The History of Beer - an Overview
Updated: Feb 14, 2022
Beer is one of the oldest produced beverages in the world. The history of beer is complex and spans across millennia and various cultures.
The early history of beer: Origins
Archeological discoveries of ancient pottery in what is today the territory of Iran show that the people there had brewed a form of beer as early as about 7,000 years ago.
Another popular assumption sees the process of beer-making originating in Mesopotamia over 5,000 years ago, where women fermented a mixture of grain, water, and spices.
Around the same time, the Chinese used barley and other grains for beer brewing, and the perhaps oldest known beer recipe is part of a Sumerian poem from 3,900 years ago.
Beer was also a prominent part of ancient Egyptian cuisine and culture, including religious ceremonies. Archaeologists have even discovered a 5,000-year-old beer factory in Abydos/Egypt.
There is evidence that the Egyptians taught the Greeks how to make beer, who then brought it to the Romans, who eventually preferred wine as their more sophisticated beverage of choice.
The Middle Ages
Another important milestone in the history of beer is the period of the Middle Ages, when Christian monasteries played a prominent role in producing and selling beer. Towards the end of the Middle Ages, beer had become one of the most widely consumed drinks in Northern and Eastern Europe. This was especially the case for areas where the local climate was not conducive to growing grapes for wine production. Thus, beer became a drink for daily consumption throughout all social classes.
It is worth noting that the alcohol consumption (beer and wine) in the early days was not simply a way of marking festive or otherwise special occasions or a sign of widespread alcoholism. In times of unhygienic water quality and frequent lack of food certainty, beer and wine had become comparatively hygienic ways of hydration and even sources of nutrition, even during Lent. This was due to the fact that back in the day, water was often not safe to drink.
Incidentally, these historic circumstances are the reason for the fact that beer in Bavaria is (statutorily) still considered a "food".
Beer in Modern Times
The role of beer in our daily lives has undoubtedly changed since the Middle Ages, as has our understanding of healthy hydration and nutrition. (For the record, as much as we do love beer, we do not consider it our primary source of daily food and drink!)
However, beer in its modern form and many variations remains popular (almost) all over the world.
As far as our German or rather Bavarian beers are concerned, a particular purity law or series of laws originating from the Middle Ages (1516, "Reinheitsgebot") remains of great importance and still influences the consumption of Bavarian (and other German beers) to this day. According to this early regulation, the only beer ingredients allowed were water, barley, and hops (the understanding being that yeast is a product of the brewing process.)
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