History of Beer, as explained in Rogers Park
In a previous column, I touted Rogers Park resident Randy Mosher’s latest book, Tasting Beer: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink. It’s a must-read for anyone who enjoys an occasional beer or four. But, the tale of the history of beer is in his previous book, Radical Brewing.
Here’s an excerpt (quoted with permission):
c. 10,000 B.C.E. Glaciers melt, barley pops up everywhere. Neolithic people take flat rocks and pound it into a hearty nourishing gruel.
9,999 B.C.E. Neolithic people sick of gruel. Wonder what else they can do with barley.
9,998 – 9000 B.C.E. Tried everything: gruel loaf, gruel au jus, gruel fritters, gruel påté, gruel in aspic. Charred meat is still by far the most popular food.
8,999 B.C.E. Final contestant in barley cook-off comes up with a winner: crock-aged festering sprouted barley-cake bisque with bitter herbs, actually much more enjoyable than it sounds. Dubbed beer, it’s much better than gruel. The formerly neglected Goddess of Gruel becomes fashionable new Goddess of Beer, now in big demand at parties everywhere across Fertile Crescent.
5,000 B.C.E. Formerly nomadic people of ancient Middle East settle down to avoid having to lug around heavy jugs of beer. Civilization officially begins.
3,000 B.C.E. Egyptians start to build mighty civilization based on the motivating power of beer. The whole place gets drunk and stacks rocks into giant pointy pyramid things, frightening desert nomads. As a joke, they appoint a hippopotamus named Seth as the god of beer. Nation wakes up a thousand years later with a helluva hangover.
1740 B.C.E. Sneaky Babylonian brewery accountants encourage use of straw and papyrus chaff as cost-saving measure in breweries. Hammurabi gets mad and writes code of laws describing which body parts to chop off as punishment for such infractions.
45 B.C.E. Degenerate Egyptian ruler-god mistakenly trades Queen Cleopatra to Roman wine-drinking weasel for a six-pack of something “much better than beer.”
50 C.E. Roman Emperor Julian says beer “smells of goat,” starting long tradition of effete wine snobs bad-mouthing beer. Rome becomes filthy with wealthy, effete wine snobs, and begins its long and inevitable decline.
410 – 455 Beer drinkers from the barbaric North ride their Harleys into Rome and smash up the place but good.
700 – 900 Vikings learn to make beer from grains and tree parts. Heaven envisioned as giant beer joint, with glorous death in battle as the cover charge. Thousands rush to join the army.
600 – 1400 Dark Beer Ages. Monks support religion by brewing beer using creepy-sounding medieval ingredients like bog myrtle. Strong beers reserved foe Abbots and other bigshots.
Monastic brewery accountants come up with the idea of “small beer” to give out to penitents as a cheaper substitute for expensive hair shirts.
Monopoly maintained on the sale of high-priced beer “gruit” herbs, guaranteeing the church a piece of the action on every beer sold in whole Dark Ages area.
1350 – 1450 Hops replace other herbs, weakening the church’s grip on beer revenue, eventually allowing free –willed scalawags like Martin Luther to vandalize church doors, inexplicably opening the floodgates of the Renaissance.
1500 Lager beer emerges from damp and chilly caves in Germany. Soccer not yet the national sport, so England fails to see the point. A little later Scotland – way into damp and chilly – takes it up enthusiastically.
1516 Bavarians enact the fabled Reinheitsgebot beer purity act, creating the foundation for serious-sounding advertising puffery 475 years in the future.
1524 Flemish immigrants bring hopped beer to England. Ale lovers in Britannia show their appreciation by making up derisive ditties and rioting.
1587 New world Indians show Walter Raleigh how to make cheap watery beer from maize, and American beer is born. Raleigh later beheaded, but the warning was ignored by later brewers.
1620 Pilgrims stuck on small, stinky ship bobbing slowly across the Atlantic, sort of lost and really, really thirsty. They look for landmark, but can only find small ugly rock and decide to land anyway. They show their devotion to their religious principles by postponing church-building in order to make the brewery their first permanent structure.
1722 In London, the story of Ralph Harwood inventing porter is invented. Due to poisonous additives in beer, people start hallucinating, and worse. Consumers rail against the use of such adulterants in beer, which are eventually outlawed.
1773 American colonists pretty sick of stale, highly taxed English beer. They hold a meeting in the local tavern and plot to dump all the ale in the harbor as a protest. After a few more rounds, someone comes up with the much better idea of dumping tea into the harbor and history is made.
1750 – 1800 The thermometer, hydrometer and steam power all come to English porter breweries as the industrial revolution takes hold. Brewery accountants get nice corner offices. German brewers come and take notes. Belgium yawns, decides not to clean the spiderwebs off their fermenters.
1814 Giant beer vat collapses in London. Dozens drown, but in a pretty cool way. Impoverished hordes signal their approval by violently struggling for gutter space to drink the spilled beer.
1847 England’s Glass Tax is repealed, encouraging bottled beer and starting a trend toward paler, clearer beers (which reached its zenith with Miller’s 1994 introduction – and withdrawal – of Clear Beer.)
1840 – 1860 Germans immigrate to America, and lagers replace English-style ales. English finally start to feel better about losing Revolutionary War.
1873 “Golden era of American brewing” peaks with 4,131 breweries.
1890s Refrigerated railcars and national marketing signal the beginning of national breweries. Local breweries send out press releases stating they will survive thanks to “the undying loyalty of their local customers.”
1915 – 1917 World War I rationing cuts strength of beer, and brewers rush to convince us we like it this way. Local brewers start to report some of their local customers are dying off. “Golden era of American brewery accountants” begins.
1919 – 1933 Prohibition ushers in an era of gangsters, speakeasies, and homebrewing. The cocktail flourishes as the only way to hide the strong, bathtubby taste of bathtub gin.
1934 Beer can invented. Joe Six-Pack born in Steubenville, Ohio.
1976 American bicentennial year is low ebb of beer quality and diversity, as 90 percent of the beer brewed in the United States comes from just five companies.
1976 First American microbrewery opens, then soon closes. Lured by the sweet, malty smell of success, many others are inspired to open their own breweries.
1995 Industrial breweries jump on increased consumer demand for quality beer by redoubling efforts to to find clever animal mascots for their beers.
While the book is primarily targeted at brewers, it’s another fun read for anyone interested in beer, from beer author extraordinaire Randy Mosher.