louis Pasteur, who also developed pasteurization to stabilize beers 22 years before the process was applied to milk. By 1880 there were approximately 2,300 breweries in the US. In 1890s Pabst became the first US brewer to sell over 1 million barrels in a year.

The canned beer was first introduced in 1935 by the American Can Co. & Kreuger Brewing. In 1966 Budweiser is the first brand to sell 10 million barrels in a year. In 1988 Asahi Super Dry (Japan) introduced a new beer category.


Today, beer is an essential part of modern life, and the history of beer is a matter of academic research. The production of beer is undertaken by a large number of large and small corporations, from multinationals to small regional and local entities. Several flavors and varieties are also available.
Like humans, beer has also undertaken a long journey in time and its story is still far from having reached its conclusion.

Article Written By V Kumar

I am a freelance writer. I write for the passion of writing. Life has blessed me an opportunity to be a witness to many interesting aspects of life and people around the world. Indeed, these are very interesting times and we who live in this era are privileged to experience it. You can find my articles at http://vkumar.expertscolumn.com/

Last updated on 20-09-2017 505 0

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