The Worldwide Taste for Beer

The worldwide taste for beer is nothing new and shows no signs of diminishing. The oldest known written recipe is a recipe for beer, written in cuneiform on a Mesopotamian clay tablet. According to The Beer Institute, archeologists deciphering the tablet learned that the Mesopotamians credited the god Enki for giving them the formula.

The gift of the gods

The brewers of 4,000 years ago may well have felt the need to claim divine provenance for their recipe -- if for no other reason than to beat the competition. The ancient Babylonians are known to have brewed at least 16 types of beer, fermenting all types of grain from wheat to barley and even honey.

The Babylonians were not the only people who believed that beer was a gift from the gods. Ancient Egyptian scriptures, such as The Book of the Dead, are replete with references to the use of beer in rituals, especially in the context of transitioning to the afterlife. The Egyptian pantheon even has a goddess of beer, Tjenenet. However, the staple beer used to pay workers appears to have been a kind of thick, sweet bread-based soup with low alcohol content rather than one of the stronger liquors brewed at the time.

Not only was this bread-beer nutritious rather than intoxicating, there may have been some logic behind the belief that beer came from the gods, as it offered healing properties to those with bacterial infections. George Armelagos, professor of anthropology at Emory University, and Mark Nelson, senior director of chemistry at Paratek Pharmaceuticals, collaborated to show that a fluorescent yellow-green band found under ultraviolet light on ancient human bones discovered near the Sudanese-Egyptian border indicated habitual intake of tetracyclines, an antibiotic they believe the Egyptians added to the brewing process.

A sign of the times

A 2007 study by AC Nielsen found that beer remains the world's favorite beverage. However, with just five major manufacturers producing around 90 percent of the nation's beer in the 1990s, and the trend towards globalization and homogenization continuing into the new millennium, traditional beer lovers increasingly found their favored bitter, stout and dark ales in danger of being wiped out by the plethora of pale ales and lagers in mass production.

In response to the international 'lagerization' of beer production, the Campaign for Real Ale came into being on March 16, 1971, in the United Kingdom, with the aim of raising standards in the drinks industry and promoting small independent brewers, or microbreweries. These breweries often focused on keeping centuries-old traditions, such as artisan brewery and cask ale production, alive. It was to these traditional British, German and Belgian brewers that disillusioned American brewers turned to find alternatives to the many pale ales flooding the market.

Today with almost 2,000 breweries in the United States, microbrewing and craft brewing are enjoying a rise in popularity, with sales increasing 15 percent in 2011 over 2010 figures, while the overall beer market witnessed a 1.32 percent volume decrease. Still, microbrews accounted for less than 6 percent of overall sales, so there's still a danger that the worldwide taste for beer in all its varieties could be replaced by a worldwide taste for lager.

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