“Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.” -Dave Barry “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” -Benjamin Franklin “He was a wise man who invented beer.” -Plato Yes, beer is pretty great. But it also has a very weird history, as these facts attest.
The Earliest Beer Recipe
Beer brewing dates to almost 6000 BC. However, it was the Sumerians around 2000 BC who really loved the stuff. Their plaques and carvings often center on people or gods drinking from large jars of beer. A hymn to one of their most important goddesses, Ninkasi, is actually a very detailed explanation of how to make beer; this was helpful in a society that was almost entirely illiterate. Want to make some beer but can’t read the recipe? Just start reciting the hymn and you’re set. Beer was so important that the average Sumerian couldn’t be bothered to stop drinking it for anything apparently, as there is a carving of a woman drinking out of a beer jug in the middle of sexual intercourse. That’s some dedication to your booze.
Beer is Dangerous
For your liver, obviously. But beer brewing is also a dangerous process due to the chances of bottles exploding, as today’s home brewers know. Sometimes, however, you get beer destruction on an even larger scale. At a London brewery in 1814, a vat containing more than 100,000 gallons of ale exploded, sending the beer rushing down the street through poor residential areas. It destroyed two houses and one pub, killing nine people in the process. However, one of those people only had himself to blame. When the beer settled into the gutters, people, enticed by free booze (even if it did have bits of road in it), rushed to the streets to drink it. A gentleman indulged a little too much and died from alcohol poisoning the next day.
People will do anything for Beer
Seriously, they will. During Prohibition in America people took to drinking hair tonic and posing as members of the clergy to get alcohol. Sometimes people come together on a large scale in the never ending quest for free beer. In Australia on Easter weekend in 2001, a beer truck blew a tire and overturned into a river. The driver was able to escape but his cargo sank to the bottom of the river. Hearing about the accident, people gathered at the scene, some in full scuba gear, and spent the entire weekend recovering the beer. One man managed to get 400 bottles. Did they return it to the company? Of course not. Despite a warning from police that what they were doing was theft, the divers took off with the whole lot.
Brewing is Woman’s Work
In ancient and medieval times the job of making beer fell to women. In some cultures it was considered such an honor that only beautiful or noble women could do it. In medieval Europe brewing was one of a housewife’s regular tasks, just like cooking and cleaning and baby making. Some of these women became famous for being exceptional brewers and started supplying people other than their own families. You never knew what you were getting though. One brewer let her chickens roost over her beer vats and when they defecated would simply stir the refuse into the beer. Yummy.
The few beer producers who weren’t women tended to be monks. Monasteries have a rich history of brewing beer in order to refresh tired travelers and to sell to make money to run the monastery. Today some still have active breweries, especially the Trappist Monks in Belgium and the Netherlands. Trappists make beer in order to remain entirely self-sufficient, allowing them to run their monasteries on the money they make from the brewery and that alone. So, strangely, while some religions look down upon or even forbid the consumption of alcohol, others have making beer as a tenant of their doctrine. The most famous monk-made beer produced today is probably Chimay.