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I read somewhere once that every culture in the world had some form of beer. Since beer is essentially fermented grain, there has been some considerable “chicken or the egg” discussion as to whether beer or bread came first. Personally, I'm voting for the bread since feeding one's family should come before happy hour, but I could be wrong on that score. I've seen it happen. Archaeologists dug up a stone tablet from the ancient Sumerians in Mesopotamia upon which was carved a recipe for beer. Evidently, it was important enough information to merit chiseling it into stone for posterity. The ancient Egyptians had beer, of course, being a pretty sophisticated bunch of guys who figured out how to make a whole bunch of stuff, including giant buildings that still haven't fallen down. Beer was so highly prized that it was considered a fully appropriate gift for the Pharaoh, even though it had to be consumed through a straw because there were chunks of stuff floating around in it. Apparently, the pharaohs were quite the gourmets since surviving lists of tribute and presents delivered to him by foreign kings and dignitaries include a great deal of jugs of regionally specific brew. Beer jugs were found in abundance in King Tut's tomb and are constantly showing up as part of the regular equipment of workers on temples and tombs. Beer fed workers were obviously happy workers.
The Chinese had beer and plenty of it, often made from rice and flavored with all kinds of bizarre stuff, and so did the Japanese. Beer flavored with cherry blossoms doesn't sound very good to me, but I'm not Japanese. To each his own. The Vikings are famous for being big consumers of mead, a powerful intoxicant made from fermented honey and water and later, honey, water, and fermented grain, which kind of made it more like a beer, I guess. There were other cultures that drank mead but the Vikings seem to have been the really big mead imbibers of history, which makes sense since they were Vikings and could pretty much drink whatever they wanted and in huge amounts and still go raid a village or two. Whoever brewed it, beer is considered the first alcoholic beverage to be invented, probably by accident, and is still going strong.
For myself, I never liked beer. I took a sip of a beer once and thought that it tasted like a melted down loaf of bread. I like bread, but not in liquid form. Beer connoisseurs tell me that my whole problem is that I have never had a really good beer and if I did, I would like it. I don't think so. To me it would be the difference between melting down a loaf of cheap white bread versus a loaf of excellent French Baguette; good liquid bread is still liquid bread. I have found myself forced to learn about beers recently because my future son-in-law, the chemist, is into home brewing his own. Being a chemist, I suppose it only stands to reason that he would become interested in the technical aspects and chemical reactions inherent in beer brewing, but I wish he had taken up wine or whiskey instead. He grows hops in his backyard and has a beer brewing laboratory in his basement where he does his mad beer scientist experiments. He says that wine is next on his list of things to chemically manipulate. I can hardly wait. Melted down grapes I can handle. He will occasionally send me interesting articles about beer brewing so I can educate myself. I have to admit that even though I am not a fan of beer, I find the differences in ingredients and technique kind of fascinating, especially when they go into the history of the stuff. Some biochemists have brewed the Sumerian beer, being absolutely meticulous about following the recipe precisely in order to achieve complete authenticity. They went on at length about how it tasted but never said if they liked it or not. I'm guessing no. I learned that hops were not introduced into beer until the Hops were first known to be grown in the 9th century in parts of Europe but there is no record of their introduction into beer until the 11th century. I guess it took them awhile to figure it out. Hops gave beer a kind of slightly bitter, tangy taste and helped with its preservation, something that made lots of people happy, I'm sure. The only yeast that was in beer was the naturally occurring kind until the great chemist, Louis Pasteur discovered it in 1857. After yeast, beer could be stored even longer in case you wanted one when you came home from a long day at work. The oldest brewery still running is one in Germany that has been in existence since 1040. Evidently, neither invasions, nor wars, nor economic collapse can stop the Germans from brewing their beer.
I understand that artisan beers are all the thing now and there are entire beer halls dedicated to unique and unusual beers for the discerning beer lover. One of the little bits of history I read was an ancient Egyptian father writing to his son who was off at school and scolding him for being a no-good wastrel who was ignoring his studies and throwing his future away because he was always out with his pals drinking beer. See, some things, like beer, are forever the same.
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