The Barbarian’s Beverage

More sophisticated beer enthusiasts may already know their favourite beverage was being made in places like Egypt and Mesopotamia as far back as 5,000 years ago. They may also incorrectly assume it was eventually brought from there to Europe as civilizations spread out and evolved, according to University of Windsor professor Max Nelson.

“There’s no evidence that ancient Europeans got their beer from Egyptians,” says Dr. Nelson, a professor in the university’s department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, and a resident beer expert. “In fact, there was an independent European brewing tradition which few people know about which already existed in ancient times. They were already experimenting in prehistoric times with all sorts of ingredients, and some of the most important innovations in beer-making come from Europe.”

The author of a 2005 book called The Barbarian’s Beverage: A History of Beer in Ancient Europe, Nelson has recently written a new chapter in a book called The Geography of Beer: Regions, Environment, and Societies.

His latest work – which focuses on the period between 1000 BC and 1000 AD – challenges the notion that beer was made exclusively in northern regions of Europe like Britain and Germany, and that such countries as France, Italy, and Spain shunned beer, focusing instead on wine. Citing both written and archeological evidence, he says a more likely scenario is that beer was made throughout most of Europe, and that rather than a north-south split, the continent can be divided on an east-west axis based on the types of cereals and additives that were used as ingredients.

His chapter focuses on beer made with barley, wheat and millet, as well as such additives as hops, sweet gale and honey, and includes two maps indicating which ingredients were used in various regions of ancient Europe. Barley, he says, was used by beer makers throughout the continent, while wheat was used as a secondary cereal in the west, and millet was used in the east.

As for additives, he says sweet gale – a flowering shrub native to northern and western Europe – was first used in the Rhine estuary region around the first century BC, while hops were popularized in the Ile de France area in the ninth century AD. Honey, he says, was used throughout western Europe, except for the Iberian peninsula and Ireland.

Nelson said his research is important because knowing about the history of beer and how it developed provides both consumers and the people who make it with a richer sense of the time-tested customs that have gone into developing their beverage of choice.

“Beer is one of the most drunk beverages in the world today, and may be the most popular after water and tea,” he said. “Many people don’t understand the ancient tradition behind these things.”

Nelson will appear today on Research Matters, a weekly talk show that focuses on the work of University of Windsor researchers and airs every Thursday at 4:30 p.m. on CJAM 99.1 FM.

Note: This article is republished with permission from the University of Windsor website. Also note, Stephen Field’s podcast, “Research Matters” is a product of the University of Windsor, and a separate project from the pan-Ontario Research Matters campaign.

Tagged: Community, Culture, Economy, Stories

Share: Print

Leave Comments

Blog Posts

Helping infertile men avoid ...

Sharon Oosthoek | May 26, 2016

Infertile men who want children face the prospect of painful and expensive testicular biopsies with no guarantee it will result in their partner's pregnancy. But thanks to the collaborative work of University of Toronto scientists, there is now another way. Stephen Scherer, a geneticist and director of the Centre for Applied Genomics, and laboratory geneticist Elena Kolomietz at Mount Sinai Hospital, have come up with a non-invasive test that lets men know whether a biopsy has a chance of leading to fatherhood. Testicular biopsies are designed to retrieve sperm from men whose ejaculate contains none. The problem is that men with certain types of genetic mutation don't have any sperm in their testes to retrieve. The new  test makes it easier to diagnose these mutations and to find other genetic abnormalities that have yet to be linked to male infertility. read more »
joggers

Outrunning the fat gene

Pippa Wysong | May 17, 2016

Moderate physical activity blunts the effects of a key gene known to cause obesity, according to recent research out of McMaster University. This is good news for people who are prone to being overweight because it runs in the family. It shows your genes are not your destiny, says McMaster human geneticist David Meyre,  and that often their effects can be modulated by lifestyle choices. Meyre and his team published a study this year showing just how much of an effect varying levels of exercise have on the activity of several obesity genes. read more »

Unlocking the heart’s ...

Laura Eggertson | May 13, 2016

Whenever she hears about the sudden death of a young athlete who has collapsed with heart failure on a hockey rink, soccer field or basketball court, Mona Nemer is painfully reminded of the importance of her work. The University of Ottawa biochemist and molecular cardiologist's pioneering work involves discovering genes critical for normal heart development – genes that, if mutated or absent, lead to birth defects or heart disease. One of those genes, which Nemer and her team identified, is GATA4. The nondescript name does not do justice to the gene’s vital function: if defective, GATA4 can cause a condition called atrial septal defect, a tiny hole between the two chambers of the heart. read more »

Ancient Black Death DNA ...

Michelle Donovan | May 9, 2016

An international team of researchers, including McMaster University's Hendrik Poinar, has uncovered new information about the Black Death in Europe and its descendants, suggesting it persisted on the continent over four centuries, re-emerging to kill hundreds of thousands in Europe in separate, devastating waves. The findings address the longstanding debate among scientists about whether or not the bacterium Yersinia pestis — responsible for the Black Death — remained within Europe for hundreds of years and was the principal cause of some of the worst re-emergences and subsequent plague epidemics in human history. Until now, some researchers believed repeated outbreaks were the result of the bacterium being re-introduced through major trade with China, a widely-known reservoir of the plague. read more »
genetic barcodes

Barcoding life, one species ...

Sharon Oosthoek | May 2, 2016

Nobody knows for sure how many species exist. But scientists are certain we have identified only a fraction of the plants, animals and fungi on the planet — roughly 1.7 million species out of an estimated 10 to 20 million. "Most of the yet-to-be-identified species will be tinier life forms, but the numbers could even be larger," says University of Guelph biologist Paul Hebert. "That's just a best guess." read more »
More Blogs »