The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World

The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World

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by Stephen Mansfield

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The history of Guinness, one of the world’s most famous brands, reveals the noble heights and generosity of a great family and an innovative businessSee more details below


The history of Guinness, one of the world’s most famous brands, reveals the noble heights and generosity of a great family and an innovative business

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Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2009 Stephen Mansfield
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59555-269-3

Chapter One


It was William Shakespeare who wrote "what's past is prologue," and I have always believed this is true, but you would never have known it from the history classes I was required to take in school. They seemed prologue to nothing. They had little connection to anything that was to come, anything that might be relevant to the meaning of real life. It was the "Age of This" and the "Era of That." It was dates and dead people, all of it mind-numbingly boring.

What makes all of those hours in history class worse in retrospect is how much I came to love history later. Like millions of other people in the world, if the surveys are true, I became enthralled with the past as an adult in a way I never could have with the dusty classroom version. History not only contained thrilling adventure from ages gone by, but also an explanation of my times and wisdom for life.

So when I went in search of the Guinness story, I took Shakespeare's maxim to heart and probed the history of beer prior to the beginning of Guinness in order to understand the world-and more specifically the world of beer-out of which the tale of Guinness grew. I have to tell you I wasstunned. I have a doctorate in history and I have spent years studying the past in preparation for lectures and writing books, but never had I come across the huge role that beer has played through the centuries. So when I began searching for the story of beer in history, I was amazed to find not just a quiet little theme on the back lot of mainstream history, but a story that is woven through the great literature, civilizations, and movements of the human story.

Let me give you a small example of what I mean. Almost all of us are familiar with the story of the Pilgrims. Every Thanksgiving Americans at least allude to these forefathers and their Mayflower story and, certainly, it is a tale that holds a fascination all its own. But let me retell a portion of it here with a few completely accurate details added that you likely have not heard. You'll see what I mean when I say beer adds an interesting element to the retelling of the past, that it makes some of the great adventures of old even more endearing and unforgettable.

Consider this:

It was the foul New England winter of 1621 and the small band of Englishmen we call the Pilgrims were carving out a life on the barrens of Cape Cod. That they were alive at all was a miracle. Only months before, they had sailed for sixty-six days across a wild Atlantic Ocean that had tossed them about for weeks at a time. There had been deaths and days on end when they were locked in the 'tween deck for safety with screaming and crying and every kind of human waste floating in the bilge at their feet.

Now that they had put ashore, having signed the covenant declaring they ventured "for the Glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith," their desperate situation was obvious to all. As their future governor, William Bradford, later wrote, "Being thus passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before in their preparation, they had now no friends to welcome them nor inns to entertain or refresh their weatherbeaten bodies; no houses or much less towns to repair to, to seek for succour." They were alone on the edge of a wilderness, trying to complete their "errand into the wilderness" for God.

So in March of 1621, in this howling, frozen place, they worked to build their shelters against the cold. And they stood guard, for they had noticed the natives who watched at a distance. The Pilgrims had tried to approach them once, but this only frightened the nervous brown men away. The Pilgrims worked with muskets nearby, then, wary of the strange-looking men who gazed at them from the edge of the trees.

On March 16, a mercifully warmer day than in recent months, this standoff came to an end. Suddenly, a tall, muscular native strode out from the trees and began to approach. The Pilgrims quickly took their muskets in hand. They were startled, for the man coming toward them was an unsettling sight. He was nearly naked-"stark naked," they later said-with only a strand of leather about his waist and fringe about as wide as a man's hand covering his private parts. He carried a bow and two arrows and the Pilgrims noticed that his hair was long in the back but shaved at the front of his head. They had seen nothing like this back in England.

As startling as this Indian was to the Pilgrims, it was what happened next that shocked them most of all. The man neared, paused, and then shouted "Welcome!" in clear, perfect English. And then, more astonishing still, he asked-again, flawlessly in the Pilgrims' own tongue-if they had some beer.

Yes. Beer.

This is the truth, and you likely didn't know it because it is rarely mentioned in the textbooks or in the Thanksgiving specials on TV. It is right there, though, in Mourt's Relation and Of Plymouth Plantation, the two primary sources we have for the Pilgrim story. You see, this native's name was Samoset and as he told his story the Pilgrims learned that he had mastered their language while traveling with English ships up and down the coast of New England. He had grown fond of the Englishmen, had become accustomed to their ways, and had apparently developed a taste for English beer. Thus it was that Samoset and his quiet companion, Squanto, became part of the magnificent adventure these Pilgrims were destined to live.

And beer continued to play a defining role in the Pilgrim story. Consider, for example, how the Pilgrims came to decide to finally put ashore and start building their historic settlement.

When they first left the shores of England, the passengers of the Mayflower had plenty of beer for their voyage on board. This valuable supply was tended by the famous John Alden, hero of the Longfellow tale. But by the time they reached New England, their stores of beer were running desperately low. They saw this as threatening disaster. Beer for them was more than just an enjoyable drink. They not only believed that it had important medicinal qualities that they would need in the New World, but they, like most of the people of their time, drank beer for fear of drinking water. Since the teeming cities of Europe often polluted the nearby rivers and streams, deaths from drinking of these waters were not unknown, and seventeenth-century Europeans came to believe that most all water was unsafe. Beer, though, was seen as healthy and pure. We now know what people of that time did not: the boiling, which is part of brewing beer, and the alcohol that results kills the germs that sometimes contaminate water.

It was fear of running out of beer, then, that partially forced the Pilgrims to leave the Mayflower and get busy building their new lives on shore. They had reached the New World in late November but had spent nearly a month looking for a good site on which to build. As William Bradford later wrote of those nervous, searching days, "We had yet some beer, butter, flesh and other victuals left, which would quickly be all gone and then we should have nothing to comfort us." Finally, just when their supplies had nearly run out, they thought they spied some good land for a settlement. Of this Bradford wrote, "So in the morning, after we had called on God for direction, we came to this resolution-to go presently ashore again and to take a better view of two places which we thought most fitting for us; for we could not now take much time for further search or consideration, our victuals being much spent, especially our beer." Thus was Plymouth, Massachusetts, founded.

It is testimony to the importance of beer in their story that the brewery was the first permanent building the Pilgrims constructed. As Gregg Smith has written in his excellent history of beer, "Their critical shortage made a brewhouse a priority among the structures built that first winter in Plymouth. Even if the Pilgrims' supply weren't scarce, the need for a brewery was immediate. The population of the small colony expanded faster than ale could be shipped from Europe. And of all the hardships the settlers endured, the lack of beer caused them the most displeasure."

To prevent a similar experience, when the Puritans sailed to New England a decade later in 1630, they made sure that beer was in plentiful supply. Just one of their five ships, the Arbella, carried 42 tuns of beer. Since a tun was 252 gallons, this meant that at least 10,000 gallons of beer refreshed the Puritans on their journey to the New World. And, again, a brewhouse proved a priority when they began building their new city called Boston.

Now, my point in all of this is not that beer captures everything that is important in the Pilgrim adventure or in the later Puritan settlement in the New World. Of course not. But it was there, nonetheless-beloved and needed by the people of that day, and it was such a priority that it shaped many of the decisions that these forefathers made. In other words, it was often a motive force, a reason that people did what they did, and not just because it gave pleasure but also because it was a source of the health and the nourishment and the purity that our ancestors needed at the time.

This is very much as it was all throughout human history. Beer helped to shape entire civilizations and often conditioned the critical decisions they made. In fact, if one professor is correct, beer may have been the reason man became civilized in the first place. So let's take a moment to correct the grand omission of beer from the story of the past, and consider for a while the role beer has had to play. This bit of beer heritage will prepare us well for exploring the later glories of Guinness.

* * *

Though you might not suspect it if you walk through the gleaming stainless steel canyons of a modern brewery, the brewing of beer can be a relatively simple affair. A grain, usually barley, is wetted to allow it to germinate or, more simply, to sprout. When it does, it is quickly dried. It has thus been malted. This malted barley is then roasted. How long it is roasted will determine the color of the beer it produces, a process that is obviously important in brewing a roasted barley in the guinness storehouse dark beer like Guinness. This malt is mashed, which means that it is soaked long enough in water to allow the process that converts the natural starches of the malt into the sugars that are necessary for fermentation. More water is then added to this mash, essentially to wash the sugars off of the grains and into a thick, sweet liquid called wort. This wort is boiled, and afterward the dried flowers from the hops vines are usually added for flavor, though throughout history the flavor of beer has been enhanced by nearly every kind of fruit, spice, or honey known to man.

After this hopped wort is cooled, yeast is added. A brewer once told me that he thinks of yeast as a bunch of frat boys invading the party of brewing. They rush into the mix and spend their time eating, passing gas, and reproducing. What come of this is the alcohol and carbon dioxide make that sweet, hop-tasting water called wort into beer.

This is the way beer is made and knowing this helps us to imagine how beer came about in those first uncertain ages of human history. The truth is it was probably a wonderful accident, but to understand how this might be so, we have to know a little bit about the beginnings of mankind.

Our first ancestors, the men and women who existed at the very dawn of time, probably lived in the Fertile Crescent region of the world, an arch of land that stretches from modern Egypt up the Mediterranean coast and after touching the southeast corner of Turkey drops down again through the border between Iraq and Iran. The region is aptly named, for particularly in early history its soil was luxuriant and rich, its vast, fruitful regions teeming with game. It was an ideal environment for nearly every kind of life-and particularly for dense strands of wild wheat and barley.

If the theories of historians are right-and God knows, they often aren't-the region was at first home to roving bands of hunter-gatherers who would have hunted the abundant wild game and gathered the edible cereal grains that grew so profusely. Over time, these nomadic men would have learned how to bake these widely available grains into bread and this, we are told, led almost directly to the discovery of beer.

Again, this discovery probably happened in a series of accidents. Early men would have learned not only how to harvest barley but also how to create earthen jars to store it. It is not hard to imagine that at some point someone might have left this stored barley exposed to rain. Of course, soaking barley starts the malting process. We can picture our disgusted early ancestor-let's call her Nonna-waking up to the soaked mess that once was the proud product of her hours of backbreaking work. She would have decided to do something to rescue this valuable grain. Being boldly experimental and desperately frugal, Nonna tried to dry the grain by spreading it out under the sun. Malted barley would have been the result. Then, when Nonna baked this barley into bread, her family might have commented that the bread was much sweeter than anything she had served before.

Now, if Nonna's crudely malted barley, wetted by the rain and dried under the sun, was exposed to the rain again, the result would have been very much like wort: the natural starches of malt being converted to sugar and dissolved in water. Then, when Nonna left her jars of this sweet grainy mixture open, natural airborne yeast would have begun its work, and in time Nonna's jars would have been filled with a foamy, bubbly substance. She would have tasted it, shared it with her friends, and eventually all would have agreed that this tasty, lightly intoxicating liquid had to be made again. Curiosity, experimentation, and pleasure would have played a role through the centuries and this would have eventually given us some time-honored methods for brewing a primitive beer.

There is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania named Solomon Katz who believes that not only did beer evolve in exactly this way, but that the discovery of beer may have been why early man stopped his hunter-gatherer ways and began to build cities. "My argument," Dr. Katz has said, "is that the initial discovery of a stable way to produce alcohol provided enormous motivation for continuing to go out and collect these seeds and try to get them to do better." He means that rather than early men relying on wild stands of barley to make brew, they would have begun growing the barley themselves in hopes of producing a better yield. And this attachment to their fields of barley would have caused them to settle in one place, to begin living in larger communities, and to eventually evolving the cities from which civilization gets its name. The word civilization literally means "living in cities." Thus, Dr. Katz believes that beer may have been a primary reason man moved from the wild into cities and began building the great civilizations of the ancient world.

He is not the first. The ancient Sumerians would have agreed with Dr. Katz. In Sumer, the region at the head of the Persian Gulf where human history began (largely because writing emerged there around 3400 BC), this connection between beer and civilization was not a theory but a celebrated certainty. In fact, this role of beer in the making of civilization was put into poetic form in the world's first great literary work, known today as The Epic of Gilgamesh. Now, like me, you probably remember something about this from school, but we certainly don't recall that it had anything to do with beer. Apparently, though, it did. It seems that Gilgamesh was a Sumerian king who ruled around 2700 BC and whose life inspired myriad myths, beloved not only by the Sumerians but also by the Akkadians and the Babylonians. The Epic is the tale of Gilgamesh's adventures with his friend Enkidu, a wild man who, not unlike mankind itself, begins life running naked in the wilderness. In time, he is taught the ways of civilization by a young woman who takes him to a shepherds' village so he can learn the first stages of civilized life.


Excerpted from THE SEARCH FOR GOD AND GUINNESS by STEPHEN MANSFIELD Copyright © 2009 by Stephen Mansfield. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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