The origins of beer can be traced back before 6000BCE. The earliest
recipe known was
found preserved on cuneiform tablets found in Sumeria (modern day Iraq). Then, beer was
made from grains that were crushed, mixed with water and baked into cakes. The bread-like
cakes could be stored for long periods. When ready to brew, the cakes were broken and mixed
with warm water. Fermentation began spontaneously from wild yeasts that were present in the
area. Later, other areas of the world discovered beer and brewed with grains common to that
area. For example, wheat was used in Mesopotamia, rice in Asia, and sorghum in Africa. All
three are members of Poaceae, the grasses. The Greeks made a barley beer known as pinon
Alcohol content of early beers are thought to be lower than that of modern beers and were most
likely not carbonated. Beer was also made independently by the Chinese, Egyptians and pre-
Columbian civilizations in the Americas, who used corn instead of barley. In the middle ages,
European monks were not only the guardians of literature and science, but mastered the art of
beer making as well. They refined the process to near perfection and institutionalized the use of
hops as a flavoring and preservative. However, it wasn’t until 1876 when Louis Pasteur
published his famous work, "Etudes sur la Biere" ("Studies Concerning Beer") where he
discovered microorganisms. Until that time, brewers had to depend on wild, airborne yeast for
fermentation. By establishing that yeast is a living microorganism, Pasteur opened the doors for
accurately controlling the production of beer.
The early English settlers of North America relied primarily on the importation of
English beers. These beers where all top fermenting ales like the beers found in England today.
However, with the wave of German immigrants in 1840, came the bottom fermenting lager
yeasts of Germany. Lager yeast quickly replaced ale yeast and became the standard in the
United States. Still today, the majority of beer brewed in the US is bottom fermenting lagers.
After WWI, anti-German sentiment lead to the Volstead Act which began the prohibition. Over
President Woodrow Wilson’s veto, 1,568 breweries closed in January of 1920 when Prohibition
became national law. It wouldn’t be till April 1933 when President Roosevelt repealed the law.
A year later, 756 breweries were in operation. These numbers dwindled in the following years
as larger breweries ran smaller breweries out of business in an effort to expand nationally. In
1978 only 89 breweries where in operation in the US producing 25 nationally distributed brands.
That year on Oct. 14th, president Carter passed legislation allowing individuals to brew up to
100 gallons of beer. Thus the age of “homebrewing” started. By the turn of the century, over
2000 breweries and microbreweries were operating in the US. There are now more styles of
beer produced in the U.S. than in any other country in the world. And this all happened in less
than twenty five years.