A Brief History of Beer in Time

Though this is far from and not meant to be an exhaustive history of my favorite beverage, I wanted to hone my knowledge of and put some order to it. You might want to save these (approximate) beer dates, too

100,000 BC: Humans add grains to their diet.

10,000 BC: Humans start to cultivate grains and hence store them, moving away from a nomadic existence.


Likely independent accidental “brewing” of fermented cereal grains via wild yeasts once grains were cultivated. Accidents will happen and often to great result.

7000 BC: Archaeological findings show Chinese brewed fermented alcoholic beverages.

3000 BC: Egyptian pharaohs drank beer daily. Builders of the pyramids were given a ration of 4-5 liters a day for sustenance.


1900 BC: In Mesopotamia (now Iran) Sumerian poem honoring Ninkasi (Goddess of Beer) details early recipes of beer.

Medieval Europe: Beer is one of the most popular beverages. Some claim at least partially due to its relative safety compared to less than pure water sources.
Gruit (made of herbs like sweet gale, mug wort, yarrow and ground ivy) was the state of beer until hops were introduced.

822 AD: First mention of hops but it was not common until much later due to the difficulty of growing hops and figuring out the right amount to use. Hops were mostly seen as a preservative as the beer would not spoil as quickly.

13th century: Hopped beer perfected in Bohemia. Overall quality is greatly improved.

Yeast is still not recognized but is obviously what is turning the grains to alcoholic beverages. Brewers are unwittingly cultivating top fermenting yeasts by scooping off the foam of their beer and using it with future batches. These beers are known as ales.

1400s: Bavarian brewers are storing (lagering in German) beer in cold caves with chestnut trees for additional shade/cooling effect, giving rise to the Biergarten. Since the beer is stored longer, the yeast has a chance to settle to the bottom of the storage vessels. Brewers are unwittingly cultivating bottom fermenting yeasts by scooping off the foam. Lager is mentioned as early as 1420 in Munich. Lager as a style is born. Alt (old in German) is unsurprisingly an ale since the “new” beer was lager.  Alt continues to be the brew of choice in Düsseldorf.

1516: Bavaria institutes the Reinheitsgebot or German Beer Purity Law which states beer can only contain water, barley and hops. This was to ensure brewers didn’t use cheaper ingredients and though it seems a bit extreme now with craft brewers using expensive ingredients like cherries in their beer, it surely was a good thing at the time. Wheat was later added but oddly yeast was missing due to its existence still being a mystery.

Beer was a dark affair. Depending on the malt characteristics of an area, some darker than others but there were no golden beers until lager came to Bohemia. Lagers in Munich were dark, Dunkles in Bavarian dialect. The Bohemians were brewing top fermented beer or ales, with more hops as they were cultivated and perhaps more readily grown in the region.

03-IMG_4357Märzen or Vienna Lager & Dunkles

Mid-1800s: The Sedlmayr family of Spaten fame brought steam power to brewing and Von Linde brought refrigeration on a commercial scale. Brewing would never be the same small scale thing it was again. This was in the mid-1800s to later in the century.

Around 1840: In Vienna, somewhat lighter beer is first brewed, giving rise to Vienna lager, but the town of Plzen is still credited with brewing the first golden lager. Their ales were likely lighter anyway due to the low protein in their malt. When a lager brewer from Bavaria named Joseph Groll came to Plzen, the combination of the lager yeast and the low protein malt created the first truly golden lager. Combined with the hoppy character of the beer, in both aroma and taste, the Pilsner style became immediately popular.

In the 1870s: Munich brewers copied the Vienna Lager style for their Märzenbier, which was to be featured at the Oktoberfest for many years before conceding to golden beers.

Dortmund was also key in bringing the lighter beers to Germany with their Export Bier, around the same time.

In time, Helles (a golden lager) was brewed in Munich. A bit maltier and less bitter than Pilsner, it caught on. Sadly, Dunkles is now not all that popular and hard to find on tap at Biergartens in the town where they were once the only beer and the original lager.

3 thoughts on “A Brief History of Beer in Time

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.