Thursday, December 10, 2009

Great (and Terrible) Moments in Beer History!

4000 BCE (approx) – Some anthropologists have argued that barley was first cultivated in Mesopotamia not for eating, but rather for brewing; in the case of Sumeria, about half their grain went towards getting tanked. The literature from the period often suggests that brewing was one of the necessary skills needed to be considered a “civilization” by Sumerian peoples. Evidence of brewing beer is discovered on Sumerian tablets dating from around the third millennium BCE. In one such stone tablet, lines such as “you are the one who spreads roasted malt on a large mat to cool” refer to the production of one the earliest forms of beer, now known as ‘Ninkasi Beer’ as it was consumed in honour of the goddess Ninkasi. After centuries of being conquered by various tribes (Babylonians, Assyrians), brewing traditions survived, partly in thanks to Nebuchadnezzar, whom posterity should record as one of the biggest fans of beer.

Pictured: One Beer Lovin' Mo-fo.
In more recent times, American craft brewers, like Dog Fish Head (Delaware) and Anchor Steam (California) have attempted to recreate the ancient Sumerian style. which I'm sure totally doesn't taste like cow manure.

2200 BCE (approx) – Ancient Egyptians were also prolific brewers, which coincided with their impressive abilities to produce bread. Indeed, according to legend, brewing beer is credited with saving the Egyptian people from the wrath of the goddess Sekhmet; by giving her vats of red beer, the goddess ceased her violent attacks and stumbled home, much like was done for George Wendt on the set of Cheers. Beer was an integral part of Egyptian society: one inscription from 2200 BCE proclaims that “the mouth of a perfectly contented man is filled with beer.” True dat. According to anthropological and archaeological studies, the ancient Egyptians were able to produce at least seven different varieties of beer, which is at least six more than Steam Whistle.

800 BCE – The first evidence of brewing in Central Europe, an earthenware pot that contains remnants of wheat ale, dates back to approximately the 9th century BCE. The pot was discovered in southern Germany in 1935.

1040 – The monastery of Weihenstephan in Freising, Germany, is granted an official licence to produce beer, making Weihenstephan the first officially recognized (and oldest continually-operating) brewery in modern Europe.

23 April 1516 – In order to ensure that there was enough wheat available for bread making, Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria enacts the Reinheitsgebot, or “Beer Purity Law”, which restricted the ingredients for lager brewing to barley, hops and water. The law essentially prohibits using any other cereal grain than barley in your beer, while also preventing brewers from adding preservatives, spices and other filler ingredients. Ale was given an exception, hence why wheat beers like Erdinger can rightfully claim that they follow the 1516 regulations. The Reinheitsgebot had a profound effect on German, and other European nations’ brewing practices by standardizing ingredients and discouraging the use of additives. While it is not enforceable today (the EU has its own complex brewing laws), many brewers continue to uphold the law, and advertise as such.

1620 – Pilgrims land on Plymouth Rock, which was not their intended destination. Why? They ran out of beer. Really! Look it up!

31 December 1759 – Arthur Guinness (who I believe was a toucan of some sort) leases the St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin to be used as the main production site for his world famous dry stout.

Pictured: Arthur Guinness

5 October 1842 – At his brewery in Plzen, Bohemia, Josef Groll produces the world’s first batch of “pilsner”, a cleaner, crisper variation of the lager style that has evolved to become the world’s most popular style of beer.

28 October 1919 – On one of the darkest days in brewing history, the Volstead Act, which clarified the definition of “intoxicating liquors” (anything over 0.5%) in the Eighteenth Amendment, is passed by the United States Congress, thus overriding a veto from President Wilson. The Act prohibited the production, selling, and transportation of these alcoholic beverages in the United States, and allowed local authorities to enforce the law and punish offenders. Alcohol was now outlawed within the United States, thus beginning the era now known as “Prohibition.” Just like the lawmakers predicted, Americans never drank again. I mean, come on – it was against the law...right?

1927 – Ontario passes the Liquor Control Act, thus effectively repealing a decade-old prohibition in the province. Prohibition in Ontario was nowhere near as strict as in the United States; wine was exempt from the law, and breweries could still produce beer for export. As a compromise with temperance folks, the government established the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, to provide a more regulated means to sell alcoholic beverages.

5 December 1933 – After witnessing a decade of rampant crime and bootlegging (thus paving the way for a terrific film starring Kevin Costner and Sean Connery), lawmakers in the United States realized that Prohibition was not working. In Utah (of all places), the Twenty-First Amendment was ratified on this date, thus providing enough state consensus to pass the Amendment. Alcoholic beverages could now be freely produced, shipped and consumed in the United States, but individual states could choose to continue prohibition as they saw fit. As President FDR famously declared: “I think this would be a good time for a beer.” Amen, brother.

1973 – In an unprovoked attack on the good forces of “flavour”, Miller Lite becomes the first brand of light beer to be rigorously promoted across the United States. By the early 1990s, light beer becomes the best-selling beer style in the United States (but not Canada!).

14 October 1978 – Thus solidifying his reputation as the greatest and most illustrious of all United States Presidents, Jimmy Carter ratified H.R. 1337 (not 'leet', you Xbox Online idiots), which legalized home brewing and exempted it from taxation. Thanks to a mistake in the

Pictured: Jimmy Carter.

Twenty-First Amendment, only wine could be produced at home or in small batches (they actually forgot to write the words “...and beer”). Once the law came into effect in February of 1979, Americans could begin experimenting with brewing techniques in their own home, thus initiating the craft- and micro-brewing revolution. There are now over 1300 recognized craft brewers in the United States, which are producing world-class brews in a variety of unique styles. Canadians were allowed to produce beer in their homes (without asking permission from the government – how Canadian is that?) in 1985, and a similar revolution followed suit.

1984 – Most major Canadian brewers abandon the “stubby” bottle in favour of the American, long-necked style. Despite a national outcry, Canadians soon got over it and drank their damned beer. Every once in a while, individual breweries (at their own expense) produce a nostalgic brew in the stubby bottle (Brick’s Red Cap being a good local example), but the adoption of the long-necked bottle is nearly total across Canada.

18 December 1984 – Brick Brewing Company of Waterloo produces its first kegs of beer, making it Ontario’s first craft brewery. The brewery has struggled of late, ever since they sued their own founder and later got sued (twice) by Labatt over their Red Baron and Red Baron with Lime branding. That, and most of their beers are mediocre at best. Just sayin'.

June 1995 – Labatt, Canada’s largest brewery, is bought by Interbrew, now InBev, the world’s largest brewing megacompany. In addition to Labatt, InBev also produces Stella Artois, Keith’s, Becks, Budweiser, Hoegaarden, Michelob, and over 200 others. Labatt's taste is not affected.

November 2009 – Matt’s Beer Den is launched. And there was much rejoicing.


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