A Brief History Of Brewing

Written by Steve Cannon on January 1, 2022

History

Brewing has taken place since around the 6th millennium BC, and archaeological evidence suggests emerging civilizations including ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia brewed beer. Descriptions of various beer recipes can be found in cuneiform (the oldest known writing) from ancient Mesopotamia. In Mesopotamia the brewer’s craft was the only profession which derived social sanction and divine protection from female deities/goddesses, specifically: Ninkasi, who covered the production of beer, Siris, who was used in a metonymic way to refer to beer, and Siduri, who covered the enjoyment of beer. In pre-industrial times, and in developing countries, women are frequently the main brewers.

As almost any cereal containing certain sugars can undergo spontaneous fermentation due to wild yeasts in the air, it is possible that beer-like beverages were independently developed throughout the world soon after a tribe or culture had domesticated cereal. Chemical tests of ancient pottery jars reveal that beer was produced as far back as about 7,000 years ago in what is today Iran. This discovery reveals one of the earliest known uses of fermentation and is the earliest evidence of brewing to date. In Mesopotamia, the oldest evidence of beer is believed to be a 6,000-year-old Sumerian tablet depicting people drinking a beverage through reed straws from a communal bowl. A 3900-year-old Sumerian poem honouring Ninkasi, the patron goddess of brewing, contains the oldest surviving beer recipe, describing the production of beer from barley via bread. The invention of bread and beer has been argued to be responsible for humanity’s ability to develop technology and build civilization. The earliest chemically confirmed barley beer to date was discovered at Godin Tepe in the central Zagros Mountains of Iran, where fragments of a jug, at least 5,000 years old was found to be coated with beer stone, a by-product of the brewing process. Beer may have been known in Neolithic Europe as far back as 5,000 years ago and was mainly brewed on a domestic scale.

Ale produced before the Industrial Revolution continued to be made and sold on a domestic scale, although by the 7th century AD beer was also being produced and sold by European monasteries. During the Industrial Revolution, the production of beer moved from artisanal manufacture to industrial manufacture, and domestic manufacture ceased to be significant by the end of the 19th century. The development of hydrometers and thermometers changed brewing by allowing the brewer more control of the process, and greater knowledge of the results. Today, the brewing industry is a global business, consisting of several dominant multinational companies and many thousands of smaller producers ranging from brewpubs to regional breweries.

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