An Abbreviated History of Beer
The history of beer is huge – about as huge as human history itself. As soon as Mesopotamian farmers started getting inventive with fermented grain, beer has existed. Some of the oldest laws ever discovered include penalties for brewing bad beer. The story of empires is also a story about how they processed and transported their beer.
Basically, the whole history of beer would (and does) take long books to talk about. But we know you’re here for something snappier, so let’s take a look at the biggest, most interesting highlights.
Beer Gets Organized
For much of history, beer was a casual hobby with only a few larger breweries in certain civilizations (Egypt, for example). Slaves and housewives were frequently expected to brew their own beer at home. This created…a lot of different results, some of them not that great – and some downright poisonous. But as Europe, the epicenter of beer, began to grow out of the dark ages, beer started to get organized based on several lines:
- The monks in their monasteries, who preserved the best and most precise ways of brewing beer, turning it into a discipline all its own
- Governments that worried about mass-produced beer poisoning its citizens (or worse, its soldiers), which decided to create rules about how beer should be brewed
- Taverns and pubs that quickly became known for tasty beers and made sure that someone was writing down the ingredients so they could become profitable breweries
- The inclusion of hops finally allowed for easier storage and preservation of beers, which led to easier mass production – which in turn required more careful measurement and application of ingredients/stages of brewing
All these trends combined to turn beer from something humans just didto a bigger part of society, codified in a way it never was before. And with that came a lot of changes.
Along with the organization, beer quickly started splitting into different groups based on the ingredients available and personal preferences. Some governments even tried stealing beer recipes from other nations! (Bavaria was a known culprit.) As generations passed, different regions became known for their different, specialized brews. Think of them as species of beer, adapting to their environments. Some of the most popular examples include:
- Fast and casual beers brewed with a hearty, top-fermenting strain of yeast were generally called ales
- The monks mastered the heaviest and darkest brews, and some monasteries became known for including fruits in their beer, a tradition that continues today
- Port cities, especially in Britain, became famous for their hearty dark brews using alternative sugars, which became known as porters
- In middle Europe, a species of yeast developed that was particularly resistant to cold conditions and made for ideal beer storage – it was named after a German word for store, a.k.a. “Lager”
- Lagers soon started to diverge into darker and lighter versions, and different regions became known for different varieties…like the city of Pilsen, which was famed for a pale lager that’s now called a Pilsner
- As brewers continued to experiment with different base ingredients, certain alternative beers started to emerge – like beers brewed with a significant amount of wheat, or as Germans called it, “weizen,” which led to the term Hefeweizen
- As the British Empire expanded, the nation found it necessary to create especially long-lasting beers that could survive ship voyages to their colonies: The result was an extra hoppy, extra-strong type of beer that could make it all the way to India – hence its name, the India Pale Ale or IPA
- When settlers arrived in America, they quickly discovered that local ingredients to be used to create a tasty pumpkin ale.
And so on, all over a period of several hundred years! This was the birth of beers as we know them today, in all their wonderful variation. But there’s a lot left to happen.
Beer Becomes an Industry
As the industrial age began to advance, beer benefited from widespread new inventions. Inside breweries, massive vats were heated with steam engines and measured with new devices like thermometers. In transportation, new advances in speed, storage, and refrigeration meant that beer could go just about anywhere without worrying about it spoiling like it did in the past.
All of this led to big developments with beer. Brewing becoming a fully-fledged industry, and brewing methods began to be developed along more scientific principles involving the level of heat, measurement with scales, specific time given to individual brewing stages, and so on.
All this meant that breweries could become known for a very specific taste, and even differentiate themselves from other breweries making similar types of beer. That quickly led to a spike in branding, marketing, and the beer labels we still recognize today. Alongside that grew the widespread practice of bottling beer, which started in the 1500s and evolved to be a popular option as bottle manufacturing techniques continued to improve (although some people continued to prefer barrels).
Beer Travels the World
Where European nations colonized, they brought their beer with them. As European nations colonized just about everywhere, beer quickly traveled the globe. In many cases, it was adopted by natives (sometimes without choice) and became a part of other cultures.
Beer spread in more benign ways, too. Whenever European migrants created their own settlements, they tended to set up a brewery, which was always more than happy to sell to locals as well as settlers. This is how some of the first breweries in China began – breweries that are now responsible for some of the highest beer sales in the world!
One final fact – the history of beer is also about the struggle to keep beer cold. Fortunately, these days we don’t have to depend on dark cellars anymore: Instead, you can just grab a Seltzer Hut sealed koozie and make sure your brew will never disappoint.