The Hoppy History of Beer

August 4, 2017

Like wine, beer has a long history, one that’s longer than we’ll ever be able to trace. Beer–it’s the chosen beverage of English kings, Egyptian stonemasons and Homer Simpson. And it has a long and celebrated history going back to 3400 B.C.

The first known written record of beer dates back to the ancient Sumerians. It’s in the form of a hymn, to the goddess of beer named Ninkasi. This earliest beer recipe calls for soaked grains to be mixed with bread and water: The bread would provide the source of yeast, which was the catalyst for fermentation. It isn’t known how Sumerians figured out bread could start the fermentation process; probably it was just a happy accident by an unsuspecting or unwitting inventor.


However it began, beer rapidly took hold as one of civilization’s favorite—and safest—ways to drink. Historically speaking, water wasn’t always reliably potable for most cultures, and alcoholic drinks like beer (also sanitized by the application of heat) would have been safer. Of course, the appearance of beer was changing as brewing methods evolved. Babylonians drank their beer with a straw—it was thicker, full of grain.


Beer brewing continued during the Babylonian and Egyptian empires, and it’s estimated the Babylonians had recipes for as many as 20 different types. Hammurabi’s Code, the ancient Babylonian set of laws, decreed a daily beer ration to citizens. The drink was distributed according to social standing: laborers received two liters a day, while priests and administrators got five. At the time, the drink was always unfiltered, and cloudy, bitter sediment would gather at the bottom of the drinking vessels. Special drinking straws were invented to avoid the muck.


Of course, ancient beers tasted much, much different than our contemporary brews. Back then, it was common to add spices and herbs to the fermenting mixture, as well as other ingredients that would seem downright strange to us, including everything from olive oil, cheese and carrots to hallucinogens like hemp and poppy. In addition to being cloudy and filled with sediment, the liquid would be too heavy to create the head of foam so prized by a good bartender today.


Historically, brewing had been a local industry and only few companies has a significant international presence. However, last few decades have seen rising consolidation in the beer industry where initial development took off in North America and Western Europe. Moreover, China have the largest consumption of beer in the Asia Pacific region, followed by Japan. Increasing population and more inclined towards western culture are the major factors for the growth of beer market in the Asia Pacific region. Countries such as India, Singapore and South Korea are the fastest growing market for beer in the Asia-Pacific region.


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