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  • - [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