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Beer is one of woman's[1] greatest inventions, before the wheel, defining modern civilisation as we know it.[2]

History of beer[edit]

The change of angle in this pyramid marks the moment that beer came to Egypt.

Beer is one of the world's oldest and girliest beverages, possibly dating back to the 6th millennium BCE, and is recorded in the written history of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. The earliest Sumerian writings contain references to beer, according to Wikipedia (so you know it's true).[citation NOT needed] Beer was extremely useful in providing the people of Earth with fluid that was less likely to kill them than the drinking water of the day, and was an important source of nutrients (the action of the yeast adds nutrients to the beer — note that filtering, as in most modern beers, removes those nutrients). It also served the dual purpose of getting people drunk enough to appreciate the good things in life, rather than the hardships of living in a world without modern technology.[note 1]

Beer is claimed to be the third most popular drink after water and tea. So if you discount health fads that only let you drink water, and the English, it is the most popular drink in the world. It is possible that beer was essential in the formation of civilization itself.[3] The argument (which is actually really debated by real scientists[4]) goes that while early agriculture does not necessarily give you more food than hunting and gathering, it gives you a lot more grain. And grain means booze (which is also a lot easier to brew if you have some place to stay at). Hence — so the hypothesis goes — booze made us settle down.[5] Which is opposed to people nowadays who turn to booze after settling down.[note 2]

Long before beer was associated with manliness, beer making was historically a woman's jobWikipedia until it made men big money during industrialization, and men, like what they did with women who used to dominate programming, shunted women out while claiming credit. Not cool, guys.

Beer and God[edit]

Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
—not Benjamin Franklin[citation NOT needed]

Abbey beers are widely considered to be among the best beers in the world. They were craft beers before it was cool. The most famous are the beers brewed by the Trappist monasteries. A beer needs to be certified by the International Trappist Association before it can be labelled as such. A prime requirement for this is that the monks must take a significant and active part in the brewing process and that it's a non-profit enterprise (income only being used to maintain the monastery or donated to charities).

So if you decide to become a monk, make sure you pick a monastery with a good brewery!

Know your beer![edit]


Beer can be split into — at least — two distinct types. Ale was developed first. It is made with top-fermenting yeast (because the yeast floats near the surface during fermentation) and ferments at around room temperature or a little cooler. The process of storing ale in cold conditions caused natural selection to develop bottom-fermenting yeasts that produced the second distinct type, lager. We have, obviously, the Germans to thank for this.[6] Of the two, ales have a more complex flavor while lagers have a smoother and cleaner taste. There's also lambic, which despite what the Boston Beer Company says can only really be made in certain parts of Belgium on account of the bizarre menagerie of microbes living there. But because there's so little of it – and because it doesn't taste like beer at all – it doesn't count. However, beer can be brewed using wild yeast almost anywhere and in fact before people knew much about microbes, that was the way all beer was brewed. However, due to obvious reasons the taste and quality of your beer will depend a lot on the place where you brew it, what you do to the beer and even the local weather at the time of fermenting. Most mainstream consumers and breweries can't handle the huge amount of variation that entails and as such beer brewed with "wild yeast" remains a niche product albeit an interesting one. A few hybrid styles also exist, including steam beer, which uses lager-type yeasts but ferments at ale temperatures. Steam beer is also known as California Common Beer, since Anchor Brewing Company cynically trademarked the name "steam beer". It then turned its "steam beer" on its head by making it a quality craft style, whereas the historical steam beer was the common, inexpensive and none-too-cultured local brew of the San Francisco area.[7]

The rule of thumb is that the types are served near the temperature where they are brewed. So ale tends to be served warmer —well, cellar temperature or just below. 10-14°C (52-55°F)—and lager is served cold, 2-7°C (35-45°F). Australians serve beer below 2°C; at this temperature your taste buds do not function and no discernible flavors, including diacetyl, can be detected. This is possibly done intentionally, as when it's warmed up you regret being able to taste it. The breweries have gotten away with this for years by making advertisements mocking the British for drinking their beer warm, showing that parochialism can be used to trump science. For what it's worth, the biggest beer brewing company of Nicaragua also likes to advertise "cerveza bajo 0".[note 3] British-based Wychwood Brewery has attempted to counter these advertisements with their campaign mocking cold lager with the line "What's the matter lagerboy, afraid you might taste something?"[8]

American beer[edit]

An early European brewster before the practice became associated with witchcraft.

Beer was brought to what's now the United States by the first settlers of Roanoke and Jamestown, and the Pilgrims famously landed north of their target because their provisions, "especially beer", were running dangerously low. Homebrewing was very common in early America, though the difficulty of obtaining ingredients was a constant problem. Malt was difficult and expensive to import and barley was hard to grow locally in early colonial days, and hops were variable and increasingly hard to obtain enough of, since settlers relied on harvesting wild hops in the forest. As a result, colonial brewers resorted to many substitutes, including molasses, spruce, and pumpkin (the latter not as a flavoring, as today, but a main source of fermentable sugars — pumpkin beer was not favored but was made for lack of better ingredients).[9]

Over time it became easier to obtain sufficient ingredients to brew enough beer to supply demand — though the quality of the finished product was ever variable in the days before Pasteur figured out what made fermentation tick. As a result, beer-based cocktails were common and much enjoyed in the Colonies — largely, it is thought, to cover the taste of soured batches. Such cocktails, often called flip, tended to include egg, spices, and be finished off by sticking a red-hot poker in the tankard to froth up the beverage.[10]

In the mid-1800s, German immigrants brought the new style of beer, lager, to the United States. Lager suited American tastes because it is best served cold, so it is more refreshing in warmer climates, and because its lighter, thinner taste was easier to drink a lot of at a sitting — prior to Prohibition, Americans tended to drink heavily compared to today. Responding to demand for a lighter brew with less body, the larger brewers such as Anheuser-Busch began experimenting with adjuncts, replacing some of the malt in their brews with simpler sugars to thin the resulting beverage.[11]

Consequently, light lager became very popular in the States, almost to the exclusion of any other style.[11] This led to contemporary American beer being "like making love in a canoe — fucking close to water" according to infallible beer experts and Canadians (who also brew watery beers, such as Molson). This has turned around somewhat, however, since around the start of the 1990s when brewpubs and microbreweries started to pop up and many Americans rediscovered the virtues of other kinds of beer.

Reinheitsgebot — half a liter of canned myth[edit]

If you ever had a German beer in your hands, first of all let us here at Rationalwiki congratulate you on your taste. Second of all, you might have noticed a small note saying something along the lines of "Gebraut nach dem deutschen"[note 4] See the Wikipedia article on Reinheitsgebot." sometimes with an added year (1516 being the most common). If you speak German, you will know that this roughly means "Brewed according to the purity law of [year]". However, as we here are in the bubble bursting business, we will also have to burst this bubble. First of all the Reinheitsgebot which was enacted in Bavaria in 1516 is violated by virtually all beers that are commercially available in Germany today.[note 5] Secondly the Reinheitsgebot does not say what you think it says. And thirdly, the quintessentially "Bavarian" beer, "Weißbier"[note 6] was outlawed by the Bavarian Reinheitsgebot of 1516. But let's start from the beginning.

As this article already mentions further above, the process by which malt, hops, and water turn into beer was not entirely understood for most of the history of both beer and mankind. While some astute brewers did in fact guess that the "stuff"[note 7] that was left over after brewing and that could not be accounted for as a remainder of any of the ingredients could have something to do with it,[note 8] most had simply no clue. And as brewing with wild yeast is — as mentioned above — a chancy business as sometimes the beer would simply spoil or fail to ferment. Thus — and to add flavor — all types of shenanigans were done to the beer to make fermentation start. From peeing into the mixture to adding all types of herbs[note 9] to adding a bit of leftover beer[note 10] from a previous batch almost everything and anything was tried from time to time to get the desired results. However, the dukes of Bavaria did not like that and as they deemed order a necessity for their state they made a law that regulated what a beer had to be and conveniently limited the grains that beer could be made from to the — otherwise undesirable — barley. Hence the duke had a law proclaimed that said in early modern high German:[12]

Wir wöllen auch sonderlichen / das füran allenthalben in unsern Stetten / Märckthen / unn auf dem Lannde / zu kainem Pier / merer stückh / dann allain Gersten / Hopfen / unn wasser / genommen unn gepraucht sölle werdn.

Which in good English boils down to "Beer shall be made exclusively from: Barley,Wikipedia Hops, and Water".

Now, if you are a careful reader, you will have noticed: Wait, where's the yeast? Exactly. Hence we have cleared up our first mystery: as all contemporary beers that are produced in any notable quantity in Germany add yeast to the mixture at some point (as opposed to using wild yeast) none of them follow the 1516 law.

So if the 1516 law is outdated due to the progress of science, why mention it? Well, appeal to tradition, duh! There is, however, another reason why the 1516 law is still mentioned. German law defines a lot of edible (or in this case, drinkable) products as containing or not containing certain things. And beer is no exception. While wheat and yeast were thankfully added as permissible ingredients, this is not the only thing that happened to German beer purity since 1516. You see, there is a small footnote in German food laws[note 11] that more or less goes like this: "You can put in whatever you want, as long as you cannot detect it in the finished product". Hence a brewery can add all kinds of stuff to their beer in the production process if only they later remove it in such a way that no traces are detectable. Substances that are used include agents that keep the protein from coagulating, kieselgurWikipedia for filtration purposes and a whole host of others that are — Germany being Germany — meticulously listed in some law, norm, regulation or the likes. Another thing that has changed since 1516 is that nowadays "Hopfenextrakt"[note 12] can be used instead of natural hops. This is mostly done to guarantee a more constant and equal taste. Many craft beer enthusiasts think this limits the taste too much and makes the beer bland and generic. This, of course, puts smaller breweries at a disadvantage, as they can't invest in huge machines needed to produce a "streamlined" product that is guided with the aid of all types of substances within milligrams to a perfectly replaceable, always equal product. At the same time, however, German breweries may not call anything beer that is brewed with — say — apple juice, barley, hops, yeast and water. This of course discourages innovation, and the way the law is formulated it is a rather unfortunate mix of appeal to tradition and lobby politics in favor of the big breweries. However, as the Reinheitsgebot is part of the myth of German beer, we are not going to see any major change soon. Those craft beer hipsters with their experimenting and their snobbery be damned.

Craft beer[edit]

"Craft Beer" is a term for beer that is not brewed by Anheuser-Busch InBevWikipedia or one of the other huge conglomerates that have come to dominate the beer market as of late.[note 13] As smaller companies tend to have nothing to distinguish themselves from big companies but their product, craft breweries tend to experiment with the taste of their beer. Of course 90% will be crap,[note 14] but as small breweries have no need to appeal to "everybody", they feel they can risk offending most people with their taste and appeal to a small minority that may consider themselves "in the know". Hence craft beers are in essence the answer to the question "Can I drink a beer and still be as pretentious as the wine snobs?". That being said, the aforementioned huge conglomerates have of course noticed where the money is[note 15] and as such not all beers that are marketed as "craft beers" really come from "Jonny's Hipster bru-stor" round the corner in Portland, Oregon.

The Belgians never stopped brewing craft beer, but few people outside Belgium and its immediate vicinity (France, Netherlands, Luxembourg, parts of Western Germany) took notice of this until fairly recently.

Similarly FranconiaWikipedia (Germany) has the highest density of breweries in the world[13] and some rather small villages of hardly a thousand people have their own brewery or even two. However, many of these beers are similar in style to each other and those breweries are not necessarily at the forefront of innovation.


Beer is so good that certain cliques of people keep it to themselves and tell other cliques of people that it is bad for them. For example, in many parts of the world, people under a certain age are denied the wonderful beverage and told that it is bad for them. The Nazis of Germany denied the pleasure to Jews and the white men of America denied beer to slaves.

See also[edit]

Icon fun.svg For those of you in the mood, RationalWiki has a fun article about Beer.

Want to read this in another language?[edit]

Si vous voulez cet article en français, il peut être trouvé à Bière.


  1. One could argue that this is still the case today. Sometimes I feel I can't just live without tricorders, faster-than-light-travel, teleportation, and instant cures for cancer, so I have another beer.
  2. Yes that's a "boring married life" joke…
  3. Beer below/under zero degrees Celsius
  4. or "bayerischen" which is an anachronism as Bavaria at the time was spelled with an "i" and it should hence be "bairischen"
  5. Except for — ironically — a handful of Belgian lambics and very few others. And even those are only available in specialist stores
  6. Or Weizen; that is a beer made with wheat in addition to barley
  7. A German Brewer's term to refer to it is indeed "Zeug" which means stuff
  8. And, in fact, the Anglo-Saxons did figure out they could coat sticks with the lees, dry them, and use them to kick-start the next batch
  9. some of the hallucinogenic, poisonous or both
  10. this one actually works, it works better the more Zeug there is contained in the beer
  11. Not literally a footnote, but you get the point
  12. extract of hops
  13. Though some of these conglomerates try to imitate craft beers, such as "Blue Moon", owned by MillerCoors.
  14. Or taste like crap to you
  15. Craft beers tend to be priced "elitist" and a retail price of $5 a bottle is nothing out of the ordinary


  1. Brooks, L. (March 5, 2021). The Conversation. "Women used to dominate the beer industry – until the witch accusations started pouring in"
  2. Jeffrey P. Kahn, How Beer Gave Us Civilization. The New York Times, 15 March 3013.
  3. Types of beers
  4. Did Man Once Live by Beer Alone? Robert J. Braidwood, Jonathan D. Sauer, Hans Helbaek, Paul C. Mangelsdorf, Hugh C. Cutler, Carleton S. Coon, Ralph Lenton, Julian Steward, Leo A. Oppenheim. American Anthropologist, vol. 55, pp. 515-526, 1953
  5. Our 9,000-Year Love Affair With Booze. National Geographic Magazine, February 2017
  7. Either way you do it, it's delicious.
  9. Gregg Smith, Beer in America: The Early Years—1587-1840: Beer's Role in the Settling of America and the Birth of a Nation
  10. Gregg Smith, Beer in America: The Early Years — 1587-1840: Beer's Role in the Settling of America and the Birth of a Nation
  11. 11.0 11.1 Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew: the Story of American Beer
  12. German Wikipedia
  13. AufseßWikipedia a village of less than 1500 people has four operating breweries