Beer is one of the oldest products of civilization, and may even have been a stepping-stone to the invention of leavened bread.
Historians believe that the ancient Mesopotamians and Sumerians were brewing beer as early as 10,000 BC. Although the product would have been somewhat different from today”s bottled varieties, it would be recognizable. The ancient Egyptians and Chinese also brewed beer, as did pre-Columbian civilizations in the Americas, who used corn instead of barley. Interestingly enough, women were the master brewers. In ancient Babylon, women brewers were also priestesses.
Beer remained popular with the Romans and Greeks until the availability of wine increased. In Rome, wine was believed to be ambrosia from the god Bacchus. Beer soon became known as a barbarian drink and quickly lost its popularity. Beer was only brewed in the outer areas of the Roman Empire where wine was scarce.
In the middle ages, European monks were the guardians of literature and science, as well as the art of beer making. They refined the process to near perfection and institutionalized the use of hops as a flavoring and preservative.
However, it wasn”t until Louis Pasteur came along that a final, important development was made. Until that time, brewers had to depend on wild, airborne yeast for fermentation. By establishing that yeast as a living microorganism, Pasteur opened the gates for accurately controlling the conversion of sugar to alcohol.
Beer in America
Beer first arrived in America with Christopher Columbus. When he landed, he noted that the natives were making a brew “of maize, resembling English beer. ” Beer was of major concern in the new land, even for the pilgrims. The pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, instead of further south as planned, partly because they were out of beer.
Beer continued to grow in popularity until 1920 when Prohibition took effect. Many breweries went out of business or switched to the production of soda pop. Of course, not everyone stopped drinking, but gangster-controlled operations were not known for high-quality products.
Late in 1933, Congress passed the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, which repealed the unpopular law. Beer quickly regained its popularity, however, the new breeds of American beer that came after World War II were generally mass-produced and very bland. Jimmy Carter legalized home brewing, ushering in the age of microbreweries, beer hobbyists, and beer snobs.