The history of beer has its roots in ancient times of the first civilization in the Middle East. The first mentions date back to the third millennium BC, which makes beer probably the oldest type of alcohol. Through this abyss of time we can only assume the beer origins. It is clearly obvious that the culture of brewing is closely linked with that of agriculture.
Evidently, beer invention is fortuity. In the modern Syria and Iran territories, archaeologists discovered an ancient large capacity pottery with a narrow neck, which was apparently used for grain keeping. Perhaps, at some point of time the rainwater leaked into such vessels and seeds began to grow starting the fermentation process. In Babylon, there were mixed beer brands made of dinkel wheat and barley, besides the Babylonian dwellers were the first who consciously applied the malt germination. Beer was mixed with various seasonings without hop using. Maybe it was unknown to ancient Babylon or they just didn’t want it to use. So the beer produced by Babylonians and Sumerians had a sweet taste without the usual hop bitterness.
Even in those days beer was a profitable good. There appeared commercial brewing centers, for instance, Mesopotamian city-state of Ur produced beer professionally, for sale. The archaeological research in the southwestern Persia discovered how they made beer 3500 years ago. Excavations of Susa city found large spherical clay vessels dug underneath the buildings. These huge beer jugs were covered with top ceramic plates with a hole in the middle.
Beer was poured through that hole or drunk directly from the jug with a special tube. It is assumed that because of abundant foam at the surface with crushed malt particles and sediment on the jugs bottom one could only drink beer with a straw. The straw let reaching the beer without solid particles from the middle of the jar. Numerous rock paintings of the era represent the process of drinking beer with a straw. Archaeologists found out that such beer containers were mounted under the floor in wealthy homes and were intended for male assembly, which implies that men engaged in beer consumption and brewing, while cooking was women’s business.
By the way, at the end of the last century,«Hoepfner» Karlsruhe Brewery (Germany) decided to experiment applying historical heritage of the ancient civilizations. For several months, they tested different combinations of grains and spices, and presented three beers brands brewed according to the recipes of ancient Sumerians and Babylonians. Reviews were the most diverse, from the most negative to the best. All tasters agreed on one thing, compared with modern beer, Sumerian and Babylonian beer is an absolutely different drink. Beer is “marked” in the famous Hammurabi Code. It contains two paragraphs devoted to beer production and sale. The first paragraph establishes beer limit prices, directed against traders’ abuse. The reliable evidence of developed brewing was discovered in ancient Egypt. Initially Egyptians bought beer from Babylonians, and gradually it gained popularity. Certainly, beer lost much of its merits after a long journey in the heat. Residents of the Nile valley had no choice but to learn the beer production and soon it became the national drink. A close connection among nutrition, bread and beer already existed in the old days, and one of its examples is the ancient Egyptian hieroglyph denoting meal, which is literally translated as ‘bread and beer’.
At the time of the pharaohs, Egyptians perfectly mastered the art of cooking barley malt. They also were able to brew beer from other grains, but not like Babylonians did it. They attributed invention of wheat beer to god Osiris. The ancient Egyptian beer ‘hek’ was sweet and strong. They also added saffron, anise and other spices to beer.
The oldest Egyptian beer recipes date back to 3500 BC. Egyptians attributed a special healing power to beer sediment. In about 1250 BC Pharaoh Ramses II tried to limit the beer consumption but it was unnecessary because the Egyptian elite traditionally preferred wine. Beer trade was forbidden, but this ancient Egyptian anti-alcohol campaign wasn’t much of a success. People continued to drink beer.
The Brewers were much respected in Egypt.
Even but the fact that consumption of beer in ancient Egypt was always large, none of the Pharaohs (even Ramses II) had thought of imposing taxes on beer production for thousands years, while production of other agricultural products was properly taxed at horrendous rates. Beer spread from Egypt to Ethiopia, and later to the Caucasus. Strong beer was produced in the kingdom of Urartu (the territory of present Armenia) in the 9th-12th centuries BC. Beer spread from Caucasus to Europe. The Scythians produced beer from barley, crushed rice, oats and millet.
Germans began to produce beer in the 3rd century BC. Gauls produced drink, very similar to beer, in the 1st century AD, which remained in northern France, Belgium and England until the end of the 19th century. It is known that the ancient Greeks and Romans drank mostly wine and almost knew nothing about beer. Moreover, they considered beer as a barbarian’s drink. In the era of Aristotle, Greeks were aware of beer consumption by the peoples of northern and central Europe.
By the 2nd century AD German states became the brewing center in Europe, which was reported by the first “foreign correspondent” Roman Tacitus, author of the famous treatise “On the Germans”. Brewing technology gradually spread to England and Scandinavia from German lands, and throughout the world thanks to the expansion of European culture. For this reason, the birthplace of beer is considered to be Germany. The old German language described the drink with word «bior» which makes easy to recognize today’s German «bier» or English «beer».
The first mentioning of hops refers to the 8th century, but it became an essential component of beer only in the 12th century. First hops addition was mentioned about the year 800, during the rule of Charlemagne. Hop valued so highly in Germany, that it was even used to pay the state fee. Gradually, it became the European currency, however, not fully convertible, because hop was banned for use in England up to the 15th century. It should to be noted that the medieval beer was sometimes harmful. Hallucinogenic alkaloids, which were a part of it, could cause apparitions, and it served as a pretext for many superstitions. Up to the end of the 16th century they practiced burning the ‘beer witches’ in Europe, who were accused of spoiling beer, though of course it was all because of the technology imperfection.
Apparently, the idea of adding hops to beer originated and was implemented in monasteries. Monks researched and also recorded their experiments results preserving them for future generations. The monastery produced beer became better and better also due to the hops adding. There were no defended borders in central Europe at that time, and the secrets of brewing spread as the monks moved from the monastery to monastery. Eventually, the monastery officially had the right to engage in the beer production and trading, becoming true brewing vanguards.
However, in the 9th century, beer was almost forbidden for monks, but one of the Church leaders had decided to proclaim beer as a holy and blessed drink. According to these rules, even in the most extremely poor monastery each monk received about one liter of beer per day, without taking into account half a liter of wine. In rich monasteries their happy residents could enjoy almost a triple dose of the drink per day.
Many monasteries had a successful business selling beer, including the monastery brewery Weihenstephan near Freising founded in year 1040. Weihenstephan is the oldest monastery in the world, which still exists. It happened so that in 1803, the monastery brewery was captured by the secular power, combining it with the agricultural school. Today, Weihenstephan belongs to the Munich Technical University.
Beer of that time may quite possibly to be compared with the present one. However, it was cooked in the open air, sometimes even without the hop addition. Sometimes the beer had rapidly sinking foam, and depending on malt components it was light or dark. Sometimes it tasted like stale.
Commercial brewing began no later the 13th century on the territory of present Czech Republic, in Pilsen and České Budějovice. Breweries of České Budějovice supplied beer to the Bohemia royal court at the beginning of the 16th century. It was at that time that the local beer received the name “Beer of Kings’. About the same time German brewers established their guilds. Beer in England (or rather its brand, English ale) became the main national drink till the end of the 14th century.
In northern Germany beer production guaranteed no harm to health. The Hanseatic cities experienced a brewing boom, and its peak was Bremen. There were about 600 breweries in Hamburg until the end of the 15th century. There were beer and wine cellars at the town hall of Hamburg and Lübeck. Beer was the main export in many European countries and even the Mediterranean. German beer was popular in Russian cities Novgorod and Pskov. A huge role in the development of German beer culture was played by the Bavarian law on strict compliance with beer recipes adopted in 1516. This law called Reinheitsgebot (purity commandment), conclusively established that beer is only to be cooked with barley (later – barley malt), hops and pure water. Fermentation process was left to chance because the yeast was unknown at that time.
The law was distinguished with austerity as those who produced and forged beer were strictly fined and sometimes they were even completely drowned in their produced beer. Reinheitsgebot operates in Germany until now, being the oldest legislative act in the world, which regulates food production and protects consumer rights.
Another important point in the history of brewing was discovery of single-celled organisms responsible for fermentation by Louis Pasteur in the 19th century.
In 1881, Dane Emil Christian Hansen opened new opportunities when found the first pure culture of yeast. The brewers gained brilliant advantage since beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in the modern world that is unparalleled in terms of production and assortment range.