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Thursday, October 02, 2008

History of Beer

The discoveries of bread and beer, it’s been argued, were the prime catalysts in the rise of civilization. Since by bread alone man cannot live, beer was indeed the original nutrition for the spirit and mind. The initial outbursts of inventiveness and creativity which radiated from the land between the two rivers then swept the entire world only came about after our ancestors learned how to properly consume this natural form of alcohol. Too much was certainly as bad as not drinking at all, a formula which still holds absolutely true millennia later. This is, ladies and gentlemen, the beginning of our written legacy.
Beer traces back its origins to the 6th millennium BC to Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. The Sumerians made reference to beer in their very first writings (clever people the Sumerians). The Hymn to Ninkasi of 1800BC, found in its entirety at the end of this article, is the oldest recipe for making beer in recorded history. Ninkasi is the Sumerian goddess of beer and the brew mistress of the gods (I told you that the Sumerians were smart). Beer, being the final product of natural fermentation, was discovered rather than invented. The Sumerians baked the grain they harvested in order to make it last in storage. It was found that the sweetest variety of grains if left and forgotten then moistened and eaten uplifted the wits of our grandfathers and made them jolly. We were indeed the first people to get intoxicated and in due course the masterminds of wild and fun partying. At least 3600 years before the 16-day world renowned Oktoberfest festival of Munich and Bavaria was initiated (1818) we were already getting drunk year round. It goes beyond doubt that the earliest pickup lines such as:
-If I told you that you had a great body, would you hold it against me?
-So, do you like fat guys with no money?
-If I were to ask you for sex, would your answer be the same as the answer to this question?
and lamer ones still were invented between the Tigris and the Euphrates. When we, illustrious Levantines, remember our past and rightfully take pride in our colorful history, we should go all the way back without the slightest of hesitation. Drinking is a part of our true identity and as thus guilt and shame should not be allowed to obscure our vision even for those who chose to defy nature by becoming self-prescribed abstainers.
The Babylonians followed in the footstep of their forerunners and improved on the manmade processing while simultaneously the Fellaheen (peasants) along the River Nile of ancient Egypt added dates to the brew, just like they still do today, to improve on its taste. Hammurabi, the Babylonian king and the first lawmaker in history by all accounts decreed that the daily ration of beer per individual is to be based on his social standing. It varied from 2 liters for a manual laborer to 5 liters for a high priest. With the rise of the Roman Empire, beer continued to spread and infiltrated the outer reaches of the realm. The bigoted and narrow minded Romans considered beer to be the choice of Barbarians and stuck to their wine (no more their discovery than our Arak is). They called it Bacchus and claimed it to be the favorite drinks of the gods. Tacitus wrote of the Germans: "To drink, the Teutons have a horrible brew fermented from barley or wheat, a brew which has only a very far removed similarity to wine". Yeah right, the haughty Italians ended up making Fiats while the savage Germans contrived Beemers and Mercedes-Benzes.
By the Middle Ages beer developed radically in monastery breweries. Those wise olden priests didn’t engage in beer brewing for profit but rather to liven up their frugal diet. Since the consumption of fluids didn’t break their perpetual fast, a pious monk was allowed as much as 5 liters per day. Damn, who needs to eat anyway? That would’ve been just about the perfect time to join the church. I’ve kept a mental note about it, if I’m ever to travel back through time I’d choose the 1350’s and commit myself to becoming a monk for the rest of my short yet happy life. Brewing beer slowly yet surely progressed on the hands of these men of the cloth and eventually they started producing more beer than they could consume. The first pubs were established by the monasteries and soon enough shady men of politics, dukes and princes, saw the tremendous potential of money in the beer “business”. This hugely popular drink became taxable under Emperor Sigismund (1368-1437). Christian clerics of that era, bless their souls, greatly contributed to the fine art of brewing. Thanks to them, beer started to look and taste so much like the golden elixir of today. Hops were used for the first time to enhance the flavor in the Brabant monasteries somewhere in today’s Belgium. King Gambrinus, still revered today as the patron saint of beer, jubilantly bellowed on a happy night: "In life be I called Gambrinus, King of Flanders and Brabant. I have made malt from barley and first conceived of the brewing of beer. Hence, the brewers can say they have a king as master brewer."
In the 1500’s, Hamburg alone boasted 600 breweries and with the passage of time, Friedrich Wilhelm (1688-1740), King of Prussia, established his celebrated “Tobacco Council”, what in essence is an early format of a group of “drinking buddies”. Beer lovers gained an avid and influential supporter now that the church reversed its position on drinking. Rest in peace beloved king, my friends and I always remember you when we salute our Sumerian ancestors. "Kass Friedrich Ibn Wilhelm", we roar in euphoria after a few Bavarian cold ones.
In 1835, the first German railroad was inaugurated, connecting Nürnberg to Fürth. The first cargo transported on board was, well, two barrels of beer. With the invention of refrigeration by Carl von Linde (1842-1934), beer became seasonally independent. Should I go on… beer won the world over in a heartbeat and has successfully become the most globally consumed alcoholic beverage. There’s hardly a country where beer is not brewed. Even under the tyrannical, oppressive and cruel despotism of the House of Saud (who prefer to drink Scotch from the high-heeled shoes of blonde prostitutes over any other form of drink) ingenious beer lovers prepare their brew in their bathtubs at home. We in Syria have 2 local brands of beer. I would suggest that you give them a try, if you haven’t already done so, out of curiosity. From a scale of 0 to 10, I would give Al-Shark and Barada a grade of anywhere from 0 to 5. The strangest thing is that the taste is not consistent and varies from bottle to bottle, from the terrible to the mediocre. However, once you learn that these two brands of beer are produced by the public sector (meaning the government) you should wonder no more. An analphabet government official can barely tie his shoes let alone supervise and run a brewery. You would’ve thought that with the new opening up of the market, the erection of hundreds of factories and the introduction of dozens of new industries someone will have the balls to start a beer brewing plant. But my tobacco council and I know better. The new breed of Syrian investors (businessmen) and despite the fact that they might be heavy drinkers themselves, hide behind their middle finger (the same one they stick up the general public’s ass). They court the government and bed the religious establishment. These patrons of modernization are accumulating such horrendous profits, bribing their ardent bearded supporters and basking in their blessings. What the hell am I talking about? Screw them.
It’s time for a beer. Cheers.

The Hymn to Ninkasi
Translated by Miguel Civil

Borne of the flowing water,
Tenderly cared for by the Ninhursag,
Borne of the flowing water,
Tenderly cared for by the Ninhursag,

Having founded your town by the sacred lake,
She finished its great walls for you,
Ninkasi, having founded your town by the sacred lake,
She finished it's walls for you,

Your father is Enki, Lord Nidimmud,
Your mother is Ninti, the queen of the sacred lake.
Ninkasi, your father is Enki, Lord Nidimmud,
Your mother is Ninti, the queen of the sacred lake.

You are the one who handles the dough [and] with a big shovel,
Mixing in a pit, the bappir with sweet aromatics,
Ninkasi, you are the one who handles the dough [and] with a big shovel,
Mixing in a pit, the bappir with [date] - honey,

You are the one who bakes the bappir in the big oven,
Puts in order the piles of hulled grains,
Ninkasi, you are the one who bakes the bappir in the big oven,
Puts in order the piles of hulled grains,

You are the one who waters the malt set on the ground,
The noble dogs keep away even the potentates,
Ninkasi, you are the one who waters the malt set on the ground,
The noble dogs keep away even the potentates,

You are the one who soaks the malt in a jar,
The waves rise, the waves fall.
Ninkasi, you are the one who soaks the malt in a jar,
The waves rise, the waves fall.

You are the one who spreads the cooked mash on large reed mats,
Coolness overcomes,
Ninkasi, you are the one who spreads the cooked mash on large reed mats,
Coolness overcomes,

You are the one who holds with both hands the great sweet wort,
Brewing [it] with honey [and] wine
(You the sweet wort to the vessel)
Ninkasi, (...)(You the sweet wort to the vessel)

The filtering vat, which makes a pleasant sound,
You place appropriately on a large collector vat.
Ninkasi, the filtering vat, which makes a pleasant sound,
You place appropriately on a large collector vat.

When you pour out the filtered beer of the collector vat,
It is [like] the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates.
Ninkasi, you are the one who pours out the filtered beer of the collector vat,
It is [like] the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates.

31 comments:

Allie said...

Abufares,

"If I were to ask you for sex, would your answer be the same as the answer to this question?"

This, is by far, the funniest pick-up line I've ever encountered. The stuff about beer was great too. :)

abufares said...

Hi Allie
So, honestly, do you think I would've had a chance with a line like that :-)
Have a good time and think of me when:
1. You hear a lame pickup line
or
2. You have a cold beer with a bunch of friends.

DUBAI JAZZ said...

The other day I approached this hot girl and said: "hey, i am bigger and better than the titanic, only 200 girls went down on the titanic"

she simply sank within the crowd.

Anonymous said...

dubai jazz,
what kind of lady do you imagine you will get with this approach? On seocnd thought, I do not want to know.


Abufares,
Very interesting history on brew making. We used to have three local brands of beer, and regretfully the only one standing nowadays tastes like piss (in my honest opinion). I myself love german beer : 0

w.b. yeats

yaser said...

thanks for the infomation, I'll try to look for our homegrown beer..:)

saint said...

Hi Abufares,
I love the lines, which I have learnt them early.
Testimonial: I’m not a Budwiser fan, I prefer Michelob beer.

Although your pic was fine and dandy, but it is not the pride of the Budwiser, their pride as you know is the Clydesdale horses, and my favorite commercial is the one which tell you, you can be what ever you dream off. http://video.google.com/videosearch?ndsp=18&um=1&hl=en&q=budweiser%20clydesdale%20horses&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=iv#ndsp=18&um=1&hl=en&q=budweiser%20clydesdale%20horses&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=iv&start=20

Here is a challenge for you. Go to Budwiser.com, write down your real age.
Go to the perfect pour challenge, you will choose the glass angle, and pour angle and the pour height. Then you are into a challenge imagining the challenger is a lady behind the bar and you will win her if you could do it right without spilling on the counter, and if can’t you should pay penalty.
I was a looser, how about you??
Good Luck

saint said...

Correction: instead of which: I wish

BTW, Abufares, if you want to build a new plant for beer in Syria, what place do you choose, and why?

Mariyah said...

When I saw the title of your post I wasn't sure I'd have anything to comment since I don't drink beer. But since YOU wrote it, dear Abu Fares, I thought it must be worth a read...and I was right!!! A very interesting history and I love the pick up lines...especially the sneaky insinuation of the first one!! :) Still don't think I'll try it, but drink it in health!

abufares said...

@Dubai Jazz
See what you did! You made my w.b. yeats wonder about you... I wonder about you myself sometimes.
Just to straighten matters up, before you embark on your doomed sea voyage you'd better fill up with some beer yourself and make certain that the hot girl had plenty of something much stronger. That's your only chance to ride her dinghy or at least to let her believe that your buoy actually floats.

abufares said...

@w.b. yeats
I wish I'd get a chance to try Puerto Rican beer one day. Preferably a very cold one, on a very hot day, on a very deserted beach... with you.

abufares said...

@Yaser
Welcome my man. Our local beer is served in almost all the 2nd grade restaurants and bars in Syria. Make sure it's as cold as possible to ease the pain.
Whether it is Al-Shark or Barada, it comes in different bottles (depending on what they have on hand). So you can drink Al-Shark in a clear, brown or green bottle. I suggest you pick the clear one just to be sure there is no hidden "gift" inside.
Being public sector companies they still collect the empties and re-use them. Now I have a friend (a restaurant owner) who has a friend in Al-Shark beer factory who always insures that his friend (the 1st one) gets his beer from a good batch. I'm not kidding, I swear... They have "good" batches and shitty batches. Let me put the matter in the proper perspective... just imagine that all the Damascene restaurants were owned and operated by our government...
I rest my case.

abufares said...

@Saint
I got a 60 (Fair) score on my first and only attempt at Budweiser Pour Challenge. To tell you the truth though, I'm a very good beer pourer in real life.
Budweiser was one of the first brands of beer I tried. Remember I became 18 after I landed in the US. Back in those days, my most crucial preference was price. My friends and I would buy whatever was offered on sale at Walgreen's. Thus I learned about the various American brands like Old Milwaukee, Schlitz, Budweiser and Miller. Eventually I became a little more sophisticated and started enjoying Coors. Ultimately I discovered the Canadian brews like Moosehead and Labatt and my favorite at that time, the Mexican Dos Equis (XX).
Today, highest on my attainable list, that is I can get from the free shop in Tartous Port is Grolsch Dutch beer then the ubiquitous Heinneken (depending on where it's made). I love, however, to try local beers wherever I travel and my all time favorite remains Duvel of Belgium.
Finally, the land between the 2 rivers, that is our Jazira would be a perfect place for a brewery (water,wheat and history). Too bad the name Ninkasi is already taken by a brewery in Eugene, Oregon but we can take our pick from the dozens of good-natured Syrian gods of old.
5 km to the southeast of Tartous, there's a big sign marking the site of a new brewery "Royal Beer...." supposedly an under license operation with some German company. The sign has been there for 2 years but still no beer. I hope they are taking their time to perfect their brew and not because the project has been canceled or whatever.

abufares said...

@Mariyah
What would my post be without your comments. I'm very glad you took the time though.
What you would not try? The sneaky insinuation of the first one or the beer?
I hope I can make you try "either" with me:-)

Anonymous said...

Abufares, 2 weeks ago I was in LA, I had some Arminian beer, I guess the lable was Van, any way it is the kind of old stile beer with the thik foam, (beera al shark)alepo made was good, the last time I tierd it was on 96, it was undrikable, Brasilan beer is like the bud,wery(GASOSA)I don´t like it, ok Ill put some beer in my cooler, I´m going fishing, taking with me some humos some mohamara, and i´ll make kabab(hele kele)of the interior part,with kezbara, e tum, I´m taking you with me,we will have oure litle HALAB with us

Anonymous said...

Do you enjoy dark beer as well? suggestion for the best Draft dark beer ever: Go to Ireland, any small local pub will do, order a Guiness Draft and enjoy!

My husband swears is the best "Dinner" ever! No need for anything else. I was pregnant at the time : ( Sadly I couldn't drink because I already had a very difficult pregnancy at the time. Lost the baby 3 days after, when I arrived home. I should have had the guinnes and maybe it would have had a miraculous effect...

In any event, I think it gives me the perfect excuse to go back to Ireland ; )

w.b.yeats

abufares said...

@lê
I think I was too generous when I gave Bira Al-Shark & Barada from 0 to 5. It's more like from 0 to 3 but you're right the quality deteriorated with the passage of years. From my knowledge of public sector industry, I'm certain the machines are not maintained, cleaned and consumables and filters not replaced...etc.
Sa77a Wa Hana and have a good time on your trip. Have one for me.

abufares said...

@w.b.yeats
Ireland is one of the places I dream of visiting. I always try the beer whenever I'm in a new country. Although I'm not very fond of dark beer (I tried it once in Heathrow Airport and it was served at room temperature) but I'm sure that I will have a change of mind and heart in an Irish pub.
One of these days...

Anonymous said...

The "ambiance", the ambiance... : )

I do remember the Moosehead, which I tasted for the first time with you and I still like, and let me see...the Jolly Blond from Lafayette, Rolling Rock from New York, Heineken (favorite of the Caribbean Islands), hate Budwieser, hate Coors or Miller, tried Peroni in Italy, like Dos XX and Corona from Mexico, tasted draft beer in London (do not remember which??) but they also like to drink it room temperature like the Irish and the Scots, forget the Indian brandname and the Tai beer that I like and overall agree with you that the colder the better. Nothing like a cold beer, a sunny day and sailing in the Virgin Island Channel! : )

You definetly have to try THAT! I'm sure the whole family will enjoy it.

w.b. yeats

abufares said...

@w.b. yeats
naughty, naughty...
you've been doing so many things behind my back :-)
A cold beer, a sunny day and sailing with a virgin... you sure got that right. Wait a minute, the Virgin Island Channel, ah, that would be nice too!

Diana said...

Over the past week I have taken a good look at your blog, skimming some posts and reading every word of others. I like it. :)

Omar said...

Beer according to my cousin is "the best gift that God bestowed upon us" and I must say I agree.

I tried beer in every city I visited this summer. The best selection of course was in Berlin, mainly because I didn't visit Brussels.

You posted once about Belgian beers, which compelled me to go the beer store and got my self a Leffe Brune. The wonderful dark beer has become my favourite beer, two bottles of which are on my desk.

abufares said...

@Diana
The words you skimmed were delighted to get a glimpse from your eyes. Those you read thoroughly were blessed to have reached your mind.
Thank you for being here and more importantly for introducing your wonderful blog "The Quiver" http://the-quiver.blogspot.com/ to me.

abufares said...

@Omar
I guess it was not meant for us to meet this past summer.
You have a wise cousin and you're lucky for that. You are also sage beyond the years ("I tried beer in every city I visited this summer."). If you can get your hand and eventually your lips on a Duvel bottle, give it a try and Ed3ili.

Anonymous said...

So now, beer is the nectar of the Gods...? : )

Look for the definition of my name in the dictionary, and you will see why I am smilling.

w.b. yeats

Diana said...

Thanks! :)

JGM said...

Hey abufares thanks for the insight...check this out

http://www.5ives.com/archives/2008/03/13/five-terrible-fake-astronomical-pickup-lines/

... and If you ever happen to land In Ireland give us a shout...I'll be delighted to sample a pint or 2 with you.

Have a nice day.

abufares said...

@w.b. yeats
Did you ever think that I don't know what your name means?
Haven't you ever noticed how I acted like Hercules with you around?

abufares said...

@JGM
Thank you for your delightful invitation to share a pint or 2 (most likely 2). If I ever have the chance to set foot in Ireland (something I always wanted) you'll hear about it for sure.
The pickup lines were out of this world:-) I LOVE the last one

Anonymous said...

LOL!

w.b. yeats

Ascribo said...

Yeah right, the haughty Italians ended up making Fiats while the savage Germans contrived Beemers and Mercedes-Benzes.

That's a perfect line, too. I have never thought of it this way!!!

Anonymous said...

I m affraid i really love you man,i read a lot of your posts since 3 years, the one you wright in your birthday was the one i was waiting for....you are just great.. thank you for being here