History of Brewing
The exact date of discovery of
alcohol is currently unknown, however due to the multiple different ways for
alcohol to form, “alcohol must have been discovered independently by a number
of groups of nomadic prehistoric peoples”1. While this obviously
means there cannot have an exact date of when alcohol was discovered, what can
be gleaned is that alcohol has been there throughout the history of humanity.
However nomadic groups would not
have brewed their own alcohol, instead likely stumbling across rotting fruit or
another possible source of alcohol in the wild. This would make finding alcohol
more of a chance occurrence, however this would change with settlement. Once remaining in a single location, crops
could be grown and fermented into alcohol. This would be the humble beginnings
of brewing as we know it today.
Alcohol in Egypt:
An example of an early society with
which we have documentation of large scale brewing of alcohol is ancient Egypt.
Here when it came to
beer, “The basis for most was the fermentation of wheat or barley, activated by
malting”2. These early beers would not have the preservatives that
modern day beers would have, “necessitating their daily brewing, and immediate
consumption”1. Ultimately this would mean the production of
alcoholic beverages would not work as a business plan without a constant and
reliable demand. Since these beers would not last, you couldn’t simply bottle
them and sell them at other cities.
So how did an alcoholic beverage,
something which in modern times with modern technologies still costs enough
money that it is more of a commodity, able to catch on in Egypt? The simple answer to this is
availability of the ingredients. “Grain was so plentiful (there being enough
for export in most years)”1 which meant producing alcohol from a
portion of that grain wasn’t costly causing alcohol to be cheap and affordable
to anyone. This allowed the brewing industry to develop in Egypt with ease.
Eventually Egyptian beer did not
remain in Egypt but was produced in such excess that it was eventually exported
to other countries yet as previously stated, Egyptian beer had a very short
lifespan. To get around this, preservatives were then added to the beer to
allow it to keep showing while the chemistry that led to the decomposition of
the beverage was not understood, if you give a group of monkeys typewriters
then they will eventually figure out through trial and error what can prolong
the lifespan of beer.
However it wasn’t just the
Egyptians that deduced how to make their beer last as Egypt did also import
beer, “the greatest trade apparently having been with an area along the Syrian
and Asia Minor coast”1. At this point it was no longer a case of buying
beer because it was cheap, an imported beer would naturally cost more than it’s
local counterpart particularly in a country like Egypt which could produce it
en masse. The obvious draw to imported beer would then have to be the taste
rather than just the ability to become inebriated.
Stepping forward towards the
Middle Ages, by this point the process on how to brew alcohol is widespread
despite the spread of technology being hampered by the collapse of the Roman
Empire and subsequent fear of change and discovery. Beer was no longer
something which had to be consumed on the day of creation as brewers could add
preservatives just as the likes of the Egyptians could on exports.
It wasn’t just Egypt that had
brewing, references to brewing in northern Europe during the early Middles ages
are few and far between but there is the odd mention of it, “In Old Norse sagas
two drinks are mentioned, alu, the drink of the people, and bior, the drink of
the gods”.3 Alu and bior are likely ale and beer respectively. Mead
was a popular drink in locations with an abundance of honey such as Scandinavia
1: Horney I. A history of beer
and brewing. 2003.
2: Alexander J. Alcohol and
Social Complexity in Ancient Western Asia. 1998.
3: Unger R. Beer in the Middle
Ages and the Renaissance. 2007.