One of the first buildings the Pilgrims constructed was the brewery. Gregg Smith wrote, “Their critical shortage made a brewhouse a priority among the structures built that first winter in Plymouth. The need for a brewery was immediate. The lack of beer caused them the most displeasure.” When the Puritans made the trip to New England in 1630, a decade after the original Pilgrims, they were sure to have plenty of beer in supply. On just one ship, the Arbella, they loaded 42 tons of beer. A ton is 252 gallons, therefore no less than 10,000 gallons of beer was consumed by the Puritans on the journey. As soon as they arrived to the new city they called Boston the building of the brewhouse was a high priority.
Keep in mind the Puritans, preferred to call themselves “the godly”. The 17th century English Puritan preacher Thomas Watson used “the godly” to describe Puritans in the title of one of his more famous works, ‘The Godly Man’s Picture.’
Certainly beer was not the most important point of the Pilgrim adventure or the Puritan settlement. But it was there, it was beloved and it was needed. Beer was such a priority that it shaped a lot of decisions made by those forefathers. Beer helped to shape entire civilizations and effected critical decisions. We must consider the role that beer played within the civilization of man.
You might be thinking about how they brewed all that beer back then and how it tasted. Of course the beer of then was not as refined as the beer now but the basic process for brewing beer is relatively simple. Using a grain, usually barley, you wet it to allow it to germinate or sprout. When it sprouts it is quickly dried and has become what is called “malted’. The malted barley is then roasted and the length of time roasted will determine the color of the beer produced. This roasting is important for the dark beers and stouts. The malt is then mashed (or soaked) to convert the natural starches into sugars for fermentation. After this process more water is added to wash the sugars off the grain and this liquid is then called “wort”. Now the wort needs to be boiled, the dried hops get added for flavor along with whatever spice, fruit or other flavoring is desired. Once the hopped wort cools they add some yeast which creates the alcohol and carbon dioxide and magically, now they have the sweet, hopped water known as beer.
Who Discovered it?
The first making of beer likely occurred as a wonderful accident and to find out more we must trace the beginning of mankind. Our first ancestors likely came from the land called the “Fertile Crescent” between Egypt and the Mediterranean coast. It was called the “Fertile Crescent” because its soil was fertile and rich in nutrients and a perfect place to grow wheat and barley. (Or anything else for that matter.) Remember my earlier statement that this beer origination was likely some kind of mistake or a series of mistakes allowing for discovery. That’s how most of our great things of today were discovered. Not only did man need to learn how this stuff of mashing and fermenting happened but they also needed to make jars to contain it. That is why we often discover ancient huge vats and jars. I can imagine someone leaving grain out and getting it wet, it dried and baked in the hot sun, rain again causing the wort and then natural air-born yeast causing fermentation. Can you see this person finding a foaming jar of bubbly stuff and giving it a taste? Then they liked it and figured out how to repeat that process and experiment through curiosity to determine the time honored method of beer production.
There was a professor at the University of Pennsylvania that developed a theory that beer did develop this way an also caused man to change his hunter-gathering ways to production of grains. His name is Solomon Katz if you care to look this up. His main focus was that without beer man would never have become civilized. He claims they began making cities because they needed to be in the same place to have a stable environment to produce this alcoholic beverage of sorts. He points to the fact that civilization literally means “living in cities.” He believes beer is the primary reason man moved from the wild into cities. That’s all I want to say about Mr. Katz as his story is a story in itself and a rabbit trail I don’t wish to follow. Many others have followed the same logic over the years and whether true or not has little bearing on my focus.
Another thing they neglected to put in the history books is that beer was regarded as a sacred drink in the ancient world. It’s not hard to see why they might have thought the process of beer brewing is a miracle and a gift of the gods. In the Jewish and also later in the Christian worldview it was a blessing from the creation of the one God. Everyone agreed the brewing of beer was a sacred cooperation with the cosmic forces of the universe. As an example, the oldest recipe for beer known to mankind is found in the poem called, “The Hymn to Ninkasi,” which is an ode to the Sumerian goddess who lived on mythical Mount Sabu. “The mountain of the tavern keeper.” And what about the word “booze”? It is said that the modern word “booze” came from the Nubian’s exceptional skill at making beer and their word for the tasty brew, bousa. ♦
Of all the ancient peoples, however, it was the Egyptians that really put the breweries on the map, so to speak. They made beer the “heart” of their religion and had a strong myth tied to the brewing process and gods for every stage.
Come back for the next post and we can look at these Egyptian beer gods a little closer.
God bless your day,
♦ Stephen Mansfield, In Search for God and Guinness (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009) p 6-7, 14.