In modern society, beer is considered a social drink and evidence suggests that beer has always been consumed in a spirit of community.
Sumerian depictions of people consuming beer show one vessel with each person drinking the beer from an individual straw. We know that straws were initially used in drinking beer to filter through debris from the production process, but these Sumerian images tell the story that beer was shared in this way even after filtering and pottery production were introduced.
The idea of sharing one vessel of beer is thought to have been ritualistic and a universal symbol of hospitality and friendship. The sharing of beer in this way may also have been a communication of trust. Though today, we don’t offer guests a straw through which to drink a glass of beer with us, but we do toast each others glass before taking a sip. This act of toasting is probably a modern representation of the ancient concept of community fostered by beer.
To read more about the role of beverages on society, check out A History of the World in 6 Glasses.
Though historians aren’t certain when beer was first made, there is a general consensus that spontaneous fermentation started it all. Mesopotamian clay tablets dating back 5000 years indicate that a beer called sikaru was made and that it was nearly identical to modern-day Belgian lambic – making lambic the oldest existing beer style, and also the only purely spontaneously-fermented beer style in the world.
It is thought that the name “lambic” has its origins in the Belgian village of Lembeek, which in its early days had 43 breweries for a mere 600 inhabitants. (A nice ratio we’d say.)
Some also believe the name may be derived from the French word for “still,” alambic. Duke Jean IV of the Belgian province of Brabant is often credited with the idea of boiling barley and hops in a still – and both the name of the beer and the town in which it was made became known as Alambic.
For more on Lambic beers, we recommend Wild Brews: Culture and Craftsmanship in the Belgian Tradition
Cozy up to the bar and order a pint. Depending on which country you are in will determine the size of the glass you receive. In the United States, a pint of beer is equivalent to just 16 ounces.
Pints are based on 1/8 of a gallon, but the definition of gallon varies. The liquid pint (think beer) is based on the British Wine Gallon which was established in 1707 and is equal to 231 cubic inches. A dry pint is based on the British Corn Gallon which is 269 cubic inches.
Since 1824, the UK (and other parts of the world), have used the imperial gallon to define a pint. Pints in the UK are still based on 1/8 gallon, but a gallon is defined as 10 lbs of water which is about 277 cubic inches. This means that a pint is equal to 20 ounces. That’s 25% more beer than a pint in the US!
Beer has been around since before cheese, sugar, mustard, coffee, and Spam.* While there is some discrepancy of exactly when beer was first discovered, there is no doubt that it was a very long time ago. An article in Scientific American (Sept 2013) claims 7000 BC. The oldest recipe in the world is said to be for beer (on clay tablets) dating back to 3500 BC.
Traditionally, brewers were women. Brewing was a domestic chore (a very important one to be sure). Since beer was originally made with the absence of hops as a preservative and it would turn sour rather quickly, beer making was a constant practice. Some historians believe that beer preceded bread as a diet staple while others believe that beer was a happy accident that occurred in bread making.
Regardless, it wasn’t until brewing was commercialized around 1200 AD that beer became a largely male-dominated past time.
* An accurate order of these foods having been introduced in the human diet.