By Stan Hieronymus
The People’s Beverage
History is never farther away than your next glass of beer. “If (beer) is…the people’s beverage…its history must of necessity go hand in hand, so to speak, with the history of that people, with the history of its entire civilization,” historian John Arnold wrote at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Sometimes that history comes full circle. In 1989, nearly 4,000 years after an anonymous poet wrote a “Hymn to Ninkasi,” the Sumerian Goddess of Brewing, Anchor Brewing used the verse as a guide, making a beer (visit Sumarian Beer Project) that included bread, honey and date syrup as ingredients to emulate one brewed another millennium before the hymn was written.
So how old is beer? From the time men first domesticated grains about 8000 B.C. they might have brewed beer and inhabitants of various parts of the world certainly were brewing by 3500 B.C. Soon it was the most popular alcoholic beverage in Mesopotamia—beer idioms became part of language and the government took to taxing beer consumption—a position it has enjoyed in most of the world ever since.
We’re not drinking beer like Anchor brewed for its Sumerian Beer Project anymore. Although one document from about 400 B.C. names at least 15 different kinds of beer that pales in comparison to the number of varieties, generally known as styles (see Style Finder), available today. Many such beers come with their own history. For instance, porter was the first one produced on an industrial scale, and the wood vats it matured in were so large UK breweries christened them by holding dinner parties for hundreds within their confines.
Stan Hieronymus has traveled the United States many times over while writing about beer for numerous publications. He’s author of seven books, including Brew Like a Monk and Brewing With Wheat, and has contributed to many others.