A History of Beer: How Beer Made Civilization

[Focus words: beer]

“I think this would be a good time for a beer.”

– Franklin D. Roosevelt

knight wearing armor and holding mug of beer

Beer, ale, lager, stout, bitter, pale – whatever you call it, it’s glorious stuff. Whether your downing pints in soggy England or sipping Mexico lager in the sun, beer is a worldwide obsession. In fact, we drink more than 100 billion litres of amber nectar globally every year. The modern behemoth breweries and small cottage industry craft beers make the USA the number 1 consumer, swilling down around 23 billion litres annually. However, the Czechs consume the most beer per person, with an average consumption of 188.6 litres per year.

It wasn’t always so. Once upon a time, drinks as diverse as mead (honey wine), wine, chicha, and rice beer were the most common drinks in many regions. Even the beer-glugging Americans were once a nation of cider-swiggers prior to World War II.

What happened? How did beer conquer the world?

What is beer?

Before we start delving back into history – like remembering a drunken night – it’s important to nail down what we’re talking about. What even is beer? And how is it made?

In a nutshell – beer is a fermented, alcoholic drink made from water, malt, hops, and yeast. That’s it. No complex list of ingredients; it’s just the trifecta of malts-hops-yeast that form the basis of every keg.

Rather, it’s the process in which these ingredients are combined, brewed, or hopped that makes each and every brew unique. Modern breweries aim solely for consistent batches. But craft beers often experiment with adding new flavours and ingredients. They tweak the ratio of barley, hops, and roasted malts to produce either a deep earthy malt or an intense hop aroma. It’s all down to the brewing process.

Like bread uses yeast to rise, beers rely on starch-based yeast for the fermentation process. Here, the sugar in the grains – which is ground down to a mash – is converted to ethanol and CO2. Different beers let this process play out in different ways – some opting for a slightly stronger beer. Most beers, however, range between 3 to 6 per cent alcohol content.

Types of beer

History of beer

Depending on the brewing process, you can produce eleven or more types of beer. However, the main beer types are:

  • Ale is a broad spectrum of beers. Some are deep and brown, others light, citrus, and pale. What separates ales from other beers is their warm and short fermentation period. Because you don’t need specialised equipment, it’s a popular beer with homebrewers.
  • Lager is a newer beer type, heralding from Czechia, Germany, and the Netherlands. It’s often served cold and is carbonated. It is brewed at much lower temperatures, relying on bottom-fermenting yeasts.
  • Stouts are rich and dark. You’ll often notice notes of coffee or caramel, which come from the unmalted roasted barley. Guinness is perhaps the most famous stout in the world.
  • Porters are like stouts in having a dark black colour. However, they’re often sweeter, with a distinctive fruity or dry flavour.
  • Finally, as the name suggests, wheat beers are made from wheat. They’re common in Germany, where the smooth, citrus taste is highly sought-after.

When was beer invented?

Beer is the drink of civilisation. Being reliant on cereal crops for rich flavour and strong alcohol content, it’s little surprise that as soon as humans grew crops, they started brewing beer. In the modern-day Middle East, in an area known as the fertile crescent – stretching from the Eastern Mediterranean into Mesopotamia – early villages and farmland began springing up some 13,000 to 11,000 years ago.

Within those early years, brewing rapidly arose in Israel – where the beer was m