From now until September 2, the New York Historical Society is highlighting the importance of beer brewing! The exhibit, entitled “Beer Here,” highlights the history of beer brewing in New York (which has in recent decades became a prominent center of micro and macro brewery).
This exhibit surveys the social, economic, political, and technological history of the production and consumption of beer, ale, and porter in the city from the seventeenth century to the present. (NYHS exhibition catalogue)
Beer has long been a staple beverage and even meal throughout the history of mankind. This exhibit singles out the malty beverage and its role in the political, social, and economic development of New York City.
During the Iron-Age, ‘competitive feasting’ (essentially throwing the biggest, best, and most exciting party) was a key element in developing political and social connections. Archaeologists working Germany for the past ten years have uncovered key feasting elements in graves dating to 2,600 BP (Before Present). The contents of the grave emphasize not only ‘feasting’ but drinking – large cauldrons used to hold alcoholic beverages.
To the upper-class, the quantity of alcohol consumed was as important as the quality. Arnold excavated at least one fully intact cauldron used for serving alcoholic beverages in one of the graves at Heuneburg. But it’s hard to top the recovery of nine drinking horns — including one that held 10 pints — at a single chieftain’s grave in nearby Hochdorf in the 1970s.
The burial pits excavated contain objects belonging to men, women, and even children. To learn more about the excavations and these finds, feet the article in Science Daily.
Alcohol is as old as civilization… in fact, some anthropologists have argued that civilization developed so that humans could better brew and ferment grain, rice, and grapes – in short, to produce alcohol.
Ancient Sumer, the world’s oldest civilization, has hundreds of cuneiform tablets focused on the fermentation of grains but key ingredients to beer, namely barley, was not part brewing process (or at least not in the records). So, while the Sumerians had fermented grains, technically, beer may not have been on that list.
Any student of ancient civilization recognizes the importance that alcohol has played on the development of our cultural past. When we all started living together densely (a.k.a. – civilization), food and water became immediate, problematic needs as pollution (generally in the form of human waste) destroyed our resources. Water was generally a dangerous drink (as any traveller to Mexico has discovered) and alcohol was a safe alternative – the fermentation process often killed or prevented the growth of dangerous bacteria and parasites. In fact, in ancient Egypt, a common breakfast was a hunk of bread and a bucket of beer.
One man has made his name on the study of alcohol in the ancient world, specifically the role it played in our own cultural and social evolution – Patrick McGovern. “Dr. Pat” is the world’s foremost expert on ancient booze, but his expertise expands beyond the rate of hops or blended barleys. As an archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania, he has travelled the world, poured over manuscripts, and excavated the remnants of ancient distilleries, breweries, and wineries in his quest to further understand humanity’s relationship with intoxicating beverages.
The brewing of beer is a practice that’s been in use for thousands of years. In fact, some of the oldest recipes we have from Sumer and Egypt are for beer. Just recently, a brewery in Iron-Age France was uncovered. In this month’s Journal of Human Ecology, archaeologists have published their findings of the oldest brewery in France – dating to 2,500 years ago.
It appears that beer brewing techniques have not changed in the last few thousand years:
“From what we can tell, it was processed in a way that was close to traditional beer-brewing techniques and was not so different from modern home-made beers,” lead author Laurent Bouby told Discovery News.
This is especially interesting as very little information remains in the historical record about beer making in Europe (due to the Greek and Roman’s preference for wine).