Thursday, September 8, 2011

Blue Lou's Top 10 Moments in Beer History

Stones of Göbekli Tepe

Readers will have noticed a significant slowdown in posts.  There are a number of reasons for that.  One, the summer is actually not when I generally end up at the Center for Wooden Boats, other than for the Festival.  It's hot, it's busy on the docks, and I'm generally doing something else (even if that's just trying to cool down on the deck with a Negra Modelo).  Two, most of my recent posts have been lengthy essays that take a while to research and write, my latest on Jay Bahadur's book being a prime example.  Three, I've been cut off from blogging at work, or at least "while working."  Distraction?  What distraction?  This limitation, however, has led to this post, because my new time killer at my desk has been catching up on National Geographic.  The June 2011 issue has a fascinating article, "The Birth of Religion," on the archaeological site of Göbekli Tepe in southern Turkey.  This site, radiocarbon dated to as early as 11,000 BC, is turning anthropological theory on its ear, because it is the earliest ceremonial structure yet unearthed and yet has no signs of agriculture.  This could mean that "religion" may have led to sedentarism, not vice versa.  It was these two sentences, however, that set my mind working:  "One imagines chanting and drumming, the animals on the great pillars seeming to move in the flickering torchlight.  Surely there were feasts; Schmidt [the chief archaeologist] has uncovered stone basins that could have been used for beer."  So was launched my self-education on the (pre-)history of the beverage tied with rum as my favorite.  I have condensed it down to the following, unapologetically subjective (and not really very condensed) Top Ten List.  Credit goes to Chris Rowley at Foaming Head for laying the groundwork.

Reconstructed beer jar of Godin Tepe

1.  ca. 8,500 BC:  Barley is domesticated.  Anthropologists call it the "Neolithic Revolution"--the first transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture and established villages.  This occurred in a variety of places at a variety of times, but one center was the "Fertile Crescent" that arches from the Nile Delta through the Levant to the Tigris and Euphrates in what is now Iraq.  Barley was one of the first grains domesticated, based on evidence from sites like Jericho and Abu Hureyra.  Beer and bread, or something in between, were not far behind.  The Godin Tepe site in Iran has even given chemical evidence of beer dregs from 3,500 BC.  The Sumerians were especially big beer drinkers.  6,000 years they ago wrote a hymn to the Goddess of Beer, Ninkasi, which also functions as the world's oldest brewing recipe; Ninkasi is now the name of a very fine brewery in Oregon.  The brew of the time was "porridge beer," really a sort of mildly alcoholic bread that was drunk through straws from a tall pot.  The first beer was really the first "ale," i.e. beer made from malted barley fermented at warm temperatures.  This was the booze of choice from the Egyptian pharaohs to the kings and priests of Mesopotamia...and the peasants below.  Unfortunately, two things killed the early reign of beer:  the expansion of the Greeks, among whom wine was preferable, and the expansion of Islam, among whom no one drinks (legally) at all.  But...