While this tale has been told many times before, it’s always good to step back (way back in this case) and remind yourself how important the discovery of beer – in prehistoric times was to the world. And let us not forget how women were the first home brewers.
How it all Began
The story of the “happy accident” in which beer is brewed accidentally by transient ancient people from grain cakes and rainwater is actually the story of the start of civilization itself. Once the rudimentary beer was found and consumed, people were highly motivated to recreate the magic. The ancient nomads found that to repeatedly make this beer they needed to plant and cultivate the grain in large amounts. So, grain was planted and fields then had to be tended. Small villages grew up around the grain fields, typically near a water source for irrigation. People settled down, set up permanent homes, and people had work to do – tend fields, brew beer…and civilization as we understand it begins.
Ancient people learned to take fermentables (anything that had a source of natural sugar – vegetables, fruit, grain) and let it sit outside and begin to rot. (They did not know what natural yeasts from the air was). And, beer and other alcoholic beverages being the ultimate indigenous drinks, people used whatever ingredients that were nearby to make it. Those that lived in southern Europe and below tended to use local fruits as their basis for their alcoholic libations, like grapes for wine. Those in central and northern Europe used grains for the basis of their beer. In Africa and South America, corn and other roots were leveraged as sources– while in Asia rice was typically used.
Alcohol – and particularly beer, became a part of social customs, religious rituals and celebrations across the world. It was quick, easy and cheap to make, it was the peoples drink.
Ancient Brewers from Egypt to the Middle Ages
Egypt was a great brewing society, with more than 70% of their grain grown just to make beer. Beer was brewed in large pots where communal drinkers sat together and put long straws through the frothy fermenting beer to get to the clearer beer below. It is well known that the Egyptian ruling class often paid their slaves in beer, called “Bousa” (the origination of the term “booze”).
The Egyptians had recipes for hangover cures and even had a Goddess for drunkenness called “Hathor” the bull. They also had a goddess of brewing named Ninkasi or Nepthys. Archeologists have found remnants of beer in Pharaoh’s tombs, as well as tombs of nobility in China. The Romans also brewed, though wine was preferred by the ruling class.
In the Middle ages in Europe the church brewed beer as part of their typical sustenance, as beer has real food value, and would not make you sick. Monks were allowed to drink beer during Lent, as the only food allowed, and the rations were plentiful. Some Monks became quite skilled at brewing, and various beer recipes – strengths and ingredients were created. The strongest stuff was saved for dignitaries and special occasions, while the weakest was reserved for children.
The church promoted beer and brewing, actually gave away beer and beer ingredients to the public. They didn’t know exactly why, but the monks knew that people that drank weak beer didn’t seem to get sick or get the plague as much as those people that drank the local water. So brewing beer became part of every medieval household’s daily tasks. Needless to say, brewing was woman’s work, as was the cooking. Women were the first brewers, and beer an every day necessity in every home.