October is a great month in the colder climates. Orange and yellow leaves litter the ground, a damp chill grips the air and the last standing farm near my home parades a field filled with pumpkins, which makes me think of pie, <g> an engaging Oktoberfest and it’s main attraction—beer.
Beer-like beverages (substances that undergo natural fermentation due to wild yeasts in the air) date back as far as 7,000 years ago to Iran. The oldest beer recipe recorded is from a 3900-year-old Sumerian poem honoring the goddess of brewing, Ninkasi.
Ancient Egyptians brewed beer from emmer wheat. Brewing knowledge was passed to the Greeks who then taught the process to the Romans. The Romans called this beverage ‘cerevisia from Ceres, the goddess of agriculture, and vis, Latin for strength.’ Hence, the word ‘cervesa’ used in Spanish and ‘cerveja’ in Portuguese for beer.
Early Romans enjoyed beer, but it was soon replaced by wine during the Republic. Beer soon became the preferred beverage of the barbarians. As the Romans expanded through northern and central Europe, they encountered the Teutonic men of the forest who belonged most often to a larger cultural group of Germanic tribes, but there also remained remnants of Celtic groups as well. It is believed that the Germans and Celts made an ale/beer from wheat and barley as early as 1000 B.C. in the late Bronze Age.
The barbarians were definitely fine beer-makers. ‘They thought of the sky as a giant brew kettle, where Thor, the god of thunder was the brew-master. When he noisily cleaned and polished his kettle, there were lightening bolts, and when he boiled his wort [the infusion of ground malt], there were clouds. There is no doubt that at least by about 800 B.C. the European forest dwellers had learned to make on earth what Thor made in the sky.’ (Horst Dornbusch, 2006)
In the Middle Ages other mixtures of herbs were used prior to hops, which were later added to beer for bittering, preservation, and aroma. Hops were cultivated in the 800s in France and 1067 the Abbess Hildegard of Bingen wrote that beer from oats is prepared with hops.
By the 14th and 15th centuries, beer was changing from a homemaker’s activity to town pubs and monasteries making it for wide consumption. In the 15th century a beer without hops would be called ale, while the inclusion of hops would make it beer. The popularity of hops took some time but by the 16th century, “ ‘ale’ had come to refer to any strong beer and all ales and beers were hopped.”
Along with the Industrial Revolution came further innovations in the brewing process.
With the introduction of the thermometer and hydrometer the smokiness in malts was reduced to subdue the stench of the “smoak of the wood, which ‘tis dryed, that no Stranger can endure it…”
In modern times, prior to prohibition the breweries in the United States were brewing predominantly heavy European-style beers. In the 1920’s bootlegged beer was generally watered down for profitability. This began the trend for the lighter beers preferred today.
In 1953, a New Zealander, Morton Coutts, developed continuous fermentation, a process where beer flows through sealed tanks, ferments under pressure, and is bottled deprived of contact with the atmosphere. Guinness uses this method.
Today, advances in refrigeration, international shipping, large companies to regional breweries make beer a worldwide business that offers a wide variety of choices and styles. Beer once believed to be a barbarian’s drink now satisfies even the elite.