On the occasion of International Beer Day, celebrated on the first Friday of August, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY trace the journey of beer in a lager than life story
After water and tea, beer is the third most popular drink in the world. Such was its value in the ancient world that it was part of the daily wages of the workers who built the pyramids in Egypt! Before learning to make bread, prehistoric nomads used grain and water to make beer – it’s almost as if man had learnt to drink before he learnt to eat. Speaking of priorities, if the world was coming to an end and you were reprimanded for stowing away a few cases of beer, tell them that Noah’s provisions on the Ark included beer.
Besides being the most widely consumed alcoholic beverage in the world, beer is also the oldest, with a history of nearly 12,000 years. It dates back to the early Neolithic Age or 9500 BC, when cereal was first farmed. As hunter-gatherer tribes settled into agrarian civilizations based around staple crops like wheat, rice, barley and maize, they stumbled upon the process of fermentation and thus started brewing beer. According to anthropologists, beer was the driving force that led nomadic mankind into village life…It was his appetite for beer-making that led to crop cultivation, permanent settlement and agriculture.
Though the earliest known alcoholic beverage is a 9,000-year-old Chinese brew of rice, honey and fruit, the first barley beer was born in the Middle East and is recorded in the written history of ancient Iraq and Egypt. In Mesopotamia, the oldest evidence of beer is a 6,000-year-old Sumerian tablet depicting people drinking a beverage through reed straws from a communal bowl.
The early beer was cloudy and unfiltered and was usually drunk with a straw to strain the bitter solids from the brew. As early as 3000 BC, the Babylonians had nearly 20 different types of beer. They were so finicky about the quality of beer that if someone brewed a bad batch, he would be drowned in it as punishment!
Some of humanity’s earliest known writings refer to the production and distribution of beer. The Code of Hammurabi included laws regulating beer and beer parlours. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the ale-wife Siduri dispenses this ancient advice to Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk – ‘Fill your belly. Day and night make merry’. Early Sumerian writings contain numerous references to beer; including The Hymn to Ninkasi.
“Ninkasi, you are the one who bakes the bappir (barley bread) in the big oven, Puts in order the piles of hulled grains, You are the one who waters the malt set on the ground…You are the one who holds with both hands the great sweet wort… Ninkasi, you are the one who pours out the filtered beer of the collector vat, It is like the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates.” At a time when literacy was limited to the privileged, the prayer to the beer goddess doubled up as a method of remembering the recipe for the common folk! It also gives us a deep insight that in olden times the ‘brewsters’ were mostly women.
The Finnish epic Kalevala, based on centuries old oral traditions, devotes more lines to the origin of beer and brewing than it does to the origin of mankind. Beer was spread through Europe by Germanic and Celtic tribes in 3000 BC, when it was brewed on a domestic scale. By 7th century AD, beer was being produced and sold by European monasteries. The early European beers contained fruits, honey, plants, spices and narcotic herbs like hemp and poppy. Hops were a later addition, first mentioned in Europe around 822 by a Carolingian Abbot and in 1067 by Abbess Hildegard of Bingen.
From 1000 AD, beer began to be bittered with wild herbs such as bog myrtle, lemon balm, borage, St John’s wort or elderberries. Hops were added to beer to reduce the putrefaction caused by micro organisms. The 12th century Old Icelandic poem Alvíssmál says, “Ale it is called among men, but among the gods, beer.”
The practice slowly spread across Europe and reached Britain by the middle of the 15th century. The British drinking song ‘Beer, Beer Beer’ gives an apocryphal origin – ‘A long time ago, way back in history, When all there was to drink was nothin’ but cups of tea, Along came a man by the name of Charlie Mopps, And he invented the wonderful drink, and he made it out of hops.’
The popularity of the English pubs, alehouses and taverns in the 17th century gave rise to a popular phrase. Keeping a watch on the alcohol consumption of patrons was always a big problem for bartenders, who would sometimes scribble ‘p’ or ‘q’ on the tally slate to indicate the pints and quarts consumed. As a reminder, the bartender would recommend his patrons that they ‘mind their Ps and Qs’ in all honesty. Today, the bartending term implies to mind one’s manners.
One reason for the beer’s universal popularity in the medieval age was the poor quality of drinking water – rivers and canals were often contaminated by animal or human waste and beer seemed a safer alternative to drinking water. In the Middle Ages, the largest brewers were the monasteries. Besides generating a large revenue, beer was a refreshing break from the austere lifestyle and could be enjoyed even while fasting. In some monasteries, it was permissible to have as much as five litres a day.
Not surprisingly, it led to quite a few tipsy clerics. Legend has it, Alpirsbach in Germany was so named when a glass of beer slipped from the hand of an inebriated monk and rolled into the river, causing him to exclaim, ‘All Bier ist in den Bach’ (All the beer is in the stream)! Even today, Alpirsbacher Klosterbräu is brewed from pure spring water. The oldest monastic brewery Klosterschenke Weltenburg has been brewing its delicious dark beer since 1050. With over 1200 breweries scattered between Bremen to Munich, Germany is easily a place of pilgrimage for beer lovers with Munich’s Hofbräuhaus in Bavaria the most famous beer hall.
In 1516, William IV, Duke of Bavaria, adopted the Reinheitsgebot (purity law), perhaps the oldest food-quality regulation still in use today, where the only allowed ingredients of beer are water, hops and barley-malt. Prior to the late 18th century, malt was primarily dried over fires made from wood, charcoal or straw, and in 1642, from coke. Beers made from malt roasted with coke is called ‘pale ale’ though the term wasn’t used until 1703. Thus early beers had a smoky flavour and brewers constantly tried to minimize it.
With the invention of the steam engine in 1765 and the onset of the Industrial Revolution, beer moved from artisanal and domestic manufacture to large scale production. Technological advancements of the 19th century brought about great advancements in the beer making process. The development of hydrometers and thermometers allowed the brewer more control of the process and greater knowledge of the results.
In 1817 Daniel Wheeler invented the drum roaster which led to the creation of dark, roasted malts, contributing to the rise of porters and stouts. Porter, a darker version of beer, was invented in England while stout is a more full-bodied or stouter version of porter. The discovery of yeast’s role in fermentation by Louis Pasteur gave brewers methods to prevent the souring of beer caused by undesirable microorganisms. In 1864, he also developed pasteurization to stabilize beers – 22 years before the process was applied to milk!
In the nineteenth century, beers from the Bow Brewery in England were exported to India by sea. By the time the pale ale reached Indian shores after a long sea voyage, the beer would get spoilt. In order to prolong its shelf life, brewers added more hops (a natural preservative), and the India Pale Ale or IPA was born – a refreshing bitter brew for the tropical climate.
It was another accident that gave the world its number one stout – Guinness. At the St James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin, the Irish ground barley was overheated, resulting in the trademarked ‘Black Stuff’. And the rest was history. Today, the Guinness Storehouse is Ireland’s most popular tourist attraction. Visitors begin their journey at the bottom of the world’s largest pint glass (the hollow of the building is shaped like one), continuing up through seven floors filled with interactive experiences.
See the Director’s Safe with a sample of the original starter yeast, check out Arthur Guinness’ 9000-year-old lease for the brewery site, learn to pour the perfect pint and drink using the five senses. At the top, have a pint in the rooftop Gravity Bar for higher education of a different kind. Beer enthusiasts often say that the Guinness in Dublin tastes better than anywhere else. This is largely due to the hard mineral-rich spring water from the Wicklow Mountains favourable for stout.
Regions have water with different mineral components better suited to making certain types of beer, thus giving them a regional character. Pilsen has soft water well suited to making pale lager, such as Pilsner Urquell while the waters of Burton in England contain gypsum, which is ideal for pale ale. The process of adding gypsum to water by some brewers is called Burtonisation! Recently, the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz in Switzerland’s most famous spa town had brewed a special beer called Quell 36.5 made from the healing thermal waters of the Tamina River!
Singapore’s iconic beer brand Tiger runs an excellent Brewery Tour as well. In a 45-minute guided tour, unravel 80 years of brewing history at the Visitor center as you challenge yourself with a specially created multimedia brewing game, a tour of the brew house and learn to tap your own beer in the packaging gallery. A 45-minute beer appreciation session follows as you sample the range of brews at the Tiger Tavern.
Beer forms part of the pub culture of beer-drinking nations such as Germany, Belgium, UK and the US, and led to the evolution of activities like pub crawling, pub games, drinking songs and beer festivals. In 1810, Munich established Oktoberfest as an official celebration. Held between mid-September and the first Sunday in October, the 16-day event draws over six million visitors and nearly 5 million litres of beer are consumed! A special dark, strong beer called Wies’nbier is brewed specially for the occasion. The Bier & Oktoberfest Museum in Munich, housed in a 14th-century timber-framed building, enshrines all the Oktoberfest regalia from earlier editions.
In the 1830’s Bavarians Gabriel Sedlmayr of Munich and Anton Dreher of Vienna developed the lager method of beer production. And as German immigrants moved to the US the 1850’s, brewers introduced cold maturation lagers, giving rise to brands like Anheuser-Busch, Miller, Coors, Stroh, Schlitz and Pabst. However, modern brewing took off in the late 1800’s due to critical factors like commercial refrigeration, automatic bottling, pasteurization and railroad distribution. In the 1870’s Adolphus Busch employed double-walled railcars and a network of icehouses to make Budweiser the first national brand.
Today, the US is leading the way in the latest global trend of craft beer. A microbrewery or craft brewery is usually independently owned and produces small amounts of beer, characterized by their emphasis on quality, flavour and brewing technique. In Bengaluru, a city that has long loved its draught beer and wears the crown of India’s ‘Pub Capital’, craft beer has taken off with brewers boldly using Indian flavours. Till a few years ago, words like basmati, banana, clove and coriander would have seemed out of place in a brewery; not any more.
When the American craft brewery from Ann Arbor, Michigan, came to India in 2012, it introduced signature varieties like Sacred Cow IPA, Brasserie Blonde, ChaiPA, Garam Masala Pale Ale and the malty Belgian tripel. Windmills Craftworks in Whitefield, known for their excellent beer and American diner fare in a jazz theatre setting with book-lined walls offer great Stout, Helles, Hefeweizen (German wheat beer), Golden Ale and IPA. With equipment and a brewmaster imported from the US, they stick to the international nomenclature. And if you haven’t made up your mind yet, start with a tasting set of six.
The spirit of experimentation goes on at Toit where patrons can imbibe coffee and chocolate ‘Dark Knight’ stout, Basmati Blonde – described as a ‘love child of India’s Basmati Rice and German Pilsner malt’, besides special ales infused with chilli, passion fruit or millet and jaggery. Be it Porter at Barleyz or Apple Cider at Prost, Wheat at Vapor or Stout at The Biere Club, craft beer lovers are spoilt for choice.
With aficionados loving the complexities of craft beer over regular bottled beer, the trend has established strong roots in cities like Mumbai, Gurgaon, Chandigarh and Pune. Here, in Bengaluru, love for the amber fluid is quite strong. If you throw a stone, chances are you’ll either hit an app developer or a microbrewery.
Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared as the Cover Story on 31 July, 2016 in Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper.