Labor Day is coming up and that usually means something on the grill and beer all around.
Well, there’s more to beer than popping the top. Read on.
The brewing and enjoyment of beer is as old as the practice of growing grain, though it barely resembled what we now recognize as beer, ale, larger, and stout. It has become the third most consumed beverage in the world behind water and tea. The word beer originates from the Latin word bibere which means to drink. In Spanish, cerveza refers to the Greek goddess Ceres (agriculture).
Those early beers were thick, cloudy, and drunk through special drinking straws (think yerba mate). Through trade, it traveled to Egypt where they even invented a hieroglyph for the word brewer. Then it was on the Babylon where it was “often not sold but rationed and used as barter” (A History of Beer).
Through hieroglyphics, cuneiform characters and written accounts, historians have traced the roots of brewing back to ancient African, Egyptian and Sumerian tribes. The oldest proven records of brewing are about 6,000 years old and refer to the Sumerians. Sumeria lay between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers including Southern Mesopotamia and the ancient cities of Babylon and Ur. It is said that the Sumerians discovered the fermentation process by chance. A seal around 4,000 years old is a Sumerian “Hymn to Ninkasi”, the goddess of brewing. This “hymn” is also a recipe for making beer. No one knows today exactly how this occurred, but it could be that a piece of bread or grain became wet and a short time later, it began to ferment and an inebriating pulp resulted. These early accounts, with pictograms of what is recognizably barley, show bread being baked then crumbled into water to make a mash, which is then made into a drink that is recorded as having made people feel “exhilarated, wonderful and blissful!” It could be that baked bread was a convenient method of storing and transporting a resource for making beer. The Sumerians were able to repeat this process and are assumed to be he first civilized culture to brew beer.
A History of Beer
As civilization spread from its African cradle, so did what became the art of brewing beer. Hops, wheat and barley were not the only ingredients used then either. Corn and even fermented camel milk were sometimes included.
Before wine became a popular drink in Rome and increased in popularity among the affluent citizens, beer was the beverage of choice in the outlying Mediterranean areas.
By the 1500’s it had spread to what is now Europe and then on to the New World. The Reinheitsgebot Beer Purity law of 1516 stated that the recipe could only have 4 ingredients – hops, malted barley, water, and malted wheat. It was unstated and implied that yeast was an integral ingredient. To this day, Europeans consider additions such as corn, rice, any other grains ,and sugars to be adulterations.
Once Louis Pasteur explained how yeast works in the brewing process, it was possible to make more refined varieties. Supported by immigration, America boasted over 2000 breweries in the late 1800’s. Today there are less than 400 – prohibition had a lot to do with this marked decline. World War II changed the customer base to a higher number of females and light beers became more popular.
The present-day trend is moving toward a more “back-to-origins” style which supports a growing number of artisanal and micro-brewing operations like Rahr & Sons Brewing Company in Fort Worth.
Although it does provide some calcium, magnesium, phosphorus ,potassium, fluoride, and choline, regular beer has a slightly lighter nutritional profile than stout (porter). Consumed in moderation, it can be an enjoyable part of a healthy diet. Aside from its use as an alcoholic beverage, beer is also used as an ingredient in many foods as in beer batter for fish and chips, breads, meat dishes and desserts. When used in cooking, alcohol intensifies and helps the various flavors in cooked foods to meld together (especially in meat sauces and stews).
Like wine, some foods pair up better with some beers – click here for a list.
Stout is one variety that has found great popularity as a cooking ingredient. Whether added to an Irish stew, as a secret ingredient in chocolate brownies, or the shining star in stout bread, Guinness is usually the stout of choice in many recipes.
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