Who put ale in the pail?
February 11, 2014
Time changes everything. The earth evolves and humans improve on previous generations' achievements.
The same is true for beer. The first beer was most definitively made as a complete mistake. Hunters and gatherers used clay vessels to store grain.
Somewhere along the line, some kid forgot to do his chores and left the grain outside. (Some things never change.) Lucky for us, it rained that night, sprouting the grain and creating the ideal conditions for fermentation.
The farmer, mad at his child, abandons the grain outside for a few days before he can stand to toss out his hard-earned sustenance. Upon reaching the jar, the farmer notices a tan layer of foam atop the wetted grain; he pulls the foam back to reveal a rich brown liquid.
Hmmm, the farmer quietly ponders. The curiosity that has aided humankind in all its creations takes over. He walks with the weight of all humanity on his shoulder to fetch a cup and dips it into the golden water.
Then ever so slowly, with rising sun creating the halo of a saint around the man's brow, he raises a worn earthen cup just half full to his lips. The earth shakes, volcanoes erupt, birds take to the air, angels sing, and elephants stampede.
Well, maybe not, but the man drank that nectar, and holy cow if it didn't stick around.
Some say it was the reason nomadic hunters and gatherers began to coalesce into stationary agriculturalists societies. The largest and most likely first of these early empires was the Sumerian society. This culture settled in Mesopotamia around 4500 B.C. and lasted till about 1750 B.C.
No one truly knows which came first, but first records of non-nomadic culture, beer and agriculture all pop up at the same time in the annals of our earliest known past, most of which are the clay tablets of Sumerian history.
Beer was so important in Sumer that they had their own god dedicated to beer — the almighty Ninkasi! Ancient hymns were sung in her honor. Born out of the clearest ancient water, her purpose was to satiate all desire and satisfy the souls of man through the magical beverage she would brew daily.
Remember that at this point, yeast has not been domesticated, and no one knew anything existed that they could not see with their eyes. Early brews all utilized wild yeasts, and the beer of each region would reflect that of the local airborne flora.
This is called spontaneous fermentation. In Norse cultures, each family had a brewing stick that had to be used in order for the mash to turn into beer. The stick, of course, was a nice little home for yeast.
In Belgium, spontaneous fermentation is still used to create the regions extremely unique lambics. American brewers call it wild fermentation, as not to upset the appellation d'origine controlee of Belgium's lambic brewers.
Dark, light, bitter, sweet or sour, beer is like life. We make mistakes. Some will ruin our life indefinitely. Some will make the world a better place for eternity and just because our kids don't listen to us it does not mean they are not onto something.
Sean Cox is the owner of Jernigan's Grill and Tap House. Learn more at http://www.jernigansgrill.com/.
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