The first civilization to make beer
Beer is one of the oldest beverages in the history of mankind. In fact, some historians even argue that it may have been mankind’s first alternative to water. It is believed to date back to at least the 5th millennium BC, and recorded evidence of large scale beer production can be found in the ruins of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.
However, by virtue of being so ancient, it is very difficult to attribute beer to a particular civilization. It is thought by most historians that the world’s first fermented beverages most likely emerged alongside the development of cereal agriculture about 12000 years ago. As ancient tribes discovered rye, wheat, barley and rice, they may have inadvertently stumbled across the fermentation process.
The first alcoholic beverage is a 9000 year old Chinese recipe made with fruit, honey and rice; but this is not beer. The first barley beer is thought to have been produced in the Middle East.
Evidence for the origin of beer in the Middle East can be attributed to a 3900 year old Sumerian poem honoring the goddess Ninkasi, the patron Goddess of brewing, also known as the Goddess of beer. The poem contains the world’s oldest surviving beer recipe and describes the production of beer from barley.
There are similar artifacts that can be found in the ruins of other civilizations of the time such as Ancient Egypt, the Indus Valley and China. However, the beer brewed by the Sumerians can be said to be the closest to the beverage enjoyed globally today.
How was beer discovered?
Nobody can say for certain exactly how the Sumerians discovered that cereals and grains can be turned into an alcoholic beverage. But it is theorized that at some point in ancient history, some bread or grain got wet and fermented from the yeast in the air. With life being as harsh it was back then, it is possible that people didn’t want to waste food no matter how unappetizing it looked. Someone probably just decided to eat some of the wet, fermented bread or grain and found out that eating fermented grain has a pleasantly inebriating effect.
What kind of beer was it?
Ancient Sumerian beer wasn’t like the commercial brands of beer you can find in gas station refrigerators today; nor was it like your favorite craft beer. Beer wasn’t filtered back then like it is today so it is very likely that it had a very cloudy appearance because of the residue it contained. The Sumerians drank this beer through a straw to avoid drinking the bitter solids present in the drink.
The descendants of the Sumerians, the Ancient Babylonians, took beer craft a bit further. The Babylonians invented twenty different varieties of beer by 2000 BC. Beer was such a sought after commodity in Ancient Babylonian society that all citizens received a daily ration of beer and the ration was determined by social standing.
The significance of beer in human history
Many historians attribute man’s ability to build civilization, develop technology and live in large settlements together to man’s invention of bread and beer.
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