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HISTORY SIX-PACK: BEER THROUGH THE AGES

1)  5000 BC, Mesopotamia
The earliest evidence of brewing points to the ancient Middle East as the birthplace of beer. Scientists speculate that the first instance of brewing likely took place shortly after humans began to grow grain, when an accidental combination of beer, water, and wild yeast was left out in the sun for too long, which some intrepid soul was thirsty enough to drink. Grain, water, heat—voila! The idea for beer was born. 


Beer became very important in ancient Mesopotamian cultures: Sumerian brewers had their own goddess of alcohol, called Ninkasi, and beer is even mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Hammurabi’s Code, considered to be the first set of laws in history, had regulations on beer, brewers, and tavern keepers in ancient Bablyonia. 

The ancient Mesopotamians passed their brewing knowledge on to the Egyptians (who were known to drink even more beer than water), who passed it on to the Greeks, who passed it on to the Romans, who passed it on to the rest of Europe, and the rest (as you will see) is history. 

2) 450 AD, Europe
The word that we use for our favorite drink today, beer, is thought to originally come from the language of the Germanic tribes of Northern Europe—in modern German, the word is bier. It is likely that when the Saxons, one of the Germanic tribes (and great fans of the beverage), invaded and settled in England, the word forever became part of the English language. The same word also made it’s way into some of the other languages of Europe and beyond: in French, it is bière; in Italian, birra; in Romanian bere; and in Turkish, bira. 


In the languages of Scandinavia, beer is sometimes called öl or øl, which is where we get the English word ale, a type of beer. The word (and perhaps the style of beverage) invaded the English language when Danish Vikings continuously invaded the English homeland from the late 8th century through the early 11th century. 

Every language has its own name for it—cerveza in Spanish, alu in Lithuanian, pi jiu in Mandarin—but all over the world, people love beer! 

3) 1487, Bavaria 
If you walk into a bar or brewery today, you’re likely to see beer drinkers arguing, and there’s a good chance they’re arguing about beer. People have been arguing about beer for centuries, and making rules about what and what isn’t a good beer. Probably the most famous example of this is the Rheinheitsgebot also known as the "German Beer Purity Law.” 


A decree issued by Albert IV, Duke of Bavaria limited the contents of beer to only three ingredients: barley, hops, and water. This decree was echoed by other Bavarian dukes, and eventually became the law throughout Germany—in fact, it remained on the books until 1993.

 The beer we know today is most likely based on these three ingredients. Hops are used to flavor beer, but hops also acts as a preservative. (This was especially important for beer that would be shipped, or taken on a long voyage; the reason India Pale Ales, or IPAs, are so hoppy is that they were originally brewed to last the long journey from England to its colony in India.) Prior to this law, medieval brewers had tried many different things as preservatives, such as stinging nettles, mushrooms, and even soot. The Rheinheitsgebot intended to get rid of this experimentation. The requirement of using barley was likely intended to keep the prices down on other grains, such as wheat and rye, so that they would be available for baking bread. No yeast was mentioned in the list of ingredients because the fermentation process wouldn’t be understood for another 300 years. 

German immigrants to the United States took this brewing tradition with them, and today some of the world’s most popular and widely available beers are brewed in the light, crisp pilsner style, originally developed in response to a law from almost 500 years ago. 

4) 1664, France
Over the centuries, as beer-making became more precise, and therefore more complicated, less beer was brewed at home and more beer was produced by commercial brewers. One common location for such an operation was in a monastery, where beer would be brewed by monks of a particular order. One of the most famous of such orders, and one that still exists today, are the Trappist monks. The Trappists began as a reformist order in La Trappe, France, hence their name. One of the main tenets of the order’s beliefs was to be self-sufficient, which included brewing their own beer, for consumption and for sale. 


Multiple Trappist orders sprung up across western Europe, but many monasteries were destroyed in wars and disasters over the years, especially the French Revolutions and the World Wars of the twentieth century. Still, Trappist monks have always been recognized and respected for their brewing prowess. Today, just 10 Trappist breweries are officially recognized worldwide: 1 in Austria, 6 in Belgium, 2 in the Netherlands, and 1 in the United States. As the International Trappist Assocation requires all brewing to be conducted by monks, or under the supervisions of monks, many of these breweries donate the proceeds of their work to charitable causes. 

5) England, 1765
The industrial revolution changed all aspects of society, including beer. Brewing became a concentrated industry, with a small number of commercial brewers taking advantage of new technologies to pump out enough beer to quench the thirst of entire nations. The discovery of the steam engine, along with coke as a more efficient source of fuel, allowed brewers to automate processes that would have taken many men in years before.


Advancements in chemistry allowed brewers to learn more about the beer itself as well. The invention of the hydrometer made it possible to determine the output of different malted grains, and allowed brewers to tweak their formulas to get their desired result in the most efficient manner. A greater understanding of yeast and the fermentation process also allowed brewers to be more precise than ever before in their techniques. 

These changes in technique also transformed the business of brewing, making brewing an enterprise that was profitable only for those with the deep pockets to be able to finance a brewery with all the latest technology, which could outpace smaller, simpler brewing operations many times over. 

6) Worldwide, present day 
The trends which began in the industrial revolution carried through to the present day, with some of the world’s most popular brands turning out millions of cans, bottles, and kegs of beer, and shipping them all over the world; not only is this level of production amazing, but beer is produced with a quality and consistency that could never have been imagined in ages past. 


Still, even with a few large companies controlling many of the most popular beer brands worldwide, there has very recently been a great increase in small breweries, in what is being called the "craft beer movement.” These small operations are using modern techniques to attempt to bring back the great variety in the brewing world that existed centuries ago. Enthusiasm for these small-batch brews is growing among devoted beer fans, making the future of beer bright (and most likely, with some hoppy bite).
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