Beer Brewing Paralleled the Rise of Civilization

Kurt Stoppkotte
for National Geographic News
April 24, 2001

Malting, mashing, boiling, and fermenting … the basic process of brewing beer has remained relatively unchanged for thousands of years.

Using his own gravity-fed brewing system, fabricated of Styrofoam coolers, plastic tubes, sliced kegs, and a propane stove, home brewer Steve Marler of Arlington, Virginia, pursues an activity that has been associated with the beginnings of civilization.

"I'm just converting starches into sugars, boiling it with hops and adding yeast," Marler said. "Basically, it's very simple, and in a few weeks I will be able to enjoy the fruits of my labor."

The brewing methods that Steve Marler employs in the backyard of his suburban home are undoubtedly much like those that were used 6,000 years ago by the Sumarians, whose beer brewing was the first recorded knowledge of the practice.

Hailed by Caesar

Michael Jackson, author of the World Guide to Beer, says the relatively simple process of converting grain into a palatable substance—or "liquid bread"—is at least as old as civilization. "There is a perfectly respectable academic theory that civilization began with beer," he noted.

Some people contend that beer may have been the staple of mankind's diet even before bread was invented.

During the Neolithic Revolution, bands of hunters and gatherers began forming organized communities to cultivate the land—the beginning of civilization. "We know that in farming the land, they grew things, and the first thing grown was cereal grains in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East," said Jackson.

"The first thing they did with that grain," he added, "was make it into beer. We don't know whether they were trying to make beer, or just trying to find a way to make grain edible."

The idea behind the theories about the early emergence of beer is that grains could be grown in poorer soils and required less water to grow than other crops, such as grapes. Unlike grapes, however, grains had no juice to extract. Therefore, they had to be soaked in water, which led to a natural fermentation process that produced what Julius Caesar described as "a high and mighty liquor."

So which came first, beer or civilization?

Dave Alexander, owner and operator of the Brickskeller in downtown Washington, D.C., argues that "beer is probably the reason for civilization."

Continued on Next Page >>


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