Beer 101: The history of beer


Over the last decade, craft beer culture has exploded. There are now more than 1600 breweries operating in the US alone, a number that continues to grow year after year. Beer 101 is a guide to understanding the history of brewing, beer culture, and (my favorite part) the enjoyment of good beer.

Part 1 – History of Beer

As my first post in what will become a five part series about the science and art of beer, it seems appropriate to start with a little history. To consider yourself a scholar of any art, you have to know its roots and, with a history that spans several millenia and nearly every continent on the globe, there’s plenty to know about beer. I don’t pretend to know it all, but I can give you what I consider a ‘bartender’s history,’ basically enough that you should be able to chat up any local beer geek or the guy behind the bar at your favorite brewpub.

Though the numbers vary, most people agree that beer was first brewed sometime between 8,000 and 12,000 years ago. That’s a huge window, but there really isn’t a way to know exactly how long ago man first put yeast to malt and invited a few friends over to dream up the wheel. It suffices to say that beer is old and widespread and comes in all sorts of forms thanks to the cultures that brewed it and the different ways people have enjoyed it over the years.

As we know it today, beer is brewed with four main ingredients: water, yeast, hops, and some sort of grain. That formula holds true just about as far back as we can look, though hops are a fairly recent addition. Hops serve as a bittering agent in beer and so can be substituted with all sorts of crazy herbs. Ever heard of Bog Myrtle? The point is, beer is shaped by culture and geography and always has been. The grains used in beers around the world used to be directly related to what the landscape could sustain. Without modern agrarian technology, people couldn’t just grow barley where they pleased, despite its hardy disposition. Oats and rye thrive up North, while hops remain among the more fickle plants used to brew. If you traveled the world around 500 CE, you’d be hard pressed to find two beers that tasted even remotely alike.

Enough of this wishy-washy fablery, though. Let’s get down to specifics. Some time in the years 800-900 CE the world saw the first use of hops as a bittering agent, though it wouldn’t become widespread until the year 1500. That’s also about the time we started to see serious legislative efforts (Hammurabi’s Code aside) aimed at improving the quality of the world’s favorite libation. In 1516, Wilhelm IV and his Bavarian pals enacted the now infamous Reinheitsgebot, the standard of purity for all beer.

Fast forward a couple hundred years and the industrial revolution gives way to standardized brewing practices, giving brewers the ability to mass produce a consistent product. At the same time, 1842 to be precise, Czech brewers find a way to filter the pale lager they’d been brewing in the town of Pilsen (Plze). Thus, the Pilsner was born and would start making its way around the world. Across the pond, American breweries were sprouting up everywhere.

The boom peaked in 1873 with 4,131 breweries operating in the US. Most were short-lived. Thanks to refrigeration technology in railcars, regional brewers were able to expand rapidly, pushing their way onto the national scene. American drinkers flocked to the big name brands and their big, consistent products. By 1919, the year Prohibition began, there were just over 1500 breweries left. When the law was repealed in 1933 fewer than half that number would reopen their doors, and many of those that did failed shortly after. The American brewing scene grew ever dimmer. World War I suppressed German culture in the states to the point that many German-style beers disappeared. The invention of the beer can in 1934 gave big brewers a firmer grip on the American public and by 1980 there were fewer than 100 operating breweries in the United States.

A young enthusiast named Fritz Maytag had seen his local brewery, Anchor Brewing, struggle to make ends meet. He had purchased a majority of the company in 1965, but it still struggled. He became the sole owner in 1969 and two years later, started bottling Anchor Steam. Over the next three years, Maytag would lead Anchor to produce four additional varieties of beer, including its annual Christmas Ale. No one was calling it ‘micro-brewing’ but it was clear, at least in San Francisco, that a brewing revolution was on its way.

The 80’s and 90’s brought about a new boom in brewery openings. A lot of businessmen saw potential in the industry, opening new brewhouses and quickly thereafter closing them, leaving behind a glut of equipment and space for the enthusiasts that would start some of the craft breweries we know and love today. In 2009, the number of operating American breweries was the highest it had been in 100 years, as high as it had been just before Prohibition.

Check back next week for part two in our series on beer, Beer 101: A Crash Course in Zythology, when I’ll cover the brewing process as we know it today. In the meantime, be sure to check out our ‘iLoveBeer: Zythology App Tailgating Giveaway‘ for a chance to win tailgating gear like a new grill, an iPod speaker system, or party-to-go cooler.


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A-B InBev releases iLoveBeer iPhone app for free

A-B InBev is straddling the fence in the current beer market. Anheuser-Busch has long been the dominant American brewer in the domestic market, but when it joined the InBev group, the Budweisers were suddenly in the same family with traditionally highbrow beers like Leffe, Stella Artois, and Boddingtons. Even though your average beer geek will start wailing and gnashing his teeth at the mere mention of Anheuser-Busch or any of its products, most of America still drinks domestic, lager-style beer.

In order to help its customers branch out a bit, A-B InBev put together a free iPhone app called iLoveBeer (iTunes Link). The app is supposed to promote zythology, the study and appreciation of beer, by helping consumers find new beers to try, offering meal pairings, and providing detailed descriptions of proper pouring procedure for several of the brands. While none of these features – with the exception of the pouring instructions – are particularly detailed, I think getting these ideas into the hands of American consumers can only help improve the national beer experience. Most beer drinkers still think their decision is simply between Bud or Bud Light and MGD or Miller Lite. iLoveBeer aims to put more options in front of the consumer and to remind people that beer can provide a sophisticated dining experience that would turn up the noses of the wine snobs in our lives. Also, who’s to say that the guy who tries a Michelob Porter won’t love the style and start to branch out and try a Fuller’s London Porter or a Bell’s Expedition Stout.

Though iLoveBeer is simple, I think A-B InBev is doing both a smart thing and a good thing for the consumer market with the app. It raises awareness of the wide selection of InBev beers and encourages beer drinkers to branch out. What so evil about that?


Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton invade Oktoberfest

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Oktoberfest is one of the great parties that every guy should experience. Huge beers and drunken ladies showing off their cleavage in authentic Bavarian costumes come to mind. Oktoberfest is a two-week festival held each year in Munich during late September and early October. With six million people attending every year, it’s the world largest fair and one of the most famous events in the world.

This year, Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton jetted out to Munich to join in the fun. Naturally, they put on the appropriate costumes to show off their assets. We collected some great photos from this year’s party, including the two celebs along with some of the local ladies as well

It’s not too late to get out there and join in the fun, so go ahead and grab your own Oktoberfest tickets.



New food/drink product roundup

It sure is nice when companies send samples of new food and drink products to review! Here are a few more we tried recently:

Unwind (TM) Low Calorie Relaxation Beverage–This is the opposite of Red Bull. In fact, it’s the polar opposite of those high caffeine drinks. Unwind contains a natural blend of melatonin, valerian root, rose hips and passion flower, and comes in Goji Grape, Pom Berry and Citrus Orange flavors. I tried them all, but not all at the same time. Let me tell you, this stuff works. I would advise that you drink it in the evening or before bed, because it relaxed me to the point of making me extremely sleepy. Not only that, this stuff, despite being low in calories, is delicious. The citrus is a tad bitter but the grape and berry flavors are awesome. Now I need to find more of it. If you’d like to, check out the Unwind website. Happy relaxing!

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Here’s a new iced tea idea for your summer BBQ

This week’s Happy Hour cocktail is for all you iced tea fans out there. Spice it up a bit by adding some SKYY Infusions, like this cool recipe we got from the kind folks at SKYY Vodka.

SKYY Summer Palmer
Kathy Casey, Kathy Casey Food Studios

1.5 oz. SKYY Infusions Citrus
0.25 oz. Triple Sec
1 oz. Sweetened Iced Tea
0.5 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice

Combine SKYY Infusions Citrus, triple sec, unsweetened iced tea, lemon juice and ice into a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously and strain into a martini glass with sugar rim as garnish.

If you’re hosting a barbecue, it’s always fun to offer more than just beer in a cooler. Put out a drink cart with some flavored vodkas and plenty of mixers and your guests will have a great time.


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