8 surprising things you didn't know about beer

Countless cultural and technological accomplishments may not have transpired if it weren't for beer.
Countless cultural and technological accomplishments may not have transpired if it weren't for beer.  

Beer is finally having its time in the sun. The generic lager culture of bygone years has been swept up by a market of passionate consumers keen for knowledge and new experiences. But what do we really know about the world's most widely consumed alcoholic beverage. Here are eight surprising things you probably didn't know about beer.

Women were the major players in beer production throughout history

In stark contrast to today's male dominated beer industry, women ran the show in the past. The first documentation of women's involvement in beer production dates back four thousand years, to Mesopotamia. Brewsters (the title given to women who brew ale) enjoyed tremendous respect in Sumerian society, serving the illustrious goddess of beer, Ninkasi. In some periods throughout ancient Egyptian history, there were even laws in place, banning men from selling or making beer. 

Beer's role in providing essential sustenance meant consumption was an essential part of daily life for men, women and children throughout history. The importance of beer in the household was paramount and brewing was part of domestic life. It wasn't until beer's industrialisation that men began to take over.

On the bright side, the craft beer revolution is seeing history come full circle, with brewsters again taking the helm at respected breweries around the world.

Beer, civilisation and the agricultural revolution

The rise of agriculture changed the course of human history. It was originally believed that food production inspired our Neolithic ancestors to move away from a nomadic way of life, instead setting up camp to grow crops. But recent archaeological research suggests otherwise. It turns out that both the tools and types of grain unearthed at ancient sites have more in common with those used for beer production, giving rise to the "beer before bread" theory. These findings imply that civilisation as we know it, including the invention of the wheel, the plough, irrigation and basic commerce, may have been fuelled by man's quest for a cold one. Cheers to that.

Is wine healthier than beer?

The beer belly myth has been perpetuated by the stigma of binge drinking in beer culture. With the rise of craft beer, and a move towards quality over quantity, it's time to think again.

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The simple fact is that both wine and beer contain a combination of alcohol and sugar calories. It all depends on alcoholic strength and residual sugar. The efficiency of different yeast strains to covert sugar into alcohol has a major influence on the total amount of sugar needed to reach certain alcoholic strengths. Some lazy yeasts ferment only around 70 per cent of available sugars, leaving plenty of sweetness and extra calories in the finished beverage. Highly attenuated yeasts, however, can hit numbers well over the 90 per cent range, resulting in a refreshing beverage with little-to-no residual sugar. The fact of the matter is 330ml of dry, full strength saison will set you back less than 130 calories, while 175ml of standard strength wine weighs in at 185 calories. You can do the math.

The first recorded beer recipe is 3900 year old

Beer has been around for a very, very long time. The oldest surviving barley based beer recipe comes from Mesopotamia (ancient Iraq). A Sumerian poem honouring Ninkasi, the goddess of beer, describes a fermented beverage made from bread, honey fruit and botanicals. Some modern American breweries have tried their hand at replicating the mysterious brew to considerable success. By all accounts, it's delicious, and what other chance does one have to literally sample history.

Beer built the pyramids

Yep, that's right. Beer was both sustenance and salary for the workers of ancient Egypt.  Each worker was paid 1 gallon (3.7L) of beer a day, which sounds like a lot considering there was work to be done. But, the beer of the time was about 3 per cent alcohol with plenty of vitamins and minerals to keep the workers going.

It took 875,999,996 litres of beer to build the pyramids of Giza.

Beer was a life saver

Beer was safer than water at many points throughout history, particularly in medieval Europe through the onslaught of the bubonic plague. At the time, people were unaware that the mere boiling of water killed bacteria. Thankfully, brewers had been boiling beer to harness the flavour benefits of hops and other aromatics. A Belgian monk named Arnold famously persuaded people to drink beer in place of water, putting an end to the plague that had devastated the local area. He became, Saint Arnold, the patron Saint of beer, and spent his holy life warning people of the dangers of water.

From ancient antibiotics to modern medicine

It turns out that beer beat modern medicine by 3000 years. High levels of Tetracyclines, a family of antibiotics discovered by Benjamin Minge Duggar in 1945, were recently found in ancient Egyptians bone samples. Bewildered, scientists began recreating and testing items of everyday consumption in ancient Egyptian society. Their conclusion – beer brought home the goods once again.

But beer's influence in the field of health and medicine doesn't stop there. Contrary to common assumption, Louis Pasteur was in fact studying beer spoilage, not milk, when he discovered bacteria, giving birth to germ theory. So, it turns out we have beer to thank for the development of pasteurisation, lifesaving vaccines and improved general hygiene awareness in the health and food industries.

Beer fuelled the development of modern refrigeration

German immigrants introduced Americans to the lagers of their homeland in the 1840s. The widespread popularity of this new, crisp style spelt certain success in a thirsty market. Unfortunately, cooler fermentation temperatures meant that American breweries were only able to produce lager beers in the winter months. Well, this just wouldn't do. Scientist and entrepreneur Carl von Linde developed the first ammonia refrigeration system in 1876, which became the foundation for the commercial systems that would enable breweries to produce lager all year round.

So, the next time you crack a cold one with friends, take some time to toast Ninkasi, the goddess of beer, the brewsters who nourished society, Saint Arnold and his war against water, and the countless cultural and technological accomplishments that may not have transpired if it weren't for beer. Cheers!

To discover more about beer's incredible versatility head to beerthebeautifultruth.com.

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