Beer has been around for a long time. A very long time. We sit back and enjoy that ice-cold beer without even thinking about how the ancients made it, how much they consumed, and how they stored it.
So, when did they first start making beer? There is no way we can determine the exact date, but we do know that our ancient ancestors, the hunter-gatherers, probably starting making beer just as soon as they began planting crops. Probably around seven or eight thousand years ago. Some experts insist that it was even before that.
There’s a lot of general information out there on the internet about the history of beer and I found probably the greatest article on beer EVER put out by the Smithsonian Magazine. In a very well-written article about the history of beer, true experts in the history of beer discuss some amazing facts about this tasty beverage.
Knowing a little beer history is great, but brand-new bartenders should also have a general knowledge of what types of beer are in demand these days. It all comes down to what the customer wants. You can learn more about what bartenders should know about beer here.
Let’s look at a little beer history as well as some fun facts.
Who Invented Beer?
Wheat, rice, and barley were around 12,000 years ago, and many experts believe that it was only natural that the fermenting of these grains happened around this time. Hunter-gatherers most likely stumbled upon the fermentation process and the rest is history.
As with most historical events, there’s a lot of speculation here – guesswork at best. However, we do know that around 9000 years ago the Chinese were making beverages from honey, fruit, and rice – and most likely fermenting this concoction.
So, who, exactly, invented beer? It’s really not all that clear, and many point to the Middle East around five or six thousand years ago. The Sumerians of ancient Mesopotamia were likely making beer from barley thousands of years ago.
Around 1850, the first beer bottle was sold. This seems a bit strange to me, as bottles were certainly around long before this. Before bottles, it was common for beer consumers to go to the local tavern and simply fill their own buckets with beer. Nice.
There seems to have been a problem with beer fermenting in the bottle – thus causing minor CO2 explosions when opening them. That’s not good. Either way, they finally perfected the process, started slapping labels on them, and selling commercially.
Beer cans are a different story. Unlike beer bottles, they have an ‘official’ birthday: January 24, 1935, when Kruger’s first sold beer in a can in Richmond, Virginia. However, a workable beer can version was actually invented a little over a year earlier – the manufacturers were simply waiting for a brewery to use their product.
For a more in-depth history of the beer can, the Brewery Collectibles Club of America put together a very nice article on Beer Can History for your reading pleasure.
Current Beer Consumption
According to America’s Beer Distributors, in 2018 202.2 million barrels of beer were sold by the U. S. Beer Industry. That’s 2.8 billion cases of beer!
America produces 82 percent of all beer consumed in the United States. The rest (18%), was imported from over 100 different countries (Source: TTB and U.S. Commerce, 2019).
Here’s a mind-blower: For every single person in the United States 21 years of age and older – they consumed 26.5 gallons of beer. (Source: NBWA Industry Affairs, 2019).
History of Beer and Advertising
Local taverns were probably advertising their own beer concoctions back in the day, in the 1600s and 1700s. These days, Guinness is known for its great television commercials, but they really got the ball rolling in the 1930s with paid advertisements in newspapers.
The popularity of television in the 1940s changed everything. The Hyde Brewery in St. Louis became the first beer distributor to advertise on television in 1947. In the 1950s these television ads really took off and they never looked back.
Beer has been linked to the first humans – just like bread. Once we humans settled down and put up roots, we started planting many different kinds of grain and making beer from it. Many times the fermented grain was made into cakes and eaten like bread.
The ancients drank their beer through cane straws because it was probably swimming around with water, chaff, and grain. Kind of a mess, but there was a natural fermenting process. Healthy and nutritious with an added punch.
Beer Was Part of the Everyday Diet
Beer has been part of our everyday diet since way back when. The Sumerians and Egyptians were perfecting the brewing of beer way back in the fourth millennium B.C. The alcohol killed many of the impurities – thus keeping people more healthy.
Beer, and beer bread, was probably consumed on a daily basis. Because it stored well, grain could be made into bread or beer at any time of the year.
Women Were Expert Beer Brewing Artists
The Mesopotamians discovered malting somewhere around 2000 B.C. and started adding more alcohol to the concoction. Nice. It was considered a fine profession for both women and priests.
The Egyptians were very fond of their beer. They used many different kinds of grain in their brewing process and used the concoctions for medical and religious purposes. Again, women were heavily involved in the process.
Beer brewing was a noble profession back then, and well-to-do women considered beer brewing as an art. Many religious ceremonies also featured beer.
Beer and the Monks
Monks and their beer. They just loved it and became well-known master brewers – not just for themselves, but for the surrounding countryside as well. Medieval times in Europe were tough, and the Monks made some extra cash brewing their own beer.
Another interesting fact about these Medieval times is that the local drinking water was usually contaminated. The beer-brewing process filtered out, or killed, nasty bacteria and became a replacement for clean drinking water.
Final Thoughts About Beer
Beer has been around for a long time. Brand-new bartenders need not know the entire history of beer-making, but a general knowledge will help. Beer knowledge is important in the bartending profession, but don’t get caught up trying to learn everything there is to know about beer.
Concentrate on the most popular brands in your area. Whether it’s bottle or draft beer, find out the exact types of beer that your prospective employer serves. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to know this BEFORE even going in for the interview.
Related Bartending Topics
How long as wine been around? A very long time. I wrote an article about the history of wine not too long ago. Check that out for a good introduction to this popular alcoholic drink. There are so many wineries these days, it seems that everyone is making their own. In almost every country.
Is it legal for bars to make their own beer on-site? Yes, it is in many cases. However, there are many rules and regulations governing this. Obviously, if you’re applying or working at a bar that makes their own beer – they probably have a license to do this.