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Beer - A Brief History


By The Dang Yankee



Guys, I've got to say that I have the greatest wife on the face of the Earth. I'll tell you why. Recently, we had planned to do one of those husband-and-wife dates- just the two to spend some quality time together. Of all places, she suggested- note, I said she suggested- that we go to a beer fest. She even offered to be the designated driver. Now beat that, boys!

One event on the day's program was a seminar called "Beer 101." Now, I personally have consumed enough beer in my lifetime to qualify for a PhD in the subject, but I still attended it for my wife's benefit. I went mainly for the free samples. Surprisingly, it turned out to be a fascinating lecture. The first topic was the history of beer, and it was there I learned the story of how, of all things, beer is the one substance above all that gave rise to modern society as we know it.

Like many great inventions, beer was developed quite by accident. During pre-historic times, when men were still hunter-gatherers, one caveman- let's call him "Chugg"- returned from a long day of foraging with nothing to show but a sack of wild grain. His mate, hoping for at least a pterodactyl egg or two, took a club to him and dumped the lot of grain into the watering hole. That grain happened to a primitive form of barley. A number of days later, it was Chugg's turn to supply the water for his tribe's regular full moon ritual. This was history's first instance of the open-bar concept. Not long after, cave men began cultivating the barley to satisfy the expansion of their ritual to celebrate every minor lunar phase. The transition to an agrarian society was on, and although there has been great progress in the art of beer making since those primitive times; alas, the same cannot be said for marital relations.

Beer making was practiced by many ancient civilizations, including the Sumerians, the Babylonians, and the Egyptians. Hieroglyphic writings contain the first historic reference to the concept of the happy hour. This practice was instrumental in the construction of the pyramids and was also no doubt the reason why the project finished centuries behind schedule. The Greeks also practiced the art, and the first beer commercial is believed to have been staged between acts during a performance of Oedipus.

Beer making proliferated among the Germanic and Celtic tribes of Northern Europe. These people, whose hygienic practices were not as well developed as those of their Mediterranean counterparts, much preferred it to wine, since its preparation did not involve the use of feet. Indeed, beer shaped the course of European history. For one, it likely prevented the Irish from becoming a world power, although it was a major factor in their population boom.

The Europeans, of course, brought beer with them to the New World, and by the early 1900's, over seventeen-hundred breweries had sprung up across America. Then came what would be remembered as beer's dark ages- the Prohibition Era. Prohibition was established with the best of intentions, I'm sure, one being to preserve grain for the country's war effort. The problem was, in typical government fashion, Congress didn't get around to enacting it until after the war was over. And it didn't go into effect until 1920, more than two years later. That's not bad, though, when you consider that Congress just recently managed to pass the budget bill for fiscal 1920.

And so, prohibition ended up producing none of the positive benefits that had been hoped for. In fact, is effects were quite to the contrary, eventually leading to the Great Depression, and I'm not talking about the economy here.

Prohibition was finally repealed in 1933, although it took much longer for American beer to fully recover. The number of breweries had fallen to only a small handful, and Americans had turned towards other forms of spirits, such as wine. Many households made their own wine during prohibition. It was quite easy, and methods were in place by then that did not involve the use of feet. It also helped that grape juice carried warning labels such as: "TO PREVENT THE FORMATION OF ALCOHOL, DO NOT MIX THIS PRODUCT WITH YEAST AND STORE IT IN A BARREL FOR SIX MONTHS BEFORE CONSUMING IT."

Still, beer made its steady comeback. The 1980's saw the advent of microbreweries and their and craft-brewed beers. These presented a refreshing alternative to the mass-produced American brands, whose quality made you swear that Chugg had returned as highly paid consultant to the large beer companies. So, we can all now raise out glasses and celebrate the full recovery of America's beer culture. Its future, and hence the future of civilization itself, is a bright one indeed.

The rising popularity of karaoke in recent years is but a minor setback to this overall trend.


Mike McHugh



Mike McHugh is the author of "The Dang Yankee", a humorous column about a northerner's experience of life in Louisiana. Started in 2009, it appears in The Jambalaya News, a biweekly publication in the southwest portion of the state. The column can also be accessed on the paper's website at He is currently working on his first book, to be titled The Dang Yankee's Guide to Louisiana. It is targeted for release in late 2012.


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