What Is Beer? Part I
A Drunk History
At its core, beer is a fermented alcoholic beverage made with water, hops, malt, and yeast. There are many different types of beer – lagers, India pale ales, American pale ales, and stouts, to name a few.
It has been said that the Mesopotamians were the first society to brew beer, although they never wrote anything about it. Probably because the chisel was too heavy. The Egyptians first began brewing beer around 5,000 BC. They used beer for religious ceremonies as directed by the Pharaoh. Eventually, beer and the brewing process ended up in Northern Europe where there is an abundance of barley to aid in brewing. During this time, water was extremely contaminated, and beer was thought of as having a greater nutritional value and was cleaner. Guinness may still state these claims.
Sometime around the twelfth century, hops were added to the brewing process, started by German monks. Not only did hops help with the taste, but they also acted as a natural preservative. Almost every monastery had a brewery on site. This tradition still holds true today – many Belgian monasteries still have the greatest beers, not to mention the most replicable hairstyles.
The Bavarian Reinheitsegebot, or the purity law, of 1516 stated that beer can be made from only three ingredients: water, hops, and barley. Yeast wasn’t added until the 19th century after it was identified as the fermentation agent by Louis Pasteur.
The first European colonists brought beer to the New World. Apparently, they had to stop at Plymouth Rock because they ran out and needed more! Since then, Americans have continued brewing and feasting annually on turkey.
Waves of new immigrants came to America in the 1800s, and with them came more beer styles such as Pilsner lagers from Germany and the Czech Republic. American brewing soared during the late 1800s and early 1900s until one fateful day in 1920: Prohibition. For 13 years, consuming alcoholic beverages was illegal in America. Even after Prohibition ended in 1933, the Great Depression made it difficult for any existing breweries or pubs to stay afloat in the troubling economy. It wasn’t until the 1980s that breweries started to gain popularity again. Today, the USA holds over 2,000 brewpubs primed to host perennial Anti-Prohibition celebrations on National Beer Day.
Given its long history, the beer making process has gone through some changes over the years. Check back next week to learn what goes into your favorite brew.