Beer Brewing Paralleled the Rise of Civilization

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"There is pretty strong evidence that after the first sampling of fermented beverages, man realized he had to end his nomadic life and settle down to grow grains and to continue to produce the beer," Alexander surmised.

Simple Process, Varied Results

Although the brewing process has remained basically the same, the results now vary considerably. The Brickskeller, a clearinghouse for beers from around the world, opened in 1957 with 51 beers on its menu. Today, it has 971 varieties in stock.

The vast selection is what attracts Mike Bengston, who has frequented the Brickskeller for 20 years. "There is always a beer that will fit every mood you are in," he said.

The large increase in the range of beers available over the past 15 years stems mainly from the growth of microbreweries and their challenge to large-scale industrial beer production.

At the Old Dominion microbrewery in Ashburn, Virginia, 50 kegs of beer are brewed every four hours. "In a big brewery, it looks very complicated, with all the different pipes and pumps and all kinds of things, but really, all they are doing is moving stuff around," said Scott Zetterstom, Old Dominion's master brewer. "You're just making sugar water, and it's really not that complicated."

Although the brewing process itself has remained fairly consistent for more than 10,000 years, a beer gets its distinctive flavor from how the grain-derived sugar water is fermented and other ingredients that may be added.

Alexander is proud to be able to offer his customers 971 different varieties. Yet he is quick to defend the major breweries from attacks by beer drinkers who tend to treat the products of microbreweries as inherently superior.

"The fact of the matter is that it was those [traditional] beers that actually got you to drink in the first place, and they will always be the beers that still get people to like beer," said Alexander. "They have an important place in the world of malted beverages for that reason, and they will always be popular."

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