During the Paleolithic Era, water was the basic drink for all humans. When travelling nomadic bands began to gather barley and wheat, they began to crush the grains and soak them in water, which was essentially soup. Over time, people began to add other ingredients such as fish, nuts, and berries, and the soup was heated over a fire. The grains were also reliable because they could be stored for long periods of time if kept dry and safe. These nomadic people discovered that if left soaking in water for long enough the grains would begin to sprout and taste sweet. They also discovered that when the soup/gruel was left sitting for a few days, the mixture of grains became fizzy and “pleasantly intoxicating.” This was the origin of beer. However, beer was not the first alcohol drink that was discovered. Wine and mead were also discovered before beer, from the fermentation of fruit and honey. But since fruit is seasonal and easily perishable, it was very limited. On the other hand, barley and wheat, cereal grains, were consistently abundant and easily stored, so beer was available in larger quantities that wine or mead.
Beer was considered to have magical properties during its time of discovery. Early people found that beer’s ability to intoxicate and place one in a state of altered consciousness to be magical. They were fascinated with the “magical properties of fermentation as well. Many cultures believed that beer was a gift from the gods and created myths based on this belief. For example, Egyptians believed that their god of agriculture, Osiris, had discovered it accidentally, and upon this discovery, shared it with the humans. Since beer was a gift from the gods, it became custom to use in for religious offerings. It was used during ceremonies, rites, and funerals as well. This religious use of beer was spread across the globe, enchanting the eyes of people in Eurasia, Africa, and even the Americas.
There are many controversies over the reason for the sudden change of lifestyle of nomadic people. It is possible that their food source diminished over time, either from climate change or the extinction of a species. Another possibility is that a more sedentary, but still somewhat nomadic life, increased the population which created a demand for a more reliable and abundant source of food. The sudden change may have also been because of beer. As beer became socially and religiously more important, there was a greater desire to ensure availability of cereal grains. Beer also aided the transition because of its nutrients. A shorter fermentation period was required during nomadic times because long-term storage was difficult. The shorter fermentation period meant that the protein and vitamin content was higher. This was helpful because it replaced some of the nutrients from meat as people began to consume fewer animals. In more ways than one, beer was very significant in the agricultural shift.
In Mesopotamian literature, such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, many passages depict how beer distinguished civilians from their once primitive ways. Also, Sumerian myths depict their gods who consume food and drink, most likely beer, and usually too much. This represents the lack of stability that existed in Mesopotamia. Beer also appears in prayers and legends across Mesopotamia. Carvings in Sumer show priests drinking beer from large pots through straws as well. In Egypt, the pyramids were inscribed with “Pyramid Texts”, and these texts mentioned beer more than any other food or drink. Beer is even given the role of the savior of mankind, according to an Egyptian tale. However, getting drunk was frowned upon, according to other Egyptian passages. Expressions were also created based on beer, such as “to sit in the beer hall”, which meant “to have a good time”. It was a staple drink, and all social classes were able to enjoy it.
In both Egypt and Sumer, beer and grains were used as a currency. For example, beer was used as a payment to the bride’s family from the groom’s family during a marriage. In Mesopotamia, messengers, soldiers, scribes, and policemen all received special “bonuses” during certain occasions in the form of beer as well. Mesopotamian citizens also received different amounts of beer based on their social class. Lowest class received 1 sila (approximately 1 liter) per day, while the highest class received 5 sila per day. The upper classes usually did not drink all of the beer, and used some of it as a currency instead. In Egypt, beer was a payment for the state employees who built the pyramids, along with a few loaves of bread. The standard ration for an Egyptian laborer was 4 loaves of bread and 4 silas of beer. Managers and officials received a higher ration. The Egyptian writing, hieroglyphics, used the combination of the beer and bread symbols to represent food and drink. “Bread and beer” was also used as a greeting. Egyptians also believed that the quality of life-after-death depended on the supply of beer and bread, which were used during funeral offerings, along with oxen, geese, cloth, and natron. Egyptians and Mesopotamians had their own unique perspective of the importance of beer, while also sharing some of the same beliefs.
Beer helped both Egypt and Sumer meet the criteria of a civilization. Beer was used in religious offerings to the gods, and during funeral rites, which is a major portion of the success of a civilization. It was also a huge intellectual achievement. Early humans figured out how to create different strengths and tastes of beer, and it also led to different forms of writing, where beer was most common in early writings. The books provides examples of how beer was used in the economy. It states that beer was used as a currency, and that most people received rations of beer. It was also the basis of an agrarian society, which was the main source of food. It was a major reason for the sudden change from nomadic lifestyle to an agrarian lifestyle. Lastly, beer was considered a social drink. Some of the traditions carry on into modern times. For example, the clinking of glasses is still a tradition that is carried on today. The amount of beer received was also based of social status. Higher classes received higher amounts of beer. Beer was clearly a major component in the creation of civilizations.
To this day, beer is considered a major social drink and a staple drink of laborers, even though it may not be used as payment anymore. Beer is also no longer used in the phrase, “bread and beer”, which was used as a greeting. Although, modern beer drinkers still toast to one another’s health before drinking. Beer has also remained unchanged as a friendly, social interaction. It is still considered a drink that is meant to be shared. But through its changes and continuities, beer has always remained a cheerful beverage to bring people together since the day of its discovery.