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The Development of Beer
Through History 
by Ricardo Roces
Take a swig, and read on!
No children without sex - no drunkenness without beer.
-Ancient Sumerian Proverb
Ancient Near East 

Ancient Sumerians have the earliest written record mentioning beer.

Their prayers or songs to their gods, specifically the Hymn to Ninkasi, which can be taken as an actual recipe.

Hammurabi makes special mention of brewers also to assure quality. The beer in this case was most likely used for nutrition, like a liquid form of bread. Probably, the first brewers were women, the ones who processed harvested grain. Beers had a much higher nutrition value, and was a meal by itself. Could it be that nature did the process by herself, when wet grain was stored in the wrong place? What sort of person could you be to try out spoiled wet grain?

See the link below for an interesting argument and a recipe from the Hymn of Ninkasi. The argument questions whether beer came before bread, and if beer caused the shift from hunter-gatherers to settled farmers.
  • Sumerian Beer Page [Link no longer works]
(Sketch of Egyptian brewery to go here)
Old Egyptian Brewery as described by Manathos High Priest in
Heliopolis 3rd century BC

Medieval Beer
He who drinks beer sleeps well. he who sleeps well cannot sin. He who does not sin goes to heaven. Amen.
Unknown monk
Beer during the middle ages was very popular, and probably went through many changes.

During the early medieval period, beer was being brewed in homes, and sometimes among communities. The brew probably tasted like a malted porridge of some sort, no way near what we have now. It was also probably much stronger in alcohol, since the preservative effects of hops had not yet been introduced. We can never be sure what herbs were used then, any ingredient from oak bark, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, rosemary or berries could have been used. One recipe called cock ale uses chicken for flavor! Charlemagne himself is said to have brewed and drank beer. The Domesday Book, Walter de Biblesworth, Chaucer and many other medieval authors write about ales and beer.

What made beer so cherished was probably due to health reasons. In a period of plagues, water was probably the most unsafe beverage. However, beer, because of the "cooking" process was some how sterilized. By then beer had become a standard beverage, drank by men and women of all ages, and enjoyed with a meal or in a tavern. Monasteries had the best brews, with monks becoming experts at brewing. The beer they served, no doubt, had the effect of cheer for the troubled population.

Hops were probably introduced in the early 16th century. From then on, beer got it's bitter taste, and aided the clearing process and improved shelf life.

Try these links for Medieval brews:
The Reinheitsgebot of 1516 AD, oldest consumer protection text we have, also known as the German Beer Purity Law, shows the concern of the Medieval peoples about their beer. See the link below for more trivia:

For actual period recipes, see this recipe library.

Women and Beer
A woman is a lot like beer. They smell good, they look good, and you'd step over your own mother to get one. 
-Homer Simpson
We must credit women for their part in beer's development. Most likely, it was women who discovered beer. Furthermore, though most men claim this role today, beer brewers were mostly women up until the late medieval period.

Ben Stiles' Women & Brewing in the Middle Ages 

Woodcut of Medieval brewery to go here
Inside an Early Modern Medieval brewery

For More on Beer follow These Links: 

The Internet History Sourcebooks Project is located at the History Department of  Fordham University, New York. The Internet Medieval Sourcebook, and other medieval components of the project, are located at the Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies.The IHSP recognizes the contribution of Fordham University, the Fordham University History Department, and the Fordham Center for Medieval Studies in providing web space and server support for the project. The IHSP is a project independent of Fordham University.  Although the IHSP seeks to follow all applicable copyright law, Fordham University is not the institutional owner, and is not liable as the result of any legal action.

© Site Concept and Design: Paul Halsall created 26 Jan 1996: latest revision 12 March 2023 [CV]