From its origins among early civilizations to a hallowed place in the history of mankind, the art, the history, the culture, and the mystery of fermented beverages is the subject of historical fact, mythological speculation, and philosophical enquiry. The Secret Life of Beer! shares bits and pieces of this intriguing cultural history, along with quotes from such diverse beer drinkers as Nietzsche and Charles Darwin, in an inviting, highly browseable format.
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Beer is Born
Ten, twenty, perhaps fifty thousand years ago a woman hunter-gatherer with a gourd of grain was caught in a torrential downpour. Fleeing the lightning and thunder, the woman left the drenched seeds behind as she scurried for cover. The sun reappeared as ambient yeast infected the bowl of abandoned, fermenting gruel. Bubbling and sudsing, the world's first brew waited for perhaps another woman to come along and spy the concoction. A curious sip followed by a grunt of pleasure at the tart taste followed by a deeper swig. Soon a strange sensation took hold of the woman. Dizzy, lightheaded feelings gave way to drunkenness — and beer was born.
Whoever makes a poor beer is transferred to the dung-hill.
Edict, City of Danzig, 11th century
... Man's first civilization gave great place to intoxication. Long before there was decadence or world-weariness, men and women wanted to change their response to the planet on which they had evolved to self-consciousness.
JACQUETTA HAWKES, THE FIRST GREAT CIVILIZATIONS
In all ancient societies, in the religious mythologies of all ancient cultures, beer was a gift to women from a goddess, never a male god, and women remained bonded in complex religious relationships with feminine deities who blessed the brew vessels.
Beer and the Goddess
The ancient legends tell how the goddess took pity on the miserable plight of humanity and so loved her daughters that she bestowed the gift of beer to their sole keeping. Twenty thousand years ago, it was a goddess who gave life and abundance and it was the goddess who, out of a mother's love and pity for her fallen children, gave the gift of brew to the women of mankind. The cup of bliss, the gourd of temporary forgetfulness was filled with beer.
I rinsed their own mugs in a trough before taking them to the bar to be refilled.
When the chill northeast wind blows,
16TH CENTURY ENGLISH VERSE
The English hop plant is a species of morning glory, several varieties of which contain hallucinogenic properties.
Beer and Song
He that buys land buys many stones,
ENGLISH MEDIEVAL SONG
The Philosophical Drinker
Kindly observe the tankard of beer I offer you. This bock was not made simply to drink. It was made to speak to you. And if you, with your tankard of beer, could learn the dialogue, you would discover that in your tankard lives a milky way of tiny bubbles. And inside each bubble, there exists an idea that is waiting to be discovered. Each one of these ideas can make you grand and large and fortunate if you so desire to learn to talk with beer.
A Literary Brew
... he would go for a ride on the Third Avenue "E." It would please him to see the four enormous, beautifully polished copper kettles in the windows of Ruppert's brewery, and it would please him to smell the wet hops, a lovely smell that blew into the car as it rattled past.
JOSEPH MITCHELL, THE LOST WEEKEND
I know Bacchus, the god of wine, for he smells of nectar; but all I know of the god of beer is that he smells of the billy goat.
Emperor Julian the Apostate, 361 A.D.
In the folktales of tribal Africa, a black Pandora repeats her Greek sister's rash act except the African makes a different discovery remaining in the casket. Not hope ... but rather, a gourd of beer.
No children without sex — no drunkenness without beer.
Ancient Sumerian proverb
For early mankind, the mood-altering properties of beer were supernatural. The newfound state of intoxication was considered divine. Beer, it was thought, must contain a spirit or god, since the drinking of the liquid so possessed the spirit of the drinker.
For we could not now take time for further search (to land our ship), our victuals being much spent, especially our beer.
Log, The Mayflower
Beer and Women
Brewsters quickly became priestesses and without beer, no one could commune with the goddess. Women oversaw the collective drinking of beer acting as barmaids and bouncers enforcing rules of conduct while ensuring men didn't injure themselves. Beer-drunken elder men became storytellers reciting the tribal tales and histories. When the elders were in their cups, the women would awaken the children to sit and listen around the fires and in this regard beer became the single most important aspect in learning among preliterate cultures.
The immense importance of a pint of ale to a common person should never be overlooked.
Canon of St. Paul's Cathedral, 18th century
Some anthropologists suggest ceramics, such as clay pots and vessels, were created for the sole purpose of fermenting and storing beer.
Brehm asserts that the natives of Northeastern Africa catch the wild baboons by exposing vessels with strong beer, by which they are made drunk ... On the following morning they [the baboons] were very cross and dismal; they held their aching heads with both hands.
CHARLES DARWIN, THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES, 1859
The process of fermentation increases fourfold the vitamin and mineral content of plain seeds or grains. Ambient yeast adds additional and substantial levels of protein and vitamins B and C.
In nature, when rainwater meets grain, the seeds begin to sprout. Sprouting causes a natural conversion of starch into fermentable sugar. With time, women discovered that beer could be brewed stronger and faster if the cereals were chewed before adding them to water, because the enzyme pytalin (found in saliva) converts cereal starch into fermentable sugar.
Beer and Song
The wonderful love of a beautiful young maid ...
Beer bouts were the site of the first schools of higher learning. Before reading and writing all tribal wisdom was passed from one generation to the next over a pot of beer.
By adding chewed mash to the beer pot, higher sugar levels created more bang to the gourd full of the local Stone-Age beer. Honey, combs and all, was an additional source of fermentable sugar. This, the oldest method of beer making, is still practiced in remote areas throughout the world.
Of beer an enthusiast has said that it could never be bad, but that some brands might be better than others ...
A.A. Milne (1882–1956)
A Brew a Day ...
At a time before bread baking, beer was a non-perishable food. Protected by alcohol, beer had a palatability lasting far longer than any other foodstuff. A vitamin-rich porridge, beer, used daily, is reported to have increased health and longevity, and reduced disease and malnutrition.
I feel wonderful drinking beer; in a blissful mood with joy in my heart and a happy liver.
Sumerian poet, circa 3000 B.C.
The government that increases the price of beer cannot last longer than the next plum harvest.
Ten thousand years ago barley was domesticated and worshipped as a God in the highlands of the southern Levant. Thus, beer was the driving force that led nomadic mankind into village life. With the creation of writing — stylus on wet clay tablet — beer, its history and mystery, became a large part of ancient man's literary repertoire.
Ama-Gestin, the Earth Mother, and Ninkasi, the lady who fills the mouth, were the goddesses of beer in the ancient world.
May Ninkasi live with you — let her pour your beer everlasting.
My sister, your grain — its beer is tasty, my comfort.
Beer and Women
The women of ancient Sumeria brewed and sold beer, and ran taverns under the spiritual protection of Siduri, goddess of the brewery and patroness of wisdom. The dominance of women in the brewing arts appears time and again in cuneiform poem and prayer.
Sabtiem, women brewsters and tavern keepers, were the only trades people of their era with private deities who spiritually guided the making of a bewildering number of beers. "Black and White Beer," "Beer of Two Parts," "Beer from the World Below," "Beer of Sacrifice," "Supper Beer," "Horned Beer," "Wheat Beer," and the apparently foamy "Beer With a Head."
For our food, I slaughtered sheep and oxen, day by day; with beer, oil and water, I filled large jars.
Atrahasis, ancient Sumerian folk hero
Among the myths of Sumeria was the precursor of the Christian tale of Noah and the flood. The Noah of Sumeria was Atrahasis, who brought beer aboard his ark when told by God that mankind was to be drowned for being too noisy.
Beer shops, called Bit Sikari, and taverns were common in Sumerian cities and villages. As drunkenness was a spiritual state, beery transactions were not to be sullied by the exchange of money. In the Code of Hammurabi the sale of beer for silver or gold was forbidden.
If a beer seller do not receive barley as the price of beer, but if she receive money ... or make the beer measure smaller than the barley measure received, they (the judges) shall throw her (the brewster) into the water.
Code of Hammurabi 1500–2000 B.C.
Beer he drank — seven goblets. His spirit was loosened. He became hilarious. His heart was glad and his face shone.
Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest narrative tale, circa 3000 B.C.
Those who drank deeply and daily thrived as the search continued for new sources of grain to make beer. It was this appetite for beer-making material that may have led to crop cultivation, settlements, and agriculture.
Archaeological sites throughout the Tigris-Euphrates region have yielded thousands of cuneiform tablets containing recipes for, and prayers in praise of, beer. "Kassi — black beer," "Kassag — fine black beer," "Kassagasaan — finest premium beer," and "Kassig — red beer" were not only savored as beverages, but also formed the basis for most medicinal remedies for ailments, from scorpion stings to heart conditions.
Every human culture that enjoyed beer seems to have been balanced by a vocal minority that viewed malt beverages as a threat to public morals.
Beer and Women
While priestesses were forced to drink in secret, the use of attractive bare-breasted women, for the purpose of advertising beer brands and beer shops, was in vogue in ancient Sumeria. Carved in high relief, images of curvaceous barmaids invited patrons to sample the delights of beer, and sometimes brothel.
The combination of sexuality and beer, in the form of advertising, lured the tired and thirsty into the local beer shop, beginning a trend that would survive the rise and fall of many civilizations.
Social sanctions prohibited high priestesses from loitering in beer halls under penalty of death by burning.
Oh Lord thou shalt not enter the beer shop! The beer drunkard shall soak your gown with vomit.
Cuneiform tablets from the Tigris-Euphrates region
Despite Draconian restrictions for the few, beer endured as a joyful part of life. Drinking songs, sung by all classes, reflect the happiness provided by time in the beer halls.
Beer and Song
The Gakkul vat, the Gakkul vat, [fermenting vessel]
SONG FROM ANCIENT SUMERIA
A cuneiform tablet from the Tigris-Euphrates region, perhaps the oldest beer advertisement, encourages patrons to "Drink Ebla — the beer with the heart of a lion."
Who fed you on the food of the god?
EPIC OF GILGAMESH
Let a neat housewife ... have the handling of good ingredients — sweet malt and good water — and you shall see and will say there is an art in brewing.
Dr. Cyril Folkingham, 1623
Excerpted from "The Secret Life of Beer!"
Copyright © 2004 Alan D. Eames.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
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.
Table of Contents
The Secret Life of Beer!,
Beer is Born,
Origin of Ale,
Ale and the Vikings,
The Chronicles of Heather Ale,
Beer and Marriage,
Learn to Enjoy It,
Beer and the Germans,
Germany's Saintly Beer Days,
A Holy Brew,
Beer on the Amazon,
Drinking with the Dead,
Drowning in Beer,
John Taylor — The Bard of Beer,
Beer and the Blues,
The Dangers of Drinking Beer,
The Remedial Brew,
Critics and Politics,
And for Dinner...,
Temperance & Prohibition,
The Corruption of Youth,
Beer Goes to Movies,
The Philosophical Drinker,
The Drink of Choice,
Other Storey Titles You Will Enjoy,
Share Your Experience!,