Hey, beer has some redeeming qualitiesPublished 9:18am Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Column: Pothole Prairie
Historians agree that civilization arose as a result of agriculture. But which crop was first?
Wheat is what many historians of old cited. People made bread, right?
However, many historians now argue that barley was the first crop. The first farmers wanted to make beer. And they were doing it 2,000 years earlier than they raised wheat for bread, give or take a thousand years!
Here is the general tale:
For most of human history, we humans have relied on hunting and gathering for our survival. Two grasses grew in the Mesopotamia that were particularly good for nutrients and conducive to cultivation: barley and wheat.
However, the hunting and gathering lifestyle had served people well for, oh, about 3 million years. Why give that up?
What do you think would motivate these prehistoric men and women to start planting seeds? Beer or bread?
I’m siding with beer. Actually, I am siding with the fact that they probably wanted to get drunk from alcohol.
Historians say the first beer probably was brewed by accident about 10,000 years ago.
Wild barley had been gathered as a source of nutrition. A clay pot full of barley likely was left uncovered in a light rain. The barley began to grow and produce sugars. It rained again later, quite enough to fill the pot. Wild yeast converted the barley sugar into CO2 and alcohol.
The hunter/gatherers likely found their clay pot two or three days later. Someone tasted it. The liquid tasted good, and mankind would never be the same.
By the way, this account comes from Oregon State University professors who spoke in the documentary “How Beer Saved the World.”
The professors say the early men wanted to make more of the substance. They planted the seeds of the wild grass so they could have it more regularly. Bread came along, too, and accidents might have been involved in first making bread — but I doubt nature could have made the first bread the way it could brew the first beer.
Over time, the early men and women found ways to make growing easier, by digging rows with a plow, rather than lots of holes. They irrigated land to make it suitable for agriculture. Necessity is the mother of invention, and the domino effect of invention eventually led to such things as mathematics and record keeping and so forth.
Crazy it might sound, but some of the earliest writing known to mankind refers to beer. Look up the Ebla tablets sometime. And the symbols for beer was all over cuneiform tablets.
The agricultural revolution gave rise to the first cities.
Say what you want about it, there is no doubting that beer has been around longer than civilization. You might even be able to argue that it is responsible for civilization itself. Why, without beer, we’d all be tossing spears at woolly mammoths for supper. Pass the salt lick.
Thus, American Prohibition still seems downright backward to me. Banning beer and other alcoholic drinks runs counter to thousands of years of human existence.
I don’t mean to glorify alcohol. I respect the drink and consume it moderation. I had a single beer this past weekend, an India pale ale called Long Hammer, made by Redhook Brewery of Woodinville, Wash. I like hoppy, tasty beers, not bland light beers. I like good beer in small amounts, not bland yellow beers in large amounts.
(And don’t call me and chew me out for not supporting our local beverage distributor either. Krieger Beverage handles Redhook products and was kind enough to place the Redhook beers on local shelves when I asked about five years ago.)
The documentary “How Beer Saved the World” tells fascinating tales of beer history in lighthearted ways, such as how beer was consumed in Europe in the Middle Ages because water gave people the black plague or how the Pilgrims headed to Plymouth instead of Virginia because they were out of beer or how pyramid builders in Egypt were paid with beer or how Louis Pasteur was actually studying beer, not milk. Yes, that means the study of beer led to the development of germ theory, which has saved countless lives.
It’s nice to know that, by drinking beer, we are not necessarily contributing to the woes of society. In fact, beer has some redeeming value.
After all, without beer, we might not have a society to contribute woes to in the first place.
Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.