“Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.” Dave Barry, Humorist and Writer.
Beer is one of the oldest beverages humans have produced, dating back to at least the fifth millennium BC and recorded in the written history of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. As almost any cereal containing certain sugars can undergo spontaneous fermentation due to wild yeasts in the air, it is possible that beer-like beverages were independently developed throughout the world soon after a tribe or culture had domesticated cereal. Chemical tests of ancient pottery jars reveal that beer was produced as far back as about 7,000 years ago in what is today Iran
The invention of bread and beer has been argued to be responsible for humanity’s ability to develop technology and build civilization. The earliest chemically confirmed barley beer to date was discovered at Godin Tepe in the central Zagros Mountains of Iran, where fragments of a jug, at least 5,000 years old was found to be coated with beerstone, a by-product of the brewing process.
Beer may have been known in Neolithic Europe as far back as 5,000 years ago, and was mainly brewed on a domestic scale.
Beer produced before the Industrial Revolution continued to be made and sold on a domestic scale, although by the 7th century AD beer was also being produced and sold by European monasteries. During the Industrial Revolution, the production of beer moved from artisanal manufacture to industrial manufacture, and domestic manufacture ceased to be significant by the end of the 19th century. The development of hydrometers and thermometers changed brewing by allowing the brewer more control of the process, and greater knowledge of the results.
Today, the brewing industry is a global business, consisting of several dominant multinational companies and many thousands of smaller producers ranging from brewpubs to regional breweries. More than 133 billion liters (35 billion gallons) are sold per year—producing total global revenues of $294.5 billion (£147.7 billion) in 2006.
Historians submit that human beings have been around for about 100,000 years, and informed that in the first 90,000 years, the world achieved absolutely nothing at all. Then Beer came; and then put an end to primitivism and kick-started the age of creativity and invention.
That Beer happened, and changed the world forever sounds almost too bizarre to be true, but many anthropologists and archaeologists now believe that it was a taste for beer, not bread, that started people farming barley in around 9000BC.
Known as the agricultural revolution, “beering” actually ended hunter-gathering and led to the world’s first ever civilisation – Mesopotamia. The drive to grow more barley in order to make more beer, led to a cascade of inventions. The plough, the wheel, irrigation, mathematics and even writing, all of these world-changing innovations were dreamed up to help with the production and distribution of beer.
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As Egypt took over from Mesopotamia, in the Land of the Pharaohs beer was the national currency, a dietary staple and even an important medicine. Even in more recent times, beer’s hidden hand has been behind some of history’s most remarkable breakthroughs, from the discovery of germ theory and modern medicine, to the invention of refrigeration, the birth of the factory and the end of child labour. Beer didn’t just change the world, historians claim it saved it!
To quote historian Gregg Smith: “Beer changed the course of human history. Not once, not twice, but over and over again.”
It wasn’t just the Sumerians and Mesopotamians who enjoyed the odd glass of cerveza. The Egyptians were also big boozers. Ra wasn’t just the God of life and love, but beer too – a pretty neat combination.
The labourers who built the pyramid of Giza received seven pints of beer a day in payment, making the total bill for that job, 1,489,199,995 pints. For the Egyptians it was not just a form of currency but a staple food (school boys would drink a bowl for breakfast producing, I guess, a different kind of Ready Brek glow) and beer was also used to treat illnesses.
In the last few years researchers found the presence of the antibiotic tetracycline (which was only ‘discovered’ in 1948) in the bones of Egyptian mummies. After some more research they found the only place this could have come from was the beer drunk at the time. In fact fast forward a few thousand years and beer was the basis of modern medicine too.
By the 16th Century, the average annual consumption of beer in Britain was 530 pints for every man, woman and child – three times the amount we drink today. Monks were the original master brewers and the church became rich on the back of their skill then as entrepreneurs took over, beer spearheaded the creation of trade, commerce, banking and finance
Beer’s influence on technology continued unabated into the 20th Century. It gave us refrigeration after the brewing industry financed research into the process to keep lager chilled and it revolutionised industry when Michael Owens built the first automated production line to make beer bottles in 1904 – some 10 years before Henry Ford took the credit with his cars (as Ford said: “History is bunk’).