Early History of Brewing


In Ancient Egypt, as far back as the Predynastic era of 5500-3100 BC, and possibly even further, evidence is found of beer and alcoholic beverages. As most evidence shows, and as recorded by the Greeks, it was the Egyptians who invented beer (Hornsey 33). Because of the lack of a sewage system, water was a breeding ground for disease. It is because of how unhealthy the water was that people turned to beer. In places where grape vines would not grow, beer was the drink of every man, rich or poor, pharaoh or common-man. Not only did the Egyptians have basic beer brewed from barley, but according to ancient texts, they had “dark beer, iron beer, garnished beer, friend’s beer, and beer of the protector” (37). These beers would be brewed for special state events and other such holidays. Grains and barley were so big in the Egyptian culture that beer, along with bread or raw grains, was even used as a form of payment (43). While hops were certainly not used in the beer production and flavoring of ancient Egypt, what is suggested by their texts is that the date palm was used. Although the complete process is not fully understood, due to translation errors, it is assumed by many that fermentation originally took place by accident when germinated grain began to spoil. It is from there that the soon to be brewers must have realized that fermentation is something they could control and eventually would refine the process to create a crude beer. While all of this was taking place in Egypt, in the area between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, brewing of another sort was taking place in Mesopotamia.

As in ancient Egypt, all Mesopotamian social classes drank beer. Like in Egypt, beer was also tied to religion as well as to medical properties. While there are many documents and pictures, there is not a vast amount of physical evidence of brewing or breweries in Mesopotamian societies, and only one of the three physical sites that were found is in the main land of Mesopotamia; the other two sites are found in Syria (79). While there isn’t much evidence of large scale brewing, the techniques in Mesopotamia and in Egypt seem to be very similarly tied with bread-making, even though there is also little documentation of actual techniques. Mesopotamian brewers, just as the Egyptians, had concocted several forms of beer, such as “black beer, red beer, barley beer, spelt beer, fine white beer, and fine black beer” (82). The beer in Mesopotamia was said to be “cloudy and thick”, and if it was unfiltered it was drunk through straws (86). While most of the straws have deteriorated, pictures inscribed in walls depicting people drinking with straws as well as a golden straw have been found in the Royal Cemetery at an ancient city, Ur (86). Because of the pictures depicting several people drinking from straws at once rather than just one person, it is assumed that drinking was a social event. In fact, not only was it a social event, but it was a customary sign of a good time; “It was considered to be bad mannered to leave a banquet in an upright position; indeed, this was a sign that the guest had not enjoyed himself.” (104).


Middle Ages to Present

In the Middle Ages beer was one of the main staples in the diet of almost everyone. From royalty to the lower classes they all drank beer with their meals. In fact beer was drunk with every meal. Although the royalty and the upper classes did not drink as much as the lower classes, they still had beer quite often.  This was due to the water in the Middle Ages. Water back in the Middle Ages was very dangerous to drink because of urine in the stream. The urine caused very bad diseases that made people very sick and could kill them. Because of this, beer became the staple drink in the lower classes that couldn’t afford other drinks, such as wine, that were safer to drink. Even though it was safer to drink than water, beer was thought to actually be harmful to their health. This notion came about because not a lot was known about beer at the time. Brewing beer in the middle ages was not done in the breweries that see today nor was it done by smaller shops but by families. Families each brewed their own beer. Breweries came to be when “Monks built the first breweries as pioneers of the hotel business, providing shelter, food and drink to pilgrims and other travelers “ (Fosters, par. 18).

The industrial revolution brought in many inventions that changed how beer was brewed. These inventions intern helped make it more consistent and more available to everyone. The steam engine (Fig. 2) brought in many inventions that helped make beer in breweries. It made automatic steering machines that helped mix the beer while it was hot, this helping it to have a more consistent taste. “The steam engine was used to pump the liquor (water)” which allowed the breweries to move beer from one tank to another (Norton brewery par. 3). This allowed more storage room as well as faster brewing time resulting in more beer because brewers could make beer in a revolving system. The pump allowed them to move beer around from tank to tank breaking up the brewing process into sections of brewing. The steam engine also made the refrigeration unit. This allowed brewers to be able to make beer year round. Before they would make large quantities of beer in the winter so they could save enough for the summer time. With the refrigeration unit they could make it cold enough to produce beer in the summer. The industrial revolution also produced the hydrometer, which allowed brewers to use different quantities of ingredients to produce different flavors of beer.

In America, beer has become a predominant drink, even though it did not start that way. In the 19th century, beer was quite common in America. Large breweries produced much of the beer that was available, but in the 1920’s prohibition started. Prohibition was when the U.S. made it illegal to sell, transport and manufacture alcohol. Breweries had to change to produce other types of drinks or they went out of business. After prohibition ended there was a substantial drop in the amount of breweries in America. With only a few large breweries it led to a marketing war between the large breweries. After prohibition, microbreweries started to appear. Microbreweries are companies that make beer on a much smaller scale than the larger breweries. The variety of beer changed with the addition of microbreweries so the microbreweries could compete with larger companies.