Historically hops, yeast, malted barley, and water have all played the
greatest and most important role in society. For almost 8000 years these
ingredients have been mixed and have been appreciated by all classes of society
in almost all civilizations.
The old cliche "accident is the mother of invention" is a phrase that
definitely holds true in the world of beer. The discovery was made way back
when the Mediterranean region was the seat of civilization and barley flourished
as a dietary staple. The climate of the Mediterranean was perfect for the
cultivation of barley, and was used as the primary ingredient in breads, cakes,
and other common food products. A farmer during this period discovered that if
barley become wet, germinates, and eventually dried, the resulting barley would
be sweeter and would not be as perishable as the original state of the barley.
There is not any first hand knowledge on how beer was discovered, but we
can imagine the incident step by step. When the farmer discovered that his
barley crop was wet, in order for him to salvage the crop, he probably spread it
out to dry in the sun. Chances are that germination had already begun, and the
grain had therefore malted and developed a much sweeter taste. The sweet result
of what the farmer considered a disaster is now modern-day malted barley. This
malted barley gave a sweeter taste to breads, cakes, or anything which had
previously been prepared with unmalted barley. After a while when barley malt
became a common ingredient it is thought that a loaf or bowl of this malt was
accidentally left in the rain. When wet, the dissolved starches and sugars in
the malted barley became susceptible to wild yeast, which started spontaneous
fermentation (5). The discoverer of this new mix probably tasted it and
realized how good it was. Unbeknownst to this ancient farmer, he had brewed the
first beer ever.
Sumerian clay tablets dating from 6000 B.C. contain the first ever
written recipes for beer. The tablets also detail specific religious rituals
that one had to perform before he could consume the beverage. The Sumerians
also left the first record of bureaucratic interference when their governments
taxed and put tariffs on beer distribution.
Some anthropologists say that ancient strains of grain were not really
good for making bread. Early wheat made heavy, pasty dough. Flour made from
barley made crumbly, lousy bread. It was determined that humankind\'s first
agricultural activity was growing barley. Forty percent of the grain harvest
in Sumeria was converted to ale.
The laws pertaining to beer in ancient times were very strict. The Code
of Hammurrabi in Babylon proved to be more harsh than our laws today.
Establishments that sold beer receive special mention in those laws, codified in
1800 B.C. Owners of beer parlors who overcharged customers were sentenced to
death by drowning. Those who failed to notify authorities of criminal elements
in their establishments were also executed (1). Many of the beer makers and
bartenders in the ancient world were women who sold ale under the supervision
of the goddess Ninkasi, "the lady who fills the mouth." These Babylonians
brewed at least sixteen styles of beer with wheat and malted barley.
Egyptians paid their workers with jugs of beer, and Ramses II was said
to have consecrated over half a million jugs of it to the gods. In the Nile
region beer was flavored with lavender, date, cedar, nutmeg, sugar, and probably
The bible\'s references to unleavened bread suggest that the isolation
and deliberate use of yeast was known at the time of Moses. A professor even
wrote that beer is mentioned in the book of Exodus as one of the unknown leavens,
and when Moses told Jews to avoid leavened bread during Passover in Exodus 12,
he also meant that they should avoid beer. King David of the Jews was a brewer,
and in early days of Christianity the Jews carried on the art of brewing and
often introduced it to many other cultures.
The classical Greeks and Romans learned the art of brewing from the
Egyptians. The word beer comes from the Latin "bibere" meaning simply "to
drink." The Latin word for beer is "cerevisia," a composite of "Ceres," the
goddess of agriculture, and "vis," Latin for "strength."
Beer was carried by many barbarian tribes in Western and Northern Europe,
and by the nineteenth century, hops was cultivated for brewing purposes in
France and Germany. Even though hops give beer is refreshing properties it was
neglected by many countries for centuries. Instead beers were flavored