Here Thar Be Monsters!

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Praise The Lord And Pass The Beer


The third most popular drink on Earth, after water and tea.

As I briefly mentioned a while back, one of my current projects is to create a "beer culture" in Indonesia.  Surprisingly, this is probably one of the few places on Earth that doesn't have one.  Oh, sure, there are three local brands (only one I consider to be real beer), but nothing like most of the places I've ever been.

This is even more surprising because Asia consumes more than a third of all beer produced each year (37%).  China is the largest single consumer of beer, though the Czech Republic is the greatest per capita cosumer by far.  Of the top 58 beer-drinking nations, Indonesia doesn't rank at all, falling behind even Sri Lanka, which has a per capita consumption of just 2 liters per year.  I consider that a good night out for one person.

In looking back at the 700+ articles I've put up here over the last seven years, I noticed that somehow, I've completely missed this vital topic, and I intend to correct that now.  The issue arises because I've spent the whole weekend preparing the presentation and documentation for my first beer workshop, to be held in July as part of an on-going Adult Continuing Education (ACE) program I am starting up.  And what could be more fun than to be forced to drink beer as part of your education?

You see, I happen to be a beer aficionado.  I say "aficionado" because I'm not really an expert.  Experts get paid for their knowledge.  I just get plowed.  But actually, beer is a key component of human civilization.  We likely would never have gotten together in villages if it hadn't been for one key mistake: people like sweet stuff and sweet stuff ferments, when given the chance.

It all started about 12,000 years ago, when humans discovered that they could plant and grow stuff in a field, making the whole "gatherer" part of hunting and gathering so much easier.  Turned out, too, that if the harvested grain got wet and sprouted (malted), it turned the water sweet from the sugars contained in the seeds.

Even better, and this is why beer is considered the drink of the gods, if you left that water lying around for a couple of months, why drinking it got you pretty damn happy.  And well, when you are eaking out a living hunting and gathering, worrying out preditors and hoping your hut doesn't collapse in the next rain, a drink that makes you feel happy has got to be a gift from the higher powers.  They didn't know about yeast, it was just magic.

This kind of open-air fermentation is called "wild," and is still in use today in Belgium, where some of the finest beers on Earth are produced, a list that includes grand cru and lambic beers.  My oh my, if I could bring myself to live in the heart of the EU beast, I'd never leave the monastery doors.  But, I digress.

So, anyway, the chemical evidence for beer-making is about 9,000 years old.  It comes from China, Mesopotamia and the Americas.  Beer-making seems to have arisen spontaneously in every part of the world, though the spontaneous part is debatable in a different topic.

Written records of beer date back 7,000 years to the Egyptians and Babylonians.  Egyptian hieroglyphics describe a process of boiling and mashing grain.  The Babylonians even had a goddess of beer, Ninkasi, and prayers to her included the recipe, lest, gods forbid, anyone forget it.  The Code of Hammurabi has the first written purity and distribution laws for beer.  Those folks were way ahead of their times.

Beer is everywhere in the historical record, and the drink is the center of many rituals and festivals throughout all human records.  Egyptians were buried with it.  The Maya mixed it with cocoa (must have been rather exhilarating to drink).  Many cultures seasoned it with wild honey and cannabis, which probably led to the discovery of hops, since they are related plants.

The first mention of hops comes from an abbot at a monastery in Belgium (them again).  The second known mention was an abbess (now we're talking) about 50 years later.  At any rate, the hops were added to tone down the sweet taste and because hops have a natural anti-bacterial effect, thus preserving the precious liquour a bit longer  Shows you too that drinking real, fresh beer can be healthy for you.

In 1487, the Bavarians came up with the Reinheitsgebot, or Purity Order.  This is the first known food quality law in Western history, and is still in effect today, though greatly changed.  At any rate, it was so popular that the Duke of Bavaria at the time, Wilhelm IV, made it the law of the land in 1516.

About the same time, a fellow named Arnoul in the Flanders region (those danged Belgians again) turned beer into a sacred Catholic thing and ended up the patron saint of beer.  Known today as St. Arnold, he is often pictured with a mashing rake, just in case you forget why he is so saintly.

By the 1600s, the inventions of the microscope and thermometer turned beer-making from an art to a science.  With the ability to see yeast for the first time and watch how they turn sugar into alcohol, and the ability to precisely control temperatures during mashing, fermenting and conditioning, beer quality suddenly became a repeatable process.

In the 1800s, the Industrial Revolution turned beer into a mass-produced commodity.  Today, it is controlled, naturally, by a cartel of international corporations who produce and distribute hundreds of billions of liters of the stuff, raking in (mash pun there) tens of billions of dollars.

Thankfully, though, there are a great many regional brewers, and home brewing is still a popular activity.  In fact, for many years I home-brewed.  It's a highly social event every six weeks or so to drink the last batch while making the next one.  Check with you local brew supply shop for more details.

In any event, beer is still at the heart of civilization.  Huge brew fests happen annually all over the world, Oktoberfest being the largest and most famous - especially for the bier madchien, with their large,, glasses of beer.

Though most people don't realize it, beer and bread have the same ingredients: grain, water, yeast.  The process is slightly different and beer has more water in it (obviously), but you get more or less the same nutritional value from beer as from bread.  Personally, I think the beer is much more fun, though the bread is faster.

If it weren't for a bunch of cavemen accidentally fermenting grain, then all gathering at the cave/pub of the guy with the best brew, and goddesses and saints getting involved, we'd probably all still be living in isolated groups instead of massive cities.

Come to think of it, maybe beer wasn't such a good idea.

By the way, there are only two Indonesian master brewers in the world.  One works at the Paulaner Brauhaus in Plaza Indonesia, and the other at Bali Hai brewery, the finest (way more than Anker or Bintang) Indonesian beer out there.

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