Some historians estimate that beer and man have been friends for more than 8,000 years. Anthropologists have even speculated that Neolithic man made the transition from a nomadic to sedentary existence in order to cultivate grain for brewing beer. The beer served as an important nutritional supplement to an otherwise limited diet.
Other historians speculate that beer originated around 7,000 years ago in ancient Sumeria (present-day Iran). Hieroglyphics support the evidence that the Sumerians studied different types of barley, and archeologists found evidence in artifacts of the brewing and consumption of beer. This culture even had a goddess of brewing called Nin-Bi. In 1840, archeologists found clay tablets dating back 5,000 years that are inscribed with representations of brewing activity. From the tablets, we learned that these ancient cultures used beer as a dietary staple before bread was discovered. Their beer consisted of water, barley and flavorings.
Later, the Roman civilization learned of the brewing process and introduced it to the populations it conquered. It then fell under the watchful eye of the Roman Church, who even named a patron saint for beer, called Saint Arnou. This is how monks became the artisans of beer over the ages, researching and refining the process of transforming water into a magical drink. Around the year 800, the monks introduced hops into the making of beer, further lengthening the life of the beer with its preservative faculties.
By 1420, the Germans (however, they weren't known as "Germans" then) introduced the process of "lagering" or storing the beer over the winter to further stabilize and deepen the flavors. Brewing in the summer was not possible because the yeasts would sour, so they brewed during the cold months then stored the casks. Cold storage helped clarify the beer by settling the yeast, and assisted in preventing the growth of spoilage bacteria.
In 1516, Duke Wilhelm IV codified the right to pure beer for all Bavarians by establishing a brewing standard called Reinheitsgebot. Reinheitsgebot is a document that sets parameters for the ingredients as well as pricing. Acceptable ingredients were: water, malt (barley and wheat) and hops. Interestingly, yeast was not on the list because its role in brewing was not discovered until the 1870s by Louis Pasteur.
Over the years several advances have changed the process of brewing. The introduction of refrigeration plants in the early 1860s in Germany created an environment where brewers could produce beer year-round instead of just in the fall and winter months. Controlling the temperature also meant they could produce more temperature-sensitive beers, and could transport beer over long distances.
In Colonial America, the first brewery was in place by 1637, started by Captain Sedgwick of the Massachusetts colony. Colonists often used alcohol (beer, wine, distilled spirits) as barter because coinage was in short supply in the New World. By 1790, the estimated per capita alcohol consumption level had reached nearly six gallons per year. However, the mid-1800s saw a change in drinking habits, due to temperance reform organizations, the industrialization of society and the establishment of a uniform currency. It was during this time that abstinence laws began to pop up at local and state levels and the thoughts of alcohol prohibition began to fester.
But in the Wild West, those laws could not prevent the inception of large brewers such as Budweiser, Pabst and Schlitz. Advents of refrigeration, pasteurization and improved transportation in the late nineteenth century helped the proliferation of beer consumption. Saloons and alcohol became part of everyday social and business life in the West as the breweries flourished.
Abraham Lincoln, noting the lack of funds to support the Civil War, began to tax alcohol, lending an air of legitimacy to the industry. The government, in post-war times, also began to rely on the healthy tax to fund other programs. But the grass-roots religious and abstinence organizations that protested alcohol consumption persuaded the public as well as government to consider options to curb drinking, namely total abstinence. The outcry began in 1829 in Maine and continued through Oct. 10, 1919, when the United States Congress passed the Eighteenth Amendment, commonly known as the Volstead Act, banning alcohol consumption and outlining penalties. By the time this act was passed, 33 states had already passed similar measures.
There were, of course, loopholes in the Prohibition laws. You could distill alcohol at home. Farmers were allowed to make homemade hard cider, and beer could also be brewed but not sold until almost all of the alcohol was removed. The end product was called "near beer." During Prohibition, the sale of brewing paraphernalia increased dramatically.
In addition to the numerous loopholes, the Volstead Act was extremely difficult and expensive to enforce. By 1923, the Secretary of the Treasury requested $28.5 million to enforce the law, and estimated more than $300 million would be needed in future years. It became a burden to the states that had to prosecute the offenders with their own funds, and in the West, where law enforcement was virtually non-existent, there was very little effect on alcohol consumption. Criminals began to profit highly and the government saw its former tax money go into the pockets of ambitious smugglers. With the system crumbling, all it took to fall was the Great Depression of the early 1930s. During this difficult economic time, the government drooled over the money being illegally produced from alcohol, and also faced the public's disillusionment from Prohibition. A grass-roots movement began again, this time in the opposite direction: an appeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. In 1933, 14 years after the passage of the Volstead Act, the 21st Amendment was adopted, effectively ending Prohibition. Some states chose to remain dry, but by 1966, there was not a dry state left in the nation.
In the mid-1960s, a major beer development began in the U.S.: the craft beer movement. 1965 witnessed a man named Fritz Maytag buying a small fledgling brewery in San Francisco called Anchor Brewing Company. Tired of the typical average American beer, Maytag set out to brew authentic, traditional ales. By 1980, Anchor Brewing Company had become the inspiration behind the modern American microbrewery movement. Meanwhile, in Britain, the mid-1970s saw the growth of perhaps the most important consumer interest group to affect the industry. CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, started as a protest movement directed against British brewers dropping their traditional cask ales in favor of kegged products.
Since these developments, a resurgence of interest in beer has skyrocketed the profits of beer makers worldwide. With more than 1,300 brewpubs and microbreweries in North America alone, the beer industry definitely has a very bright future.
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