Beer was likely a casual discovery when a bowl of grain that got wet, and then very wet, accidentally fermented with airborne yeast. It has been made intentionally for more than 6,000 years and is indigenous to most temperate and tropical cultures.
The oldest known written recipe was found on a 4,000-year-old Mesopotamian clay tablet, and it was for beer (Fig. 1). The Babylonians made 16 kinds of beer, using barley, wheat, and honey. The Egyptians described a "beer of truth" and a "beer of eternity".
Beer making was an important trade in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. In less-settled cultures in Europe, Africa, China, India, and South America some kind of fermented grain beverages were made on a small scale for home consumption. It may well have been discovered that brewing beer makes any water safe for human consumption.
Large-scale brewing began in medieval Europe as a result of increased travel and trade and the attendant increase in inns and taverns offering food and lodging. Monasteries began brewing beer, as well as wine and liqueurs, and accepted voyagers as guests. This helped spread knowledge about beer.
In North America, beer was introduced with the early English and Dutch settlers. The Pilgrims landed in Plymouth, instead of going farther south, because they had run out of beer. Many of the founders of the United States were active brewers or maltsters.
All the beer of the early settlers was actually ale, fermented by strains of yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, that are airborne and are also used in making bread and wine. Ales are produced at ambient temperatures.
In the 1840s German brewers came to the United States and began brewing lager beer, fermented by strains of a yeast S. carlsbergensis that exists only in breweries and is used only for making beer. A characteristic of this yeast is that it can only function at temperatures below 70°F. For this reason, the early lager breweries were built near riv
Figure 2. Brewhouse, showing lauter tubs above and kettles below. Source: Courtesy of Anheuser-Busch, Inc.
Was this article helpful?
Discover How To Become Your Own Brew Master, With Brew Your Own Beer. It takes more than a recipe to make a great beer. Just using the right ingredients doesn't mean your beer will taste like it was meant to. Most of the time it’s the way a beer is made and served that makes it either an exceptional beer or one that gets dumped into the nearest flower pot.