History of beer is a fascinating and extremely broad subject. This drink has been with us since the beginnings of human history, and so the history of beer is connected, to a large extent, with the history of the world. Below you will find a handful of interesting facts. In order to read an extended version, download the attached PDF file.
The first documented accounts of brewing beer come from the times of the Sumer civilization which flourished on the territory of modern Iraq. Archaeologists have found there large casks dating from ca. 6500 BC, resembling mash tuns.
The Sumerians called their beer "sikaru”. The drink was prepared exclusively by women, under the supervision of a brewer who was held in high esteem and enjoyed many privileges.
The drink itself was created by means of a quite primitive process. Dough was formed into cakes which, after drying, were crumbled and drenched in water in special jars. In order to give it the bitter taste, some herbs, such as rosemary, were added at the end of the fermentation process. The thick drink was drunk out of huge jars by means of long bamboo straws.
The Sumerians considered brewing a noble profession, which is evident in the fact that beer had been assigned a special deity – the beer goddess Ninkasi.
The Sumerians were followed by the Babylonians. Ca. 1730 BC their king Hammurabi drew up the famous code of laws. In the famous Article 111 of this code, any brewer whose beer was unfit for drinking was ordered to be drowned in his own beer.
How was the beer produced in the times of Hammurabi? The so-called beer-bread was baked out of malted grain. Then the cakes were crumbled and mixed with water and additives. Next, the mash was boiled. The so-made thick wort was cooled and then filtered through sieves into huge jars, where the drink was left to work. The ready beer was thick and nutritious, as it often contained crumbs or grains.
The Egyptians had known beer from as long as 3000 years ago. It was believed that beer was the drink of god Osiris, and that the goddess Isis had been taking care of the wheat and barley fields. According to the Egyptian Book of dreams, a dream about beer was a sign of luck.
Beer production tools and beer jars were found in the Tutankhamun tomb and in the temple of Amun.
In 6th century BC all the Middle East countries and Egypt were conquered by the Persians. The Persians were the first to use coppers casks for brewing. Greek merchants, and later the Romans, also took interest in brewing methods. In the distant China a beer called “tsiou” was produced from millet. Anyone who overused it was severely punished.
With time, merchants had brought beer to Europe, even though the Greeks and the Romans preferred wine, especially after it had been declared sacred by the Christianity. Up to medieval times, beer was produced mainly in Northern Europe. A breakthrough happened when the medieval monasteries – centres of culture and art – became brewing centres as well. In those times beer was produced mainly by the Benedictine and Cistercian monks who developed their own technology of malt and beer production with the use of hops. In the Renaissance period several important legal acts were issued, regulating the quality of beer and purity of beer production, among others the famous “Reinheitsgebot” – the beer purity law from 1516, declaring barley malt, hops and water the only ingredients to be used in the production of lager beers.
With time, secular brewers had also come into business, and since the 16th century, beer production had become a separate industry. However, the real changes began in the 19th century, together with the introduction in the Czech town of Pilzen in 1842 of the low-temperature fermentation method.
The 19th century was notable as well for the introduction of numerous technical innovations, such as the steam engine and artificial cooling, which facilitated beer production and allowed for its rapid growth. The increase in beer production was possible also due to scientific discoveries, such as the isolation of pure yeast cultures and the introduction of pasteurization which extended beer expiry dates.
Even though since the 19th century there have been no radical changes in the basic technology of beer production, the one thing that definitely changed were the tools applied in the brewing process. Automation and computerization have considerably simplified many processes and provided the brewers with a possibility to control beer quality more thoroughly. However, all this has not changed the one truth as old as the brewing history itself: it is mainly the brewer’s craftsmanship and experience, together with best-quality water, malt and hops, that give the desired effect – first-class beer.
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