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Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Great Beer Question!




I have read several articles in which archaeologists and anthropologists combine to opine that beer served to unify prehistoric savages into cohesive, diplomatic, social and political groups. The collection, cultivation and preparation of grains purely for food may not have been the entire object. Brewing and fermentation resulted in great parties at which intra-and-inter-tribal friendships were forged. Civilization followed.

Reverse could be equally valid. When humans discovered brewing and fermenting they needed social stability in which to do it properly without having to move their crocks and vats around with every nomadic episode. Savagery is very aerobic and one's things jostle and chip. Getting civilized was the obvious solution.

We can imagine a typical prehistoric domestic exchange:

She: I'm having neighbors over this evening for pot-luck.
He: Good! Oh wait, you haven't invited the Savages, have you?
She: You always ask that but always compliment what they bring over.
He: Well, yes, I like roast enemy as much as the next fellow but enough's enough!
She: Then you'll be pleased to hear the Savages have lately got civilized.
He: Great! They can help with beer then.

So the question is: does the eons-long, astonishingly arduous ascent of humankind into civilization owe its success to the fact that guys will do anything for a beer, even become civilized?

35 comments:

  1. In my youth I used beer to explain a fair number of things, but 'civilized' never was among them.
    On another tact, I have made beer, for several years, in my home. The oldest still remembers with grimaces, the smell was not to her pleasing. It was great fun, watching the process of grain, water, and hops combined.
    Cheers,
    Mike

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    1. When I was a kid, Mike, my dad used to make beer. I'd help bottle it and store it in the cellar in boxes. We'd know when it was ready by tapping a box experimentally with a stick. If a bottle exploded in there, it was ready --thus combining two favorite guy things, beer and exploding experiments. Good old days!

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  2. Dear Geo.,
    thank you for explaining the development of civilization - I will send it at once to a friend of ours who is a connoisseur of beer/ale. Which I found out in a very practical way: I wondered when he last years mentioned to me the planned stops for the narrow-boat-tour (his idea): it were always pubs... (wich our French friends on the boat pronounced "pöb" - which I instantly adopted, even before my first beer/ale). Of course all those beverages were home-brewed, not from despicable industry.
    As to civilization: did the party you speak of was like this? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50tlF3kGbT4

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    1. Dear Brigitta,
      Happily, the party was in my imagination so no animals were injured --thanks for the video address!

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  3. I raise my glass of Harpoon Octoberfest to you and to civilization!

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    1. It does stand to reason that one needs to have cultivated grains in order to have beer.

      Did you know the government subsidized hops farmers during Prohibition? Hops is, after all, only grown for one reason.

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    2. Somehow that bolsters my faith in the Dept. Of Agriculture, and my trust that civilization generates a persistent social legacy. Thanks, Squid!

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    3. And, Japanese sake is technically a beer, not a wine, as it is brewed grained rather than fermented fruit.

      You have awoken my inner beer geek.

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    4. Indeed, sake is produced from fermented starch --beerlike-- but contains somewhat more alcohol than most grape wines, so it's best served hot with a meal which evaporates its kick to slightly under wine level. But I have seen a Methodist minister underestimate it at wedding dinner and resolved to treat it as a wine thereafter.

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    5. Most wicked hangover-inducing beverage ever invented, too. Japan is where I learned to stick to beer - the barley and hops variety.

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  4. Everybody pause. Think of a hot summer day; a really hot day. Then think of digging that bottle of beer from way down under the ice in the cooler. It has been in that ice water for hours. Listen to the swoosh as you open it. Now you take you first drink from the freshly opened ice cold bottle of beer on that really hot summer day. Is there anything more refreshing? Cheers.

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    1. Emma, I want you to know it's a hot day here and I just came in from yard work and...and...well, this cold bottle of beer just appeared in my hand and I don't know how it got there!

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  5. So beer had a greater, unifying, utilitarian purpose?? I'll drink to that!!

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    1. In moderation, I hope. Too much civilization can impair coordination.

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  6. It does help explain the man cave. And football. Maybe men were willing to be unified and civilized but only to a point.

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    1. Yes! And certainly baseball, where we get to beat something into the sky with clubs. Beer is essential to all these civilized pursuits.

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  7. There are times when a beer, or an ale, is exactly what is needed to soothe the savage that lurks within. Science, to the rescue.

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    1. Good thing, too! Tom, I suspect much of human science evolved in celebration of beer --we were greatly encouraged as a species by it.

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  8. I always thought it was the invention of the bicycle that encouraged civilization; the day when young men, and women, could travel to an adjacent village to find a mate, rather than marrying a cousin or sibling. But beer probably helped then too.

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    1. Yes, bicycles and beer would teach moderation. Too much beer and one falls off one's wheel. Then who knows what one wakes up married to?

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  9. When I was young, I saw civilization in disarray at some keg parties. Beer gives and beer takes and the morning after, we sometimes return to the beast.

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    1. Maybe that's where we learned the difference between civilized disarray and some other kind,

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  10. I think you're onto something! Might even apply to a writer I know. Ahem :)

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    1. Ah, a civilized writer. We need those!

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  11. The only thing I remember about beer is that in ancient times, women were the ones to brew it. I wonder what happened.

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    1. One thing that might have happened is the industrial revolution of the past couple centuries, resulting in factory-produced beer that bought lots of media advertising. Lately, in the past 20 years, I've welcomed a resurgence in microbreweries --many of which are owned by women. Perhaps our beer-palates have impelled us upon a full circle. I'd like to think so!

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  12. To judge by what goes on in my local (that’s English for pub) beer has served to make men laugh and shout and slap each other on the back - and use the toilet rather a lot.
    Yes, that sounds like civilisation.

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    1. Friko, that's one of the best definitions of civilization I've ever seen. As a man, I know men are pretty simple mechanisms.

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  13. Beer was one of the tools used by women to domesticate men. And it makes for a good time.

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    1. On behalf of men everywhere, I extend my gratitude!

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  14. I've heard the theory that beer convinced people to stop wandering and start farming. However, it's also possible that the places that are most hospitable to beer-making are also most hospitable to humans. Perhaps nomads stopped wandering when they found the place they wanted to be, and the beer was an added bonus.

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    1. A sound theory! As I consider it, and imagine some nomadic version of myself finding a party and being introduced to beer, I'd be so impressed that I'd visit often and eventually remain. In fact, that's pretty much why I joined civilization in this era. Very astute analysis, Bridgid!

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  15. This is a theory pleasing and relatable. We are partly civilised here, perhaps because we favour homemade wine? (More foraged than farmed.) Do like the idea of growing some hops, and nettle beer is much spoken of.

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    1. Had not heard of nettle beer but read about it and it sounds like a great family project. I will say my 1st paying job in the late 1960s was driving a truck in the hop harvest here and I gained a respect for the science of brewing. My grandfather made his own wine and I believe that's when I made friends with bees.

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