Beer-brewing methods in ancient Egypt are reasonably well known, thanks to the wall paintings of private tombs dating back to the 5th millennium B.C.E. The beer that was produced was strong and identical to buza, still brewed in the same way in Sudan and parts of Egypt. Egyptian texts speak of sweet beer, red beer, and black beer. Just like modern Americans, the ancient Egyptians demanded variety and brewed different beers to suit different palates.
The love of beer spread from Egypt to Greece and eventually to Rome. The Greeks and the Romans, however, preferred wine to beer. They failed to appreciate the finer qualities of what the Greeks called zythosand gives us the English word zythophile meaning lover of beer. The Romans adopted the Celtic word for beer, cervisia, which lives on in the Spanish cervezaand the Portuguese cerveja.
In the 6th century C.E. the Germanic monks in Europe most likely borrowed the Latin word biber meaning “drink” and gave us the Old English word beormeaning “strong drink” which evolved into the German word bier and the English beer that we love. The middle ages saw the supremacy of wine being challenged in central and northern Europe by cider, mead, and of course beer.
Like the feudal manors around them, medieval monasteries were virtually self-sufficient. They grew their own grain, raised their own meat, baked their own bread, and brewed their own beer. Initially run by men with the impulse to escape the world, life in a monastery was harsh and simple. Food and drink should sustain life, not harm it. Strong beers were brewed to sustain the monks through the Lenten fast and the endless hours of prayer. Drunkenness was forbidden and the monk who spilled beer had to stand upright and still for an entire night.
In 1447, the Munich city council issued an ordinance demanding that all brewers use only barley, hops and water for their beers. This was the forerunner of what was to become, half a century later, the famous Bavarian beer purity law, the Reinheitsgebot. The Reinheitsgebot was issued on April 23, 1516. TheReinheitsgebot is the oldest, still valid food quality law in Germany. The Germans’ love affair with beer is far from over. German breweries still produce a staggering 100 million barrels a year and each German still drinks about 37 gallons of beer each year. By comparison, Americans manage to down about 22 gallons a year.
Although beer has been brewed in America since Adrian Block & Hans Christiansen established the first New World brewery on the southern tip of New Amsterdam in 1612, the mass emigration of Germans in 1848 really got the American beer industry rolling. It was at this time that some of the most well-known names in American beer got their start. August Krug founded the Schlitz Brewery in 1849, George Schneider started Anheuser-Busch in 1852, and the Miller Brewing Company was founded in 1855 by Frederick Miller.
The American beer industry today is richer and more diverse than ever before. The number of operating breweries in the U.S. in 2013 totaled 2,822, with 2,768 of those being craft, demonstrating that craft breweries make up 98 percent of all U.S. operating breweries. The demand for high-quality, local, fuller-flavored beers is only increasing. In towns all across the country, craft brewers are creating jobs, delivering innovative products, advancing the beverage of beer and strengthening their local economies. This proves once and for all that beer truly is love.