Culture

The Man Who Invented Beer: The Beginning

beer

Today heralds the beginning of a new weekly column here at HEAVEmedia, in which Nashville resident Adam Cowden brings you reviews of beer, with perhaps a little bit of history for taste.

Hello, folks.  My name’s Charlie Mopps, and I invented beer.  They even wrote a song about me:

Alright, you got me. My name’s not Charlie Mopps, and I didn’t have anything to do with beer. But had I been around roughly 5.5 thousand years ago, you can bet your not-so-sober ass I would have gotten in on the ground floor of that venture, because aside from the fact that it’s the oldest multi-billion dollar industry on the planet (other than prostitution, maybe), I sure as hell enjoy it. My name’s actually Adam Cowden, and I’m a practically starving, self-employed musician living in Nashville, Tennessee. I’ll be using what little funds I have to supplement my rice and beans diet with a taste of the finer side of the world’s favorite pastime, which is, of course, getting drunk on weekdays. Of course, now that I’ve finished my collegiate grace period and have passed into the “real person” category, I’m probably obligated to “always encourage you to enjoy responsibly.” If you’re like me and the words “enjoy” and “Keystone Light” only fit in the same sentence when you’re shotgunning them by the dozen at a tailgate, however, this column may be for you.

I’m going to aim to bring you one beer review a week. Preferably before Thursday so you can get creative with how to go about forgetting your weekend.  The brews I review will be mostly in the lesser known craft/micro-brew category, though I might slip some bigger name seasonal specials in there from time to time. This isn’t because I have anything against Budweiser (all hail the king); it’s simply because everyone already knows what it tastes like. If you’re looking to expand your horizons, my recommendations could be a good place to start.

Before I tell you what to expect, I want to provide full disclosure on what not to expect. In my column, you will not find a beer described in the following way:

Sour notes when it first hits the palette, with a full, medium body. Sweet and caramel taste with a dry finish and oaky after-birth.

If you’re looking for that sort of review, go to a wine tasting. Or really just do anything else, because that sort of description tells you absolutely nothing and is a complete waste of the 10 seconds of your life it took to read it. In this column, I want to attempt to tell you something interesting about each beer and the people who brew it. Where does it come from? What’s the story behind it? Why should you drink it? Most importantly, does it taste good? As for taste descriptions, I’m going to primarily rely on the tried and true, “It tastes sort of like this, but also with this” approach. In my opinion, that tells you way more about what to expect that any fantastical shit-storm of adjectives. It’s like trying to describe How I Met Your Mother by giving a detailed description of all of the characters, when I could just say, “It’s basically Friends, but with Neil Patrick Harris.” I’ll also give you a rating for each beer on the old 1-10 scale, so you stack each beer up against the IGN score of the game you’ve been playing this week.

For this first week, I thought I’d give you a little backstory on the star of the column itself: Beer!

What’s the story?

The oldest definitive archaeological evidence of beer comes from the ancient Sumerian  “Godin Hill” settlement, located in modern day Iran, which is dated sometime between 3,500 and 3,100 BCE. There is also evidence to suggest that stone-age civilizations in China were brewing beer-like beverages as early as 9,000 years ago, though it would not technically classify as beer because it lacked cereal malt and was based mostly on honey and fruits. The beer that was brewed in Sumeria would likely have been equally as unrecognizable to us, however; in early forms, it was a thick, porridge like beverage that was drunk through a straw. Sort of like a meal replacement smoothie that also served as a pre-game. Killer.

Americans, as Samuel Adams brewing company reminds us, take pride in our beer, but really we have nothing on the Sumerians. In Sumerian mythology, the creation of beer was credited to the gods, and the drink even had its own patron goddess, named Ninkasi. Brewers were female (thought by many to be priestesses of Ninkasi), and the “Sumerian Hymm to Ninkasi” served a double purpose as both a worship song and a method for remembering the recipe for brewing beer. The Sumerians are thought to have passed on their knowledge to the Babylonians, who got even more serious about things. As set down in Hammurabi’s Code, the punishment for an innkeeper who provided a short measure (a not full cup) of beer was death by drowning. From there, beer is thought to have travelled to Egypt (where it was a part of many medicines), to Greece, to Rome, to Europe, though it is also entirely possible that it was discovered independently by many different societies, since the fermentation of stored cereal grains occurs naturally and spontaneously.

Beer in its modern form probably first came into being in the Middle Ages, and was closely related to the spread of Christianity, as monasteries were by and large the curators of brewing and the knowledge of the brewing process (they also, perhaps not coincidentally, are largely credited with safeguarding and shepherding the collective knowledge of Western society through the otherwise dark ages). The oldest mention of the use of hops in beer comes from a Carolingian abbot in 822 A.D., and the Reinheitsgebot, or beer purity law, adopted in Bavaria in 1516, mandated that the only ingredients in beer were to be water, barley, and hops.

Today, the production of beer is a multi-billion dollar industry, and there are over 2,000 breweries in the U.S. alone. The world leader in beer consumption is China, followed by Brazil, followed by the U.S.A., followed by Brazil, though beer consumption per capita is led by the Czech Republic, followed by Ireland, followed by Germany. The world’s top-selling beer is Bud Light, and the global market for beer is valued at over $5 billion.

Why should I drink it?

Beer is thought by many archaeologists to be responsible for the creation of civilization. This is actually not an exaggeration or a theory developed by a still-drunk-from-last-night freshman in a 9 A.M. sociology class. The theory is actually advocated by many archaeologists and experts in ancient civilizations, and is supported by a growing body of evidence. These theorists argue that since the amount of labor required to glean edible food from the production of cereal grains (such as wheat and barley) is so immensely high, and that cereal grains formed a relatively small part of the diet of these early civilizations, it is a more likely explanation that agriculture and organization into complex social structures for the purpose of growing and producing these grains first arose to facilitate beer production. There’s even a Discovery Channel special called, “How Beer Saved the World,” which features not completely sober anthropologists claiming that beer was responsible for some of the greatest developments in history, including math, medicine, and the end of child labor. Spectacular claims aside, the documentary does hit on some interesting truths, such as the fact that beer represented a safer alternative to water for most of history and helped improve life-spans in medieval Europe.

There’s even some evidence to suggest that beer (in moderation) can provide health benefits even to modern man. Beer has been shown to reduce stress, and includes protein, B vitamins, phosphorus, magnesium, selenium, iron, niacin, and riboflavin. More surprisingly, recent studies show that moderate beer consumption can help reduce the risk of heart disease and heart failure and prevent strokes, due to its blood-thinning properties.

What does it taste like?

Beer comes in an almost unimaginable variety of styles and flavors, and the possibilities for different recipes are practically limitless.

Should I try it?

Chances are you already have, if you’re reading this.  If you haven’t, go to your nearest bar, pub, gas station, or monastery and get some, because you’re missing out…big time.

Rating: 10/10