Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles - [Narrator] Sumer 4,000 years ago. The woman recites a hymn to the goddess Ninkasi as she works. "Ninkasi, it is you who water the earth covered malt. "The noble dogs guard it even from the royals. "It is you who soak the malt in a jar. "It is you who spread the cooked mash on large reed mats. "It is you who holds with both hands "the great sweet wart, brewing it with honey and wine. "You place the fermenting fat, "which makes a pleasant sound, "appropriately on top of a large collector vat. "It is you who pour out the filtered beer "of the collector vat. "It is like the onrush of the Tigris and the Euphrates." Then, she takes a sip. This is the first known recipe for beer, the drink that built civilization. (bright music) Thanks so much to World Anvil for helping us draft today's historical tale. Now, while you watch the five little books drop in our opening graphic, you may have thought to yourself are they really gonna spend a whole series on beer? I mean, is there really that much to say about it? (chuckles) Oh, yeah. Yeah, there is. In fact, our biggest problem isn't going to be how to fill this series, but actually how much stuff we're going to have to leave out because the story of beer is that massive. From its origins of being brewed in neolithic baskets, it rose to an industrialized beverage shipped around the world, facilitating many historical events along the way, from helping the British takeover India, to the establishment of food quality laws, not to mention pubs and beer halls have been the headquarters of many revolutions, from the Green Dragon Tavern of the Sons of Liberty to Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch. Beer's story is a global one. No one person or culture invented it. In fact, beer was probably more discovered than created and that discovery happened all around the world independently, so far back that we have no idea when it first came into being. See, beer not only predates writing, it also predates pottery, domesticated grain, and possibly even settled villages and organized religion. It's ancient to the point of being primordial, first appearing in the archeological record via traces of it on a potsherd discovered in what is now Iran, a potsherd that's 7,000 years old. So given how ancient beer is, how, when and why it came to be requires some speculation. Now, alcohol would've been known to early humans, even in hunter gatherer societies, because it occurs naturally. Fruit left out too long can naturally ferment and create alcohol. And that fermentation happens when a single cell fungus called yeast feeds on sugars, producing carbon dioxide and ethanol as waste products. Seriously, forget dogs or cats. Yeast is actually man's best friend. I mean, just look at these little yeasty boys. Awe, cute little bubbly buddies. (cat meowing) Sorry, Zoe, but it's kind of true. Yes, dogs helped ancient humans with hunting and security and cats definitely kept the rodents down and I know you do a wonder on my taxes, but yeast eats carbohydrates and poops out alcohol, an action crucial for making both bread and beer. Though neolithic humans didn't understand fermentation or what alcohol was, they knew the important stuff. It was a substance that induced a state of altered consciousness and tasted pretty good. Good enough, at least, to attract elephants and monkeys who also loved to get smashed on rotting fruit. This fermented fruit is what you know as wine, which we associate with grapes today but has been historically made with any sweet fruit, from plums to dates or even in the sap of palm trees. Beer, by contrast, comes from fermented grain which does not appear naturally. And to make it, you need semi-settled agriculture. So here's how one theory suggests beer came to be. First, hunter gatherers realized that grains were a steady source of nutrition. If you pulled grains from wild cereals like barley and wheat then soaked or boiled them in water, they made an oatmeal or thin gruel that was rich in nutrients. Further, this could be added to soups as a thickener. And grain, unlike fruit and meat, could easily be stored for later. Throw a bunch of grain in a basket and, provided it doesn't get wet, it can last years. But you know, lugging around a basket of grain isn't really ideal while chasing a mammoth. So these hunter gatherers started forming settlements where wild grains were abundant. There, humans learned to make bread 11,000 to 14,000 years ago. Then at one point or another, some dough was contaminated by yeast, causing it to ferment and rise due to the carbon dioxide forming bubbles. Beer followed a bit later as an offshoot of bread making. And perhaps fittingly, given beer's reputation as a relaxing drink, the prevailing theory for this cultural defining beverage's discovery involves someone being lazy. The thought goes that a grain store, maybe a basket, was left out in the rain and sprouted. Wild yeast then colonized the mixture or someone either accidentally or on purpose dropped bread into it. Then afterward, someone decided to drink the resulting fermentation and found that it made them pleasantly intoxicated. And presto, the first keg stand, metaphorically. Then it wasn't long until people were making beer on purpose. It appeared on the tabulation accounts of ancient Sumer and a recently discovered brewery site in China is 5,000 years old. Our first recipe, quoted in this episode's introduction, comes from a hymn to the Sumerian goddess Ninkasi, praising her creation of the drink while telling brewers had to replicate it. It was recorded 3,900 years ago, but is probably older. Yeah, beer was so important it had its own goddess, which makes sense because it was a cornerstone of civilization. Humans in the fertile crescent increasingly took up settled agriculture in order to subsist off of bread and beer, a lifestyle that led to larger populations, permanent structures and irrigation, AKA cities. In these settlements, they kept grain in common storehouses overseen by priests. And one theory goes that these grain stores gradually evolved, gaining more religious functions, to become the first temples. And writing was invented to catalog their contents. In fat times, the temple would collect the grain, and then in lean times, they would distribute it. And that distribution often came in the form of beer. Indeed, during the construction of the pyramids, beer was one of the main forms of payment. In fact, there's even a theory that goes given the ecology of the area, the wine mentioned in the Bible might have been a translation error and what people were actually drinking was beer. In fact, it was a major selling point for living in cities. Eat bread, divide labor, ride out bad harvests and drink beer. Heck, even in the epic of Gilgamesh, which we have a series on and you can watch here, the wild man Enkidu is civilized and turned human by the consumption of bread and beer. Beer had become the symbol of complex society and necessary for living in cities. See, the problem with cities back then is that human waste quickly poisoned nearby water sources, making them unsafe to drink. But the alcohol in beer was sufficient to kill any microbes that affected humans. So beer was not just a pleasure drink, but a necessary technology for urban living.