When you enjoy a nice, cold beer, you probably don’t often think about the history behind it. But did you know that beer is one of the oldest and most widely consumed drinks in the world? Beer is a beverage that tastes great any time, and in any occasion. It also has a fascinating history, almost as old as civilization itself. Here is a short history of beer.
History of Beer – First Documentations
Beer is one of the oldest recorded recipes in the world, with documentations of the beverage dating back to around 5,000 BC and the ancient Egyptians. The Egyptians brewed their beers with unique fruits such as pomegranates and dates, and would often include many indigenous herbs. While these beers looked and tasted quite a bit different than the Bud Light you drank back in college, they still were the first beverages to resemble the modern brews we drink today.
Beer might actually be even older, however. The Egyptians provided some of the first written records of beer, but it is believed that the beverage might have developed in the ancient cultures of Mesopotamia much earlier. Mesopotamian beer was thick and viscous, and not a beverage that could just be sipped. It was commonly served in great bowls and drank through a straw to avoid the malt that floated at the top. In fact, straws seem to have been invented specifically to drink this beverage.
The Egyptians would ultimately perfect that Mesopotamian method, creating a smoother and lighter beer. As such, Egyptian beer is typically considered the first beer.
Early Uses of Beer
Beer was common throughout ancient Egypt, and was used in a variety of ways. Of course, most of us today drink beer recreationally or socially, and that was also true of past cultures. Pretty much every major festival or religious ceremony in ancient Egypt featured beer, often given to the people by the Pharaoh.
But beer wasn’t just for social settings. The drink featured prominently in the daily diet of most Egyptians. It was a common form of payment for labor, and was also used for medical reasons. Everyone, from men, women, and children, drank beer. It was considered a source of nutrition, and was commonly used to treat illnesses.
Traveling to Europe
As with many other inventions, the use of beer would soon spread to other regions. From the Middle East, beer would travel across the Mediterranean and into Europe. During the Middle Ages, beer would evolve into the more modern drink that we know today. After years of creating the drink using different herbs and spices to balance the malt flavors of the beverage, Europeans began using malted barley as their flavoring agent, a practice introduced by German monks.
These monks remained the prominent brewers of the beverage for much of the Middle Ages, and they are also believed to be the brains behind many common brewing innovations such as lagering and cold storing.
An American Favorite
Beer would be brought to the New World by the very first European colonists. In fact, the Pilgrims may have made it all the way down to Virginia, but reportedly landed at Plymouth Rock because they were out of beer. Among the very first permanent structures built by the Pilgrims was a brewery. As America continued to grow and develop, so would the nation’s love for beer. New York and Philadelphia were both early brewing centers.
In the mid-1800’s, popular American beers began to shift from English-style ales to pilsner-style lagers, as immigrants from northern and central Europe began to join the melting pot. An increasing demand for beer would drive production to new highs in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
Beer production in the United States saw a decline in the 1920’s with the beginning of Prohibition, which was a nationwide constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages, lasting from 1920 to 1933.
While some breweries weathered the Prohibition storm by making sugar, ice cream, and sodas, many breweries and pubs were forced to go out of business during this time. Some would take their businesses underground, and eventually, criminal gangs would gain control of the beer and liquor supply in many cities.
Around the same time that Prohibition was repealed, the United States would enter into the Great Depression, making beer a luxury that many could not afford.
A New Trend
With many smaller breweries forced to close during Prohibition and the Great Depression, the market for beer production was limited. Brewers that could mass-produce cheap, affordable beer would come to dominate beer production in the post-Prohibition United States. As beer sales for powerhouses such as Budweiser and Schlitz increased, they would only work to perfect their crafts, continuing to provide beer that anyone could enjoy into the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.
While these beers are still common pretty much everywhere in the United States, various changes in law would make it easier for small breweries to begin producing and selling their products again. Today, you can find breweries and brewpubs in just about every major city in the US. Many brewers have their own unique recipes that help them stand out from the traditional, brand name beers. There are types of beer for just about everyone.
So whether you prefer an ale, lager, or exciting new microbrew, the next time you are enjoying a cold one, remember the history of beer and take pride in the fact you are drinking a beverage once enjoyed by the ancient Egyptians.
Now that you know the history of beer, try playing a few beer quizzes on Sporcle.
Mark Heald is an Associate Product Manager and Sporcle Admin. He enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, and bemoaning the fact the Sonics left Seattle.