The Art of Beer


Drink Beer

Beer is a alcoholic beverage that is made from fermented grains. These grains have been brewed by humans for well over 6000 years. Beer and beer brewing has played a surprising role in science and history, and it is one of the world’s oldest engineered beverages.

According to Wise Geek, beer can be classified into to different categories: ale and lager.  I know that this fact is up for debate by some beer aficionados . This post isn’t about that debate. It a short overview of the history and science of beer. Therefore, when I use the term beer it will also encompass ales and lagers.


Code de Hammurabi, roi de Babylone via Wikipedia

Code de Hammurabi, roi de Babylone via Wikipedia

Ancient Babylonians had laws that directly related to beer in the Code of Hammurabi, their list of laws for society. During that time women were usually the tavern-keepers, and the Babylonians made strict laws about fair prices in taverns and appropriate tavern behavior. The Babylonians did not take speaking out against the government in taverns kindly. Possible consequences included a court hearing for the dissenters and death to the tavern-keeper if she didn’t snitch on the dissenters. Humans and been speaking out against everything including the government in taverns, bars, pubs, and saloons for a long, long time. It is a time honored tradition that I do not see waning in the near future.

The ancient Egyptians enjoyed the malted beverage too. They gave rations to Pyramids of Giza builders and “workers” on the Nile. Some cultures even considered beer nourishing. During the Medieval period, people consumed beer soup, a roux-based soup made with beer, for breakfast.

There is evidence that throughout history humans drank beer as safe alternative to water. Not in the sense of a substitute for water but in lieu of. This makes sense really. You could choose to drink the stinky water or you could enjoy a delicious beer. Guess which our brothers and sisters in history often chose? That’s right, beer.

Not all beers were always high in alcohol content either. You could give a child a small beer which contained little alcohol and no one would give you a second look. Those were very different times, Dear Readers.

Even George Washington, the first American President, was a home beer brewer.

George Washington’s recipe for small beer:


Image and transcription via New York Public Library

 To Make Small Beer

Take a large Siffer [Sifter] full of Bran Hops to your Taste. Boil these 3 hours then strain out 30 Gall[ons] into a cooler put in 3 Gall[ons] Molasses while the Beer is Scalding hot or rather draw the Melasses (sic) into the cooler & St[r]ain the Beer on it while boiling Hot. let this stand till it is little more than Blood warm then put in a quart of Yea[s]t if the Weather is very Cold cover it over with a Blank[et] & let it Work in the Cooler 24 hours then put it into the Cask — leave the bung open till it is almost don[e] Working — Bottle it that day Week it was Brewed.

Like any engineered product, beer has evolved over its long history. With the inclusion of hops and improved brewing processes, beers of the ancient past may not be recognizable to us today. Ancient beers were often flavored with things like olives, dates, mandrakes, and different herbs. That sounds absolutely terrible.

Even though beer is an alcoholic beverage, it mostly made of water. Hops are added to give beer a richer flavor that should compliment the sweetness of the malt. Crafting beer really is a scientific art. It is an engineering marvel designed to create an aesthetically pleasing, sensory experience.

Beer Production Flow Chart via Britannica

Beer Production Flow Chart via Encyclopedia Britannica


Beer even holds an important role in science and microbiology.

“I intend to establish that, just as there is an alcoholic ferment, the yeast of beer, which is found everywhere that sugar is decomposed into alcohol and carbonic acid, so also there is a particular ferment, a lactic yeast, always present when sugar becomes lactic acid.”

Louis Pasteur in 1857

Louis Pasteur made great advancements to science when he was able to demonstrate that fermentation was caused by the growth of microorganisms.  His research concluded that it was microorganisms like bacteria that spoiled beverages like beer, wine, and milk. Around 1864, Pasteur discovered that heating beer and wine to a certain temperature could kill the microorganisms that caused beverages to spoil. This process is now called pasteurization. Pasteur continued to study germ theory and helped develop vaccines for rabies and anthrax.  Pasteur completely changed what humans understood about microorganisms, germs, bacteria, and health. All because he wanted to study what made beer spoil. Thanks beer!


More Beer Facts *


 “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.” -President Abraham Lincoln



{I recommend} bread, meat, vegetables, and beer. – Socrates on a moderate diet


beer 3

Man’s way to God is with beer in hand. – Koffyar Tribal Wisdom, Nigeria



Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer! – Martin Luther


From man’s sweat and God’s love, beer came into the world. – Saint Arnoldus


The mouth of a perfectly happy man is filled with beer. – Egyptian Proverb



Fermentation and civilization are inseparable. – John Ciardi




Avalon Project: Code of Hammurabi (108 & 109)

Biography: Louis Pasteur


4 thoughts on “The Art of Beer

  1. This is fantastic! Where did you take all these beer can pics? I’ve said it before; you are such a talented nonfiction writer! I’ve been behind reading your posts but it’s a good morning to catch up on them. Ah, beer. The hardest part of my gluten free lifestyle change last year was saying goodbye to my beloved Amstel and all others. I was a beer girl. I cried when I finally found a gf beer that tasted like beer a couplle months ago. It was glorious! Thanks for the good read.

    • So glad you enjoyed it. I really do enjoy writing nonfiction. I appreciate the compliment. 🙂

      I went to a local art museum. They were having a special exhibit called the “Art of Beer”. We toured the museum, learned about beer, and sampled beers from a local brewery.The beer can facts were apart of the exhibit. I completely forgot to add that info to the post.

      I didn’t even know that gluten free beer existed until I was looking up some information for this post. I imagined it would be awful, but some brewers have developed great recipes. Who knew beer was a part of STEAM?

  2. Eh beer always makes me feel sick. Maybe it’s the carbonation or the high water content but it’s NEVER my drink of choice. I liked a lot of those beer quotes though, especially Lincoln and Socrates.

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