“History is not a burden on the memory but an illumination of the soul.”
Humans and beer have always had a mutually dependent relationship. In fact, beer has existed in some form or another since shortly after the dawn of humanity. Although it is hard to pinpoint exactly when beer came into existence, ancient texts and paintings showing the brewing process and humanity’s necessity for beer have been found dating back to the times of early Mesopotamia.
This archeological finding is actually much more vital to understanding our history than one would think. Beyond just the interesting facts of how beer came to be, it’s also a look into how humans went from surviving to living.
Although it differs depending on who you ask, beer actually may have come about by accident. Since there is no definitive answer provided by those responsible, there is a theory that barley left out in the rain and subjected to the forces of nature fermented and this mixture was consumed- why, we can’t be quite sure. Either way, accidental or experimental, this was the very first form of beer. Hardly as refined as what we have today but, when you’re busy constructing the backbone of all human civilization, you do earn yourself a bit of grace.
This early beer was found to be both filling and rich in needed nutrients; although, of course, people just realized they were staying healthier-nutrition science was a thing of the future. They also were finding themselves more relaxed and jovial after consumption. For these reasons, beer did become an early form of currency. The building of the pyramids was paid for in beer, for example. But beers’ impact did not stop there. Along with bread, the brewing process gave both need and provision for an end to the nomadic lifestyle. Math, science, even the written language all have beer to thank, at least in part, for their existence.
Entire blogs could be written on just the history of beer. Historians are finding out new things all the time regarding our mutual dependency. There are many wonderfully fascinating books and documentaries that can provide a more in-depth look into this relationship. One such documentary I would recommend is How Beer Saved The World. It won’t take your whole evening, but it will expand your beer knowledge exponentially.
As one could guess, both the brewing process and its product have changed significantly over time. Most of the main ingredients we know today were either not present or very different in early beers. As previously mentioned, beer most likely just started out as grain, water, and wild airborne yeast (which no one was aware of at the time.) Ingredients to balance the flavors didn’t come into play until later. Even hops didn’t start out as the bittering agent- most were made with mosses or a type of herbal mix known as gruit. And yeast wasn’t even discovered until hundreds of years later, especially the particular strains used in beer.
With this in mind, one might think it would be very hard for a modern day beer drinker to imagine what their ancient counterpart would have experienced. Or would it?
Cue DogFish Head Brewery.
This brewery took a very adventurous risk and decided they wanted to create a beer that mirrored ancient brews. Instead of relying on imagination and others’ research, they teamed up with scientists that were exploring a (at the time) recently discovered tomb, thought to be the resting place of the legendary King Midas. Using a sample from one of the burial chalices, scientists were able to surmise much of the composition of the drink it once held. From there, Midas Touch was born.
This is a beer I highly recommend, for both taste and experience. Being that close to a part of history is actually quite special, especially if its in drinkable form. This concoction tastes like a harmonious blend of beer and wine, perfectly complementing each other. It has hints of sweetness but also has a bread like way about it that feels hearty and welcome. Sipping this, it really isn’t difficult to picture someone in ancient times enjoying this as they watched the sun sink over the fertile crescent.
Beer is an ever-changing craft and it may feel like it’s moving too fast to catch up. But it’s also important to remember that we are as much a part of history as history is a part of us. It’s never too late to learn where we come from.