History in homebrew

This week I bottled my first batch of homebrewed beer

It was just the lager that came with the brewing kit but I couldn't help but tinker with the recipe and infused the water with mugwort and yarrow before adding the other ingredients.

As it fermented I remembered assisting my father brew his beer and then reflected on a passage in The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz where he discussed how brewers in previous millenia would call on the spirits to make alcohol.

We now know these spirits are yeasts and other bacterias but I like the idea that brewing beer links me to a tradition going back thousands of years.

The image shown comes from a Sumerian tablet showing people drinking beer with straws to remove the chunks that formed during brewing.

Katz' book also discusses how early European brews had a greater variety than our bottleshops today.

Local alcoholic drinks came to be known as gruits and their flavourings contained a combination of moderately narcotic herbs.

During the 11th Century the Holy Roman Empire awarded monopoly brewing rights as a way of collecting taxes and social control.
"Regulating beers and what could go into them across a vast territory effectively transferred power from the women who gathered herbs and brewed beer with it to the emergent institutions of empire."

Hops started to be used as a flavouring and preservative, particularly among German brewers who were outside of the control of the Empire but began mass production and transport to capitalise on the opportunities.

By the 1400s the beers brewed with hops were competing with gruits and the term beer became associated with barley-based drinks to which hops had been added.

Katz quotes Stephen Harrod Buhner as interpreting the rise of hops as part of competition between faiths.
"One of the arguments of the Protestants against the Catholic clergy (and indeed, against Catholicism) was their self-indulgence in food, drink, and lavish lifestyle... This behaviour was felt to be very un-Christlike indeed."

Buhner identifies that the aphrodisiac and psychotropic herbs used in gruits were discouraged, including yarrow, sweet gale and marsh rosemary.

Hops beer had alcohol but produced "subdued behaviour and eventual torpor."
"The result was, ultimately, the end of a many-thousands-years' tradition of herbal beer making in Europe and the narrowing of beer and ale into one limited expression of beer production -- that of hopped ales or what we call today beer."

The next brew in my fermenter is mugwort with rosemary and lemon.