Beer – from the Sumerians to Caesar and today’s Germans

Bitter, foamy, cold, blonde or dark, beer is a beverage that long passed all barriers through its gift of bringing people together.

It seems the first type of beer came from a wet piece of bread that started to ferment, hence the fermenting process, about 6000 years ago.

There are legends according to which beer production is an important part in humanity’s evolution. The oldest Sumerian writing, “Gilgamesh’s epic”, presents Enkidu, a wild creature, feasting on good food and drinking the bitter liquid. “He was eating until he was full, drinking milk and cups of beer…” entering the human world this way.

The famous “honey moon” has its roots in the Sumerian habit of giving the young newlyweds sweetened beer that lasted for a month.

The oldest real beer traces

French archaeological researches dating from the beginning of the XX century, in the West of Iran, showed the way beer was consumed 3500 years ago.

During the diggings in Suza city, large spherical clay vessels were found in the basements of the houses. These large beer jugs were covered by ceramic plates, with a hole in the middle, through which they extracted the beer. Alternatively, they introduced a special designed straw in the hole, drinking the beer directly. It is assumed that beer was being drunk through a straw because large quantities of sediments lay on the bottom of the vessel.

It seems that beer was very much like a dark and dense fat, with very little alcohol, but very nourishing. Because of its special taste, it was a very important element of people’s diet.

The beer drinking pharaohs

Egyptians were initially getting their beer from Babylon. The price was high, but the qualities lost during transportation made the Egyptians learn how to produce their own tasty beverage. The oldest Egyptian beer recipe is believed to date from 3500 B.C.

Although beer was a very popular beverage in the Ancient Egypt, none of the pharaohs ever thought of taxing it. The beer tax was introduced by the famous Cleopatra, who wanted to restart the construction of the pyramids, and needed money to do so. This was the very first beverage tax.

Julius Caesar – an imperial beer drinker

The Greco-Romans civilization considered beer to be the poor people’s drink. Roman and Athenian neighborhoods were filled with small beer factories supplying the local pubs. A famous beer fan was apparently Julius Caesar, and the legend said that, when the Rubicon passed with its legions in order to conquer Rome, Caesar toasted with beer.

Although Romans didn’t appreciate beer much, Roman doctors did. Antique medical treaties were filled with prescriptions in which beer played the main role: Antyllus recommended breast-feeding women to drink beer with dried and smashed palm tree leafs. Philumenus recommended beer and smashed garlic against bee stings and Marcellus Empirius claimed that “a glass of boiled beer with salt stopped coughing”. It is interesting that all these prescriptions are still found in traditional European medicine.

Germany, the beer country

The biggest Roman realization regarding beer was passing along the recipe in the North of the Europe, to the German nations. Germans turned brewing into a craft, making beer their national drink. Following the same steps as the Sumerians, Germans managed to make different beer types depending on the wood the barrel was made of.

In Bavaria, clay jugs supposedly used around 3000 B.C. were found near Culmbach; then, beer production technology spread in England and Scandinavia and later on all over the world, due to the expansion of the European culture. This is the reason Germany is considered to be the land of beer.

Middle Age beer

In the middle ages, beer was the most popular drink, considered to be a calorie resource. Northern European Catholic monks realized that the large number of calories make beer the perfect aliment for the fast period. Each convent specialized in the production of a specific type of beer, with a certain flavor. And because most of the recipes were passed along from generation to generation, monk beers remained some of the most appreciated beers.

Beer trade exploded in the XI century. This is the time when the first merchant associations were shaped, trying to face the feudal or governmental power. The so-called “merchant guilds” became very influent in commerce in those times, surpassing city borders, even forming brotherhoods. One of the most important ones was the “Hanseatic Federation” which included 8 of the most important cities in Germany.

In medieval England, beer was appreciated according to the way the malt was dried; it is said that only Wales people could drink the beer they were making out of dried malt and peat, a beer with a very specific and strong flavor. Otherwise, beers made with malt dried in fires made with wood imported from Norway were highly appreciated by the English.

Queen Elisabeth, while travelling across the country, used to send messengers ahead to taste the local beer. If this wasn’t at the necessary standards, a back-up was immediately sent to her from London. William Shakespeare’s father was a beer taster or conner. He would test the beer pouring a part on a bench, sitting on it while finishing the rest of the beer. If there was sugar in the beer or if it wasn’t pure, the leather pants he was wearing would stick to the bench after half an hour.
At the end of the 17th century, student allowance for kids of all ages at an English school would cost 2 bottles a day because it was safer and tasted better than the available drinking water.

Beer was also common at the work place. Politician and scientist Benjamin Franklin recorded the daily beer consumption in a London printing house he visited. Each employee would drink a mug before breakfast, one between breakfast and lunch, one for lunch, one at 6 o’clock and one after they finished work.

Romania and beer

The mass beer production on the Romanian territory goes back to the beginning of the 19th century, when Johann de Gotha inaugurated a beer factory, in 1809, just outside of Bucharest. Starting with the second half of the 19th century, the apparition of several beer factories translates to the inauguration of numerous breweries, out of which some of them lived a very short life.
Very soon, the beer house became an institution and most of all, a meeting point for journalists, politicians or theatre people. So it was created a specific language, as the beer selling measures.

The famous tap owes its name from the famous German brewer Bock first marketed in Bucharest at the “Captain” beer house, next to Gh. Lazar’s statue. “The mug”, the common measure in beer sales up to that point, owes its name from the German “haber liter”, meaning half a liter.

The ambiance of Bucharest Breweries from the two centuries is well known from Caragiale’s novels because of his beer salesman experience.