Ester and The Enzymes

Ester 1

If brewing awarded Grammys, this little group would be scooping them up year after year. Sure, they’ve had their hits, and their misses, and who hasn’t had at least one complete flop in their career? But, just about every single released by the group has had its fans, although there have been cases of extreme inter-fan rivalry, even downright violence, but there’s no doubt about their loyalty. Across a mind-boggling diversity of genres too, their unmistakable voices shine through, and even though they’ve been around for millennia, the future still looks bright for this extraordinary ensemble.

So, how did they meet?

Well, The Enzymes were there first. They were the ones who broke it down, you know, so others could follow. There were two of them, Alpha and Beta Amylase (sound kinda like stars, don’t they? Who knew?) Regular guys, hard workers, they mostly hung out in grains, like Barley, but also some others like Wheat, Rice, and Corn. Take Barley; the minute that grain started to germinate, or malt, those guys got to work, hydrolyzing those complex starches into sugars, which the grain was going to need as it grew. Of course, no one knew then what was headed their way – Ester; she blew into town one day with some guys called the Yeasts. At first no-one noticed. They kept to themselves, almost invisible. But it wasn’t long before the Yeasts met the grains; Greatest hitsI mean, they were everywhere!

What happened next?

It took everyone by surprise. One minute folks were making their usual daily bread, and the next thing, bang! Beer arrived! Crashed through the saloon doors like in a John Wayne movie. It was crazy! People started singing, laughing, sometimes even throwing the furniture around. What a laugh! And then Ester, this quiet little girl that no-one really noticed before, just appears from the back of the room; a stunning beauty! And what a fragrance! Conversations stopped, men with hands like shovels wrung their fingers nervously, waiting to see what she’d do. She just smiled at The Enzymes, and then gave this…this…smouldering Lauren Bacall look to The Yeasts, and then the music began. They’re still going strong. I’ve been buying their albums for years!

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Archaeology

Ancient Egypt beer

What? You’re probably thinking “Wrong blog, Mate!”, but actually, nothing could be more right. Most anthropologists (and the archaeologists who do the actual hard work of digging and measuring) agree that the first major pivotal point in human civilization was the change about 5,000 years ago from nomadic, Neolithic hunter-gatherers to settled cultivators…..of grain. And why? The answer’s obvious, isn’t it? Beer!  But seriously, think about it. There’s a huge amount of ethanol going on around us, from simple natural fermentation of the sugars found in ripe fruit and malting grains by naturally occurring yeasts. Everything from insects to primates have been drawn to it in one form or fashion since time began, and not only for the nutritional value of the fruits and grains, but also for the unmistakable associated physiological effects of consuming alcohol. So it’s not that hard to imagine your average Neolithic bloke, weary from dragging his hunter-gather family around the plains, would find a bowl of some nice rough beer a happy distraction. He joins the dots, stays where the grains grow, tells his pals, et voila! Civilisation.

BrewingNInkasi is estimated to have emerged in southern Babylonia, or modern day Iraq around 5000 years ago. Rich soils and abundant water laid the foundation of the world’s first major civilisation, the Sumerians, of Lower Mespotamia. The made a type of bread from the grains, which they called bappir, and beer, which they called kas.  They worshipped a goddess by the name of Ninkasi, the “lady who fills the mouth”, and she was definitely quite a number. On Earth, she was in charge of stuff like harvesting, beer and brewing, drunken-ness, seduction, carnal love and almost inevitably, war. The Hymn to Ninkasi, essentially a couple of songs that record the recipes for brewing, and basically how to party with beer, is considered to be one of the world’s earliest pieces of literature! After that, there really was no looking back, because here was everything needed to make large numbers of people stay in one place and watch the show.220px-Standing_Osiris_edit1.svg

From Sumeria onward to Egypt, where in the early Dynastic period, 3100-2686 BCE, the brewing of beer became a lot more sophisticated, with use of several grains, including barley and wheat, and had become an important part of not only their culture but their economy. The Egyptians were in fact the world’s first major exporters of beer! Osiris, a pretty senior god in the Egyptian pantheon, in charge of the fertility, resurrection and the afterlife, was usually depicted holding his brewing staff. So they clearly weren’t messing around.

As Egypt came under the influence of first the Greeks, and then the Romans, both cultures more partial wine, the expansion and development of brewing hit something of a wall. But as the Roman Empire expanded northwards they bumped into a number of grain growing, beer-friendly tribes loosely known as Celts and Germans, and even further north the Britons, whose disinterest in organized warfare and general hairiness set the tone for craft brewers as we know them today!

The rest is history, which most archaeologists will tell you is the easy part.