The History of Beer, Part 1

King Wencenslas of Bohemia

King Wencenslas of Bohemia

The word beer comes from the German and Dutch word "bier" but the drink dates back much further than its name; in fact, the earliest recipes for beer date back to 3000 BC where Babylonians had up to 20 different types. 

Around 4000 BC in the Middle East, people were fermenting bread to make a fermented pulp which they called a “divine drink.” This beer was cloudy and unfiltered and was drank through a straw to filter out grain hulls. Beer was so important in this era because of its nutritional value that people were often paid in the thick bitter liquid. 

In the ensuing eras, the importance of beer flourished in cultures around the world. In 1550 BC, Egyptians would bury beer and malt with the Pharaohs to provide sustenance in the afterlife. In the Mediterranean and Southern Europe, beer was common among the people until the Roman Empire conquered them and all but replaced it with wine around 100 AD.  Fermented drinks could also be found in other cultures from this time including Assyrian, Egyptian, Hebrew, Chinese and Incan, though the ingredients differed depending on what part of the world you lived in. While barley was popular with Babylonians and Egyptians, other parts of the world would use different grains such as millet or corn in Africa, rice in Japan, sorghum in parts of Asia, and rye in Russia.

A Monk Cellarer tasting wine from a barrel, Li Livres dou Santé, (13th Century manuscript), France

A Monk Cellarer tasting wine from a barrel, Li Livres dou Santé, (13th Century manuscript), France

In the Middle Ages, monasteries took up the mantle by creating beer to help their monastic life, as they could drink it during times of fasting; it wasn’t uncommon for monks to drink up to five liters a day. These early monastic beers were very bitter and used wild herbs such as bog myrtle, lemon balm, borage, St. John’s wort and elderberries.

Hops weren't introduced to beer until sometime around 822 AD by a Carolingian Abbot. It took a while to work out the proper proportions, but eventually, hops became the preferred herb because of their preservative properties.  By 1200 AD beer making had firmly established itself in Germany, Austria, and England. Because of the caves in the Alps, German s preferred the cold temperature for bottom-fermented lagers while over in England, they went for top-fermented ales for storage in cellars.

King Wenceslas II of Bohemia (what is now the modern day Czech Republic) founded the city of Pilsen in 1295 and granted brewing rights to 260 citizens, which helped perfect hopped beer and lead to scaling up of beer operations for export. Up until this point, beer was only brewed at home for quick consumption since it would spoil quickly. Slowly the production of beer spread across Europe through The Netherlands and eventually England. German brewers perfected lager brewing around 1420 and the first brewing guild, Brauerei Beck, would be established in 1489. Soon afterwards the Reinheitsgebot was created. The rest is for another time.