Beer – The Incorrigibly Social Drink
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You never know where or how a blog post will end up when you begin. I had some ideas about where it was going, but as I delved into the subject of beer, I entered a whole new world, a fascinating world. There is so much to write about – too much for just one article. I hope you will enjoy this cursory exploration of the subject of the world’s most widely consumed alcoholic drink.
Beer Is Incorrigibly Social
More than any other alcoholic drink, beer has long been associated with everything social, from sporting events to holiday gatherings, from summer barbeques and beachside picnics to after work socials, beer is always an invited guest. It is cool, it is refreshing and it brings people together.
For as long as beer has been around and for as long as people have been around, beer has been a central player in fireside gatherings, storytelling, singing, and dancing. It usually goes along with a good feast (lots of food) and celebrations. It may not always have been the alcoholic drink we know today, but just the fact of consuming it and connecting with social bonding may have been enough to produce endorphins (feel-good hormones) in the brain: the power of association + good food + good drink.
Probably, as alcohol became an integral part of the beer brewing process (fermentation), this also enhanced endorphin production creating an even stronger need to bond with fellow drinkers. I think it is safe to say that beer may have been instrumental in building stable, interdependent communities.
Let’s Raise a Toast!
Beer drinking became an important social and highly regarded action as a way of showing loyalty to one’s monarch or state (toasting). Not drinking would likely set you apart as (1) someone who was not much fun to be around and (2) someone not to be trusted and potentially dangerous for refusing to toast your allegiance. The “not being much fun” thinking still holds true today. People are a bit wary of someone who never drinks.
And the Pressure Is On
Can we be real for a bit? Beer marketing is all about peer pressure, wouldn’t you agree? Of course, people also drink beer because they like to, but my point is there is a lot of heavy marketing going on too. Marketing campaigns for beer target social groups, age groups, and market to promote social values such as “fitting in”, adventure, risk, friendship groups, fun, success, respect from peers and others. Imagery, music, and ambiance all play together to promote these values and gather “membership”.
Status, personal identity, and personal style are other aspects that people look at when choosing beers to drink. What feeling do they want to have, what style do they want to embrace and what image do they want to portray of themselves?
And there are also cultural differences between countries. For example, in Brazil, beer drinking might be strongly associated with sporting events and perhaps social status, whereas in China, affordability and convenience might be factors that determine the market. In India, the beer drinking culture might be vastly different from the beer drinking culture in the West.
A Bit of History
The earliest evidence of beer making from barley goes back to about 3,500 – 3,100 B.C in Western Iran. During the building of the Great Egyptian Pyramids, workers were given beer ( 4-5 liters) as a source of refreshment and nutrition as payment for their work. Archeologists believe that beer was instrumental in the development of early civilizations.
Beer consumption later spread throughout Europe by Germanic and Celtic tribes, but most likely, the beer they drank back then would not be recognized by beer drinkers today. This “old type” of beer usually contained different combinations of fruits, honey, plants and spices and sometimes narcotic elements as well. They did not contain hops at the time; this was introduced later on.
It was only in 1516 that the Duke of Bavaria adopted the beer “purity law” ( an early ancestor of today’s nutritional safety regulations), which stipulated that the only ingredients permissible in beer were: water, hops, and barley-malt.
Up until the time of the Industrial Revolution, beer making was primarily artisanal and local. The Industrial Revolution changed this situation as it had changed many other small size industries as well. Beer making was launched into an industrial global market.
Fascinating Beer Facts
(1) The oldest known beer recipe dates back about 4,000 years to ancient Sumeria.
(2) Hops ( the bitter factor in beer) is closely related to the Marijuana plant.
(3) The strongest beer in the world, Brewmeister’s “Snake Venom” (from Scotland) has 64.5% alcohol,
(4) The most expensive beer in the world is Belgian’s “Vielle Bon Secours” sells for $1,000 US.
(5) Cenosillicaphobia is the fear of an empty beer glass (no kidding!)
(6) In ancient Egypt (time of the Pharaohs) beer was the national currency.
(7) It was illegal for men to sell or brew beer in ancient Egypt.
(8) In the 13th century, some people in Norway would baptize their children in beer.
(9) The first professional beer brewers were women. In ancient Peru, the brewers had to be of noble birth or extremely beautiful.
(10) The ancient Babylonian King Hammurabi decreed that every person must have a ration of beer each day. He also decreed that if a woman served bad beer, she was to be drowned.
(11) Zythology is the study of beer and the beer making process, including the role of the ingredients in beer.
(12) Beer cans in Japan have braille on them so that blind people don’t confuse them with soda cans.
(13) In 19th century Germany, nursing mothers in Munich drank up to 7 pints a day because they believed it was necessary to be able to breastfeed their children.
(14) In Africa, there is a beer brewed from bananas.
(15) In France, Germany, Austria, and Spain, McDonald’s serves beer.
The Micro Breweries
The craft beer industry began in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s with a desire to move out of the mainstream beer industry. The clientele of this industry was willing to pay more for better tasting beer than the mass-produced variety. Since then the microbreweries and craft beer operations have increased in number to into the thousands today.
Their image is different, their message is different, they speak a different language and their clientele is seeking quality, refined beer. These beers are different, – they are bold and edgy. They make a statement and bring a freshness to the beer world. But the small breweries have to fight an uphill battle. There is and always will be a big market for beer. They have to be savvy about marketing their brand. Operational costs, distribution, and marketing can take big chunks out of any profit made. They can literally make or break the brewery.
So, what have I learned from all of this? For one thing, I have gained a new “observers” respect for this beverage (I am not really much of a beer drinker). I have gained an admiration for those who struggle to make it in the microbrewery business. I admire their entrepreneurship and courage. I have learned a lot about the social and cultural history of beer and its impact on civilization.
Beer is not just beer; it is a revolution (or an evolution), an expression of who we are as a society – our values and our shared cultures. It is a barometer of where we have been and where we are today. So, next time you raise a toast, remember, as the Germans say:
“Ein Prosit, Ein Prosit!
Ein Prosit, Ein Prosit!
A toast, a toast!
To cheer and good times.
A toast, a toast!
To cheer and good times.
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