(POSTED: July 29, 2004)
History of Beer & Alcohol
Wall paintings and models of breweries on tomb walls tells us that the ancient Egyptians practiced this art. Texts list three types. Red beer, the most common, was made by combining undercooked bread loaves (of barley or wheat) with water and crushed wheat, and allowed to ferment in the sun. This liquid was then filtered and stored. This type of beer is still made in this manner in Sudan and parts of Egypt. Sweet beer is also mentioned, although little is known about it. Black beer is assumed to be the most alcoholic, perhaps due to a longer period of fermentation. Texts also speak of a Sumerian beer, which was probably imported.
Phonecia, judging by the archaeological evidence, was also
familiar with the beverage.
Two Dutch colonists established the first private brewery in America in 1612, at the tip of Manhattan Island. The first
Dutch-American child born was born there, as the entire settlement believed it would be good luck.
The passengers on the Mayflower brought their own beer with them, very usual in a time when the water was largely deemed unsafe, and on a sea-voyage, unavailable. The crew of the Mayflower, wishing to make sure that they had enough of the drink to consume on the way back to England, decided to let their passengers off a bit early and farther north than originally planned. And thus was Plymouth Rock, in December of 1620, the landing point for the Pilgrims. One diary entry noted, "We could not now take time for further search or consideration; our victuals being much spent, especially our beere."
In 1622, the first public brewery was opened in New Amsterdam.
Beer-making was at first something of a struggle in the New World, due to the lack of grains. Alternatives such as corn, persimmons, maple syrup, pumpkins, and spruce bark were tried and discarded. Even today, only three states grow hops--Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.
The founder of the Pennsylvania colony, William Penn, opened the first brewery in Pennsylvania in 1638. Pennsylvania had the good fortune to be able to grow the barley needed for beer.
By 1672, Manhattan had four alehouses.
Until the middle of the 18th century, beer-making was largely the province of women. Although breweries certainly existed, drinks consumed at home were primarily made at home. Beer usually replaced water as the usual drink, and was usually safer. An early morning drink of beer or ale was typical in colonial America, even for children. New Englanders eventually made hard cider their drink, given the paucity of wheat, but the idea remained.
The increase of German immigrants in the 1840s led to the establishment of lager beers, and made Milwaukee the beer capitol of the US. Their formulation of beer was less alcoholic than that of Europe, although higher in alcohol content than that available today.
At the time of Prohibition, the majority of Americans drank beer, and the beer industry was well-established. After Prohibition, it made a quick comeback. (This was not the case with America's wine industry, which was terribly damaged by Prohibiiton.)
Coors beer, once known as "Colorado Kool Aid" was, until fairly recently, only shipped to eleven Western states. As a result, quite a bit of interest was drummed up. Not until refrigerated trunks were improved enough to allow safe shipping of this additive and preservative free beer to the rest of the country.
The latest development of the history of beer in America is the rise of microbrewery. Sam Adams beer might be credited with starting this Renaissance in 1985, with their national shipping of their microbrewed beer.
Types of beer
Bock beer takes its name from Einbeck, Germany, regarded as the oldest brewing city in Germany, where it was created. Traditionally brewed in the fall, but consumed in the spring, it packed a hefty alcoholic punch.
Wheat beer (aka weiss beer, weisenbier, wit bier, and biere blanche) contain less barley than most other beers, and up to 40% wheat. This makes for a light, acidic beer that is good for drinking with rich meats (like barbecue).
Belgians come into the picture again with their lambics, which are still wheat-based, but don't require extra yeast, which makes their flavor very light and crisp. The Belgians frequently add cherry or other fruits to it, making for a very refreshing brew.
Pilsner is synonomous with Czech beer (from the Czech town of Pilsner), and is known for the strong flavor of hops that predominates. If you like some bitterness, this is a good choice.
Ales are usually not made with hops, thus cutting down on their bitterness. They have a clean and bold taste of their own, though, and are best enjoyed by themselves, not at mealtime.