This great big world is full of many beers from all over the world. But often we tend to focus on Denver’s beer because — let’s be honest — it’s great. But beer has been fermenting in human history throughout civilization. So to take a break from our Denver beer bubble, here are nine things you might not know about the history and culture of beer from around the world.
1. Egypt is one of the oldest cultures whose history directly mentions beer and brewing. In some texts, even as old as 3500 BC.(1) Ancient Egyptian inscriptions and documents state that beer, together with bread, was a staple item of diet. (2)
2. The Egyptians even had a goddess for beer and brewing, named Tjenenet (or Tenenit). Her name is possibly derived from ‘tenemu,’ which is Egyptian for beer. (3)
3. There are historical accounts of beer being a form of payment in Egypt. A gallon for a hard day’s (slave) labor, which was probably brewed with Emmer (a wild wheat) (1), barley, and malt. It was likely fermented with dates and local spices — cumin, coriander, and cardamom, and honey are all possibilities.
A collection of spices that are similarly used in modern liquor production today, such as these at Leopold Bros. Photo by Glenn Ross
4. The ancient Code of Hammurabi–one of the oldest recorded inscriptions of laws in human history– mentioned beer (5). It specifically spoke of watered down beer. At the time it was common for tavern owners to water down what they served to save some coin. The reparations of such actions were to be ‘thrown in the water’ — a pleasant way of saying they would be drowned.
6. German beer history is slow before Reinheitsgebot — a German Beer Purity Law from 1487.(6) Before the discovery of yeast, the law required that beer must only contain water, barley, and hops. After it was discovered that yeast was an essential ingredient in brewing beer, it was added to the list of acceptable ingredients in 1516.(7)
Oktoberfest in Denver. The festival is one of many effects of German beer culture. Photo by Glenn Ross
7. Finland’s beer history mostly stays away from hops. Their preferred version is called Sahti, which is made with juniper berries and used other parts of the juniper plant in fermentation and filtering. (8) Side note: Because Sahti has to remain cold, it hasn’t received as much of a revitalization as other types of beer. However, New Belgium and Dogfish Head Brewing have both recently experimented with the style.
8. There is some thought that Native Americans didn’t brew beer and that their first introduction to fermentation was when the settlers arrived. This is probably nonsense. There are examples of Pueblo Indians in the New Mexico area brewing beer called Chafiar, which was brewed with a plum-like fruit by the Pilcomayo tribes in Paraguay. (9) Or Pissioina which ” was a native beer of the Yuma prepared by roasting wheat grains over a charcoal fire until light brown in color, pulverizing them, and fermenting the mixed mash with water.”
Barely. Photo by Glenn ross.
9. Beer isn’t brewed in Antarctica per se–not that we know of– but it has been sent there frequently and rather recently. In fact Boulder’s Avery Brewing and Oskar Blues have both sent beer to Antarctica– 20 palates of the stuff. All in cans. Glass doesn’t handle the -30 Celsius degree weather well. (10)
(1) A. Maksoud, S., El Hadidi, M., & Mahrous Amer, W. (1994). Beer from the early dynasties (3500-3400 cal B.C.) of Upper Egypt, detected by archaeochemical methods. The Archaeobotany Laboratory, The Herbarium, Faculty of Science, 3, 219-224. Retrieved February 23, 2015, from http://lib.gen.in/next/MTAuMTAwNy9iZjAwMTk1MTk4/maksoud1994.pdf (2) Samuel, D. (1996). Archeology of Ancient Egypitan Beer. McDonald Institute for Archeological Research, 54(1), 3-12. Retrieved February 23, 2015, from http://ancientgrains.org/samuel1996beer.pdf (3) Mark, J. (2011, March 1). Beer. Retrieved February 23, 2015. (4) A. Maksoud, S., El Hadidi, M., & Mahrous Amer, W. (1994). Beer from the early dynasties (3500-3400 cal B.C.) of Upper Egypt, detected by archaeochemical methods. The Archaeobotany Laboratory, The Herbarium, Faculty of Science, 3, 219-224. Retrieved February 23, 2015, from http://lib.gen.in/next/MTAuMTAwNy9iZjAwMTk1MTk4/maksoud1994.pdf (5) The Code of Hammurabi: Hammurabi’s Code of Laws: Paragraphs 100-199 (The Code of Hammurabi: Hammurabi’s Code of Laws: Paragraphs 100-199) (6) Narziss, L. (1983). THE GERMAN BEER LAW. Journal of Institutional Brewers, 90, 351-358. Retrieved February 23, 2015, from http://libgen.asia/9de86704f96da1bc60c10b3922827e7f/narziss1984.pdf (7) GERMANY”S PURITY LAW. (n.d.). Retrieved February 24, 2015, from http://hbd.org/brewery/library/ReinHeit.html (8) Bilger, B. (n.d.). A Better Brew. Retrieved February 24, 2015, from http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/11/24/a-better-brew?currentPage=all (9) LA BARRE, W. (2009). NATIVE AMERICAN BEERS. American Anthropologist, 40(2), 224-234. Retrieved February 23, 2015, from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1525/aa.1938.40.2.02a00040/pdf (10) Bringing Craft Beer to Antarctica | CraftBeer.com. (2013, February 26). Retrieved February 24, 2015, from http://www.craftbeer.com/craft-beer-muses/bringing-craft-beer-to-antarctica