Humans have been drinking fermented beverages for thousands of years, and the production and enjoyment of beer has been an essential part of this history. Every culture throughout history, in every part of the world has produced and shared fermented beverages of one kind or another. Historical evidence shows that the use of alcoholic beverages existed in Mesopotamia some 5000 years ago, and fermented beverage mixtures made of rice, honey, and fruit were produced in China as early as 7000 B.C. According to a study performed in part by the University of Pennsylvania Museum’s Dr. Patrick McGovern of the Museum Applied Science Center for Archaeology back in 2004, and published in Science Daily,
“Chemical analyses of ancient organics absorbed, and preserved, in pottery jars from the Neolithic village of Jiahu, in Henan province, Northern China, have revealed that a mixed fermented beverage of rice, honey, and fruit was being produced as early as 9,000 years ago, approximately the same time that barley beer and grape wine were beginning to be made in the Middle East.”
It has been hypothesized for some time that the earliest occurrences of fermented beverage imbibing was in ancient China, “based on the similar shapes and styles of Neolithic pottery vessels to the magnificent Shang Dynasty bronze vessels,” as is noted in the summary of the full text of Dr. McGovern’s study. This ancient example of alcohol consumption shows how deeply embedded the fermented beverage tradition has been throughout human history.
Another very interesting and scholarly article that helps outline the history of the human production of alcoholic drinks was published by the Social Issues Research Centre. This text describes the processes behind some of the earliest fermenting techniques, and includes some enlightening facts about the history of wine and beer making in particular. In it, the author notes:
“The first documentary evidence of alcoholic beverages was written in Sumerian around 3200 BC, most certainly concerns beer rather than wine production and employs a specific pictograph for beer itself – an outline of a clay vessel marked with short, diagonal lines. The clarity of such pictographs indicates that beer was, by this time, commonplace and that the brewing process had been developed at a considerably earlier period in Mesopotamia.”
So, not only have we been producing simple fermented beverages for a very long time, but we’ve also been enjoying beer in particular for much longer than most would probably guess. At that particular point in time, food and drink were much more a part of the cultural and spiritual lives of humans than we experience today. The Sumerians held their beer in such high regard that they just had to make sure they wouldn’t forget how to make it. The article quoted above goes on to say,
“The first recipe The Sumerian tablets noted earlier contain the world’s first recorded recipe – not for bread or other ‘staples’ of life – but for an alcoholic beverage. The production of beer is detailed, as we would expect, with reference to Mesopotamian myths. In this case the story is of Enki, the third-ranked God of the Sumerian pantheon who prepares a feast for his father, Enhil. A second recipe, from a slightly later period, is in the form of a prayer to Ninkasi, the goddess of beer. Her name translates literally as ‘the lady who fills the Mouth.’”
As we continue on with the custom of enjoying fermented beverages today, we should stop to consider the origins of this ancient tradition. The commercially produced alcohol that people often drink in our day and age is certainly not the same as it was several thousand years ago, or even a hundred years ago, for that matter. Many of the libations we find on the store shelves, especially American beers, are made with chemical additives, genetically modified ingredients, and cheap sugar alternatives such as high fructose corn syrup. Not that much of those ingredients are really found in the finished product, as the yeast and fermentation process utilizes much of it in the production of alcohol. So if intoxication is the only desire behind your drinking, and you’re not too concerned about how you’ll feel the day after indulging, then keep on keepin on.
However, there is a much better way, and certainly, not all beers are created equal! Craft beer makers, microbreweries, and homebrewing enthusiasts have been helping to bring back the taste and enjoyment of beer in our country in recent years. Many of these type of beers tend to be even more potent and intoxicating, and that is what really drives the innate human desire to imbibe. Somewhere along our evolutionary path, we started seeking after consciousness-altering substances like alcohol, psychedelic mushrooms, and cannabis, both for enjoyment and for medicine. But in many modern societies, alcohol is the most generally accepted means of intoxication, even though it is really more harmful than any other drug. But it certainly is nice to enjoy a good beer ever so often.
If only we could return to a way of life where we each decide as individuals what sort of food, medicine, fermented drinks, or intoxicants of any kind we’d each like to partake in. Regulations, restrictions, prohibitions, and inhibitions have all contributed to the narrowing of choices that we now have to choose from. Regardless, the innate human desire to alter consciousness is within all of us, and we can either decide to do so according to the restrictions placed on us by government and society, or we can choose to brew, make, gather and grow our own just like those who came before us.