The History of Beer

Human beings have existed on this planet for approximately ~100,000 years! But it was only in the last 10,000 years we begin to see societies move away from their hunter/gatherer structured lives to a agriculture based society, the result of which has lead us on our current path of improvements in technology, quality of living and an ever growing list of human accomplishments since.

So what could have possibly been the catalyst for such a pivotal point in human history? What motivation could our ancient ancestors possibly have for breaking a 90,000 year trend of their hunter/gatherer roots?

You guessed it – Beer!


In The Beginning…

Beer has been a part of the human experience for centuries, with evidence of its existence extending all the way back to the dawn of civilized society,  over 9,000 years ago!

Recent evidence uncovered by Molecular Archaeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania has found evidence of beer dating back to 7000 BC in preserved clay jars, inside of a tomb in China’s yellow river valley in the Neolithic village of Jiahu. In fact the recipe for the brew was studied and replicated by the creative eccentric head of Dogfish Brewery owner Sam Calagione, which they brewed a limited release under the name chateau-jiahu! (Estimated on shelves Feb-April – 2015)

History_of_beer **To see more of the amazing work that is being done by Dr. Pat & Dogfish head to recreate historical recipes – Check out:

Thanks to Dr. Patricks recent discovery, a growing number of scientists and historians have now come to believe that the worlds oldest fermented beverage could very well have been the catalyst that inspired our early ancestors to abandon their nomadic heritage in exchange for an agriculture based society. A incredibly pivotal point in our history we now refer to as the dawn of civilization approximately 9500 – BC, where we first see evidence of humans beginning to cultivate wild wheat and barley. (the 2 main ingredients in beer!)

And while the exact time & origin of beers creation may never truly be known, it has been speculated that the first brew was made quite by chance. A likely scenario for the first batch of beer probably goes something like this…

A few hunters were out gathering grain in a clay container and left the jar out in the elements, where it was exposed to rainfall and wild airborne yeast – the saturated grains  begin to release simple sugars and then finally underwent what we refer to now as spontaneous fermentation. Several days later the first beer was discovered by mankind.

Despite the almost certainly sour and pungent taste of these early and unsophisticated lambic style beers – Something about the strange new brew (alcohol!) caught the attention of our ancestors several thousand years ago. And even though these 1st generation of beers were a far cry from the refined brews we all know and love today – they were able to influence and compel early civilizations to not only carry on the tradition of brewing from generation to generation, but along the way beer would also go on to inspire early mathematics, record keeping, and countless feats of engineering and human triumph.


 Ancient Civilizations

Egyptian_History_of_BeerCenturies later beers legacy was still going strong, at the focal point of many ancient societies – it became such an entrenched part of many civilizations that it was documented to be used in everything from celebrations, to funerals and in the Egyptians case it was even used as payment to the many laborers who were building the great pyramids of the time. (at a rate of 1 gallon per day).

Despite centuries of refinement Sumerians and Egyptians of the time were still using straws to imbibe their brews, as to avoid the bitter solids left over from the fermentation process. By 2000 BC, descendants of the Sumerians (known as Babylonians) were brewing dozens of different beers – documenting at least 20 versions that we know of. In fact the Babylonians took the art of brewing so seriously, that if you were to ruin a batch – it could have cost you your life!

In ancient Egypt it was one of their major sources of calories, nutrients and minerals.It didn’t matter if you were a king, noblemen or peasant – for  everyone at the time was entitled to their daily ration of beer, which was determined by their social standing. So while many Egyptians counted on having beer as a staple part of their diets, unbeknownst to them – Their beer consumption was not only providing them with valuable calories and nutrients, It was also giving them a distinct advantage in fighting off colds and diseases! Dr. George Armelagos, a professor of anthropology discovered high levels of tetracycline within the bones of Egyptian mummies, an antibiotic not officially discovered until 1948.

So how was it possible that such an advanced antibiotic could have been found in ancient burial tombs some 4,000 years ago? Dr. Armelagos determined that in order for these mummies to retain such prevalent levels of this early antibiotic it would have had to come from something they consumed nearly everyday. After testing numerous foodstuffs, the proof finally came in the form of an early Egyptian recipe for beer.


Medieval Europe

In the early Medieval period, In a time where sanitation was an unfamiliar concept, it wasn’t uncommon for sewage and tannery waste water to come in contact with local fresh water sources. Conditions were so poor, that the average chance for someone to live to the ripe ol’ age of 6 years old was a dismal 50%. It was common knowledge that drinking from certain water supplies would make you ill – but because the process for making beer required that you bring the wort to a boil, it not only made what would of been disease ridden water drinkable – It also made it quite a bit tastier!


In Europe beer was still predominately homebrewed in early medieval times, gradually this family oriented  tradition slowly evolved into an artisan one – with monasteries and brewpubs producing more and more beer for mass consumption. It’s interesting to look back at how the world’s perspective changed on beer, in medieval Europe for example it  was used for tithing, trading, payment, taxing and was still considered a staple source of calories and nutrients for many. Even the churches at the time considered the drink to be a god send, and fully embraced their role as the master brewers of their time. In fact, monks were some of the most renowned and talented brewers of their time and religious ceremonies were almost always ended with the clergy distributing pints of beer to everyone in attendance. Nothing wrong with trying to save someones eternal soul with a bit of bribery and good beer, is there?

Brewing and distributing beer became a core strategy for the survival of many churches and monasteries. For hundreds of years churches had a monopoly on the brewing of beer in many god fearing parts of the country, which allowed the churches to not only flourish – but to become wealthy. Like many societies that came before them, Christians generally believed beer to be a gift from the gods, which was true throughout most of their recorded history. Only until very recently has this changed, when rampant alcoholism in the early 1900’s  led to the dark days of prohibition did the church finally decide to severe it’s long standing ties to beer.

The introduction of hops wasn’t noted until 822 AD by a Carolingian abbot. Unfortunately the world was slow to adopt the use of hops in their beer because it was difficult to establish proper proportions of ingredients when hops were introduced into the equation. Despite early resistance to hops due to it’s bitter taste and unfamiliar flavor, eventually it would be praised for it’s natural preservative qualities and prove instrumental in facilitating the export and trade of beer, as un-hopped beer at the time would quickly spoil and was unable to survive for any real length of time. It wouldn’t be until the 13th century that hops use would be adopted into mainstream brewing practices in northern Germany – finally spreading to the Netherlands and England in the 15th century as well.

While there were many that were opposed to the addition of hops at the time, others were quick to realize it’s potential for preserving beer on long voyages and trips – something that proved especially important when adventures first set out to discover america in the early 1600’s. You see, water in the hull of a ship was subject to spoil on long voyages – as would nearly all of the unhopped beer varieties available to them at the time. It wasn’t until the advent of hops, were sailors able to rely on source of hydration and calories that wouldn’t spoil on longer journeys.

So with a hull full of hoppy beer and dreams of new found freedom, the Pilgrims left their familiar shores en route to America…


Beer In America

In 1620, Pilgrims make the decision to stray from their original course towards Virginia and end up landing at Plymouth Rock. Why you might ask?

Well they were running low on beer of course?!

When the first settlers landed in America, they didn’t know that the lakes and streams were uniquely pristine – and immediately made creating a brewery one of their very first priorities. In a strange land, met with unfamiliar ingredients – they ended up creating their first batch of beer using acorns ( of all things…).  From the first moment we stepped foot on American soil, it was clear that beer was going to play an important part in the development of this brave new world.

Before Televisions and radios were invented – we had brewpubs. The social hubs of cities and towns that brought people together and served as local centers for news, gossip and of course a cold pint. It was in one of these brewpubs, In the Green Dragon tavern to be exact that the revolutionists conceived the idea of a new nation, of a revolution, and of America. And it wasn’t just these civilian soldiers that were fond of beer, Many of our founding fathers, including: Thomas Jefferson, Sam Adams, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin were all dedicated homebrewers.

Beer is proof that god loves us and wants us to be happy.
 – Benjamin Franklin

The 1800’s brought about an unprecedented step forward with advents in new technology, while many of these early inventions were dreamed up and brought into being to serve the beer and liqour industry – the advancements they would bring to life would go on to have a resounding impact in american history. In 1856 Luie Pastuer, a French chemist would discover yeast as critical component of beer-making in his pursuit to better understand just why beer goes bad with time. His Pasteurization process was first developed to stabilize beers and give them a longer shelf life, Milk wouldn’t enter the picture for another 22 years.

But the 1800’s gave us so much more than the pasteurization process and the discovery of yeast, We also saw the creation of automatic bottling and with it the industrial age. The rise of railroads to accommodate mass production and distribution and even refrigeration! Many of the large breweries of the time ( namely Miller, Coors & Pabst ) were doing their best to meet the demand for America’s new found love of pilsner beers, a particularly finicky style of beer that required constant cool temperatures to brew properly. When they were unable to meet the nation’s growing appetite for this new style of beer during the summer months, and with profits dwindling – they commissioned and funded research for what would become Americas first artificial commercial refrigeration. With an ever expanding railroad system and artificial refrigeration now within their grasp – American Breweries exploded across the nation, numbering some 3200 strong by 1880.


Many years later, in 1920 prohibition had rocked america. With the passing of the 18th amendment – Homebrewers and Beer, wine and liquor lovers alike were all now considered common criminals. After 13 years of being a dry country, American citizens finally had enough. In 1933 the 21st amendment was established to repeal prohibition. At the end of prohibition, President FDR was quoted in saying:

What America Needs now is a drink.
Franklin D. Rosevelt

After everything I’ve learned during my research, and everything I’ve presented here today – It only seems appropriate that I close this chapter with a very fitting quote by Winston Churchill…

The concept of prohibition is an affront to the whole history of mankind.


Modern Day

Beer has come a long way in the last 11,000 years! Today’s beer drinkers have a nearly limitless selection of beers available to them, with more options hitting the market every year. The growing craft beer movement has inspired a new generation of innovative home brewers and budding craft breweries both in the US and abroad. Now more than ever before, brewers are focused on sourcing unique ingredients and using a mix of both innovative and traditional brewing methods to push the envelope of what is possible.

  • Average US citizen consumes 20 gallons of beer each year US (czech republic holds first place with an average of 40 gallons)
  • 2013 – $100 billion total beer market
  • Craft breweries have averaged a 10.9% growth over the last decade
  • 2013 – US had 2,822 total breweries (2,768 of which were craft/micro breweries!)
  • US is responsible for approximately 217 million barrels of beer produced in 2014
  • Total beer product for 2013 was 1.97 billion hectoliters (or 52 billion gallons)Raw_Materials_Used_2014_USBreweries
  • The worlds strongest beer on record is called “Snake Venom” by Brewmeister brewery – clocking in at a whopping 67.5%! (Scotland)
  • According to, there are over 86,000+ different registered beers in their database



If you’d rather kick back and relax and watch a good film about the history of beer instead, I invite you to enjoy this great documentary, entitled “How Beer Saved The World”.

Straight 2 The Pint