Friday, November 19, 2010

Beer is as beer does

It's not about what beer is, but what beer does.
That's a quote from Erik "Big" Boles, my business partner and the Founder/CEO of Beer Tap TV.  It's one of the many quotables he and I have come up with to nutshell our philosophy on the juggernaut that is craft beer.

Part of the reason we come up with these (sometimes) clever sayings is to keep everyone - ourselves included - focused on the simple facts:
  1. Beer is alcohol.
  2. Beer is fun.
  3. We drink beer to get buzzed and have fun. Don't fool yourself into thinking otherwise.

I'll admit, I don't always buy into some of the concepts Erik tosses around because he's not the "Beer Geek" of the group... I am. However, over the last year or so we've seen the line between "Beer Geek" and "Beer Snob" blur to the point that the two are dangerously close to becoming one and the same. The last thing the craft beer industry needs is a bunch of  elitist snobs turning beer it into something it's not. Making it less accessible to Jack and Jill Sixpack is not the goal here.

But I digress...

I want to focus on another big reason we all drink beer. Contrary to the great George Thorogood, most of us do not like to drink alone. Most of us drink with our friends, or the person sitting next to us at the bar, the bartender, or the like-minded sports fan across the bar. Anyone that's within earshot really. We do so because it's part of our DNA. 

You may have seen the many news reports lately trumpeting beer as the lubricant that brought about the rise of civilization. For many beer lovers, this is not news. Heck, it's the reason I started "Confessions of a Beer Geek" in the first place. Indulge me for a second while I quote my mission statement, which I wrote over three years ago:
Beer is the elixir of the gods. A refreshing beverage made of hops, barley and a pantheon of other delicacies that when looked at properly - through beer goggles perhaps, has quite literally changed the entire course of human history.
A mash tun of scientific evidence is accumulating that now backs up that statement. Beer did in fact play a very important role in mankind's evolution from nomadic hunter-gatherers to a settled, civilized people.  Man discovered that planting crops allowed him to control his own destiny. No longer would he be held under the cruel thumb of Mother Nature, moving to and fro aimlessly across the continents in constant search of food.

But growing grains and cereals, and turning that into viable sustenance, wasn't as easy as walking down to the corner market. Making food was daily, back breaking work. Unlike today, early man - Man 1.0 if you like - was accomplished at using every last bit of everything he had. "Waste not want not" was a reality, not just a quaint phrase from olden days. The skill of farming begat the skill of brewing... probably quite by accident. Let's take a peak into the past to see what that first encounter with beer may have been like:

In the Beginning

Ancient Man 1, let's call him Ahikibani:  (paraphrased from ancient Sumerian) "Oh no!  I've left this pot of grain out in the elements overnight.  The wife is going to kill me!"

Ancient Woman 1, who happens to be Ancient Man 1's wife, Nakurtum: "You donkey ass!  I told you to bring that in last night. Why don't you ever listen to me!?!"

Ahikibani: (under his breath) "Because you're a Harpy."

Nakurtum:  "I heard that you stanky, good for nuthin' Elamite!  Now it's ruined!"

Ahikibani, resigned to a life of name calling and perpetual "Honey Do Lists," picks up the fermenting bowl of liquid gruel. Not being sound of mind or body he slurps deeply from the bowl.

Ahikibani: Nom nom nom nom

Nakurtum: "What are you doing?!"

Ahikibani:  "I spent eight hours grinding this $#!* up with a rock. Figured since it was 'ruined' I might as well get something out of it, right?"

Nakurtum:  "You're stupid."

Ahikibani: "Tell me something new..."  nom nom nom

As Nakurtum drones on an odd thing happens: her  voice slowly fades and Ahikibani becomes dizzy, and... a bit numb. The endless pain of a perpetually hard life suddenly vanishes and Ahikibani experiences, perhaps for the first time -  unadulterated joy.  The first happy man in history slurps more of the now tasty gruel from the bowl and lets out a burp that resonates down through history.

The End.

E. Michael Smith / Wikipedia
An Egyptian wooden model of beer making in ancient Egypt.
A most peculiar thing happened when these wandering bands of scavengers settled down and and started farming and brewing:  they came into contact with other groups who discovered the exact same thing.

Now, with man being the inherently fallible creature that he is, these groups probably beat on each other with clubs and spears for a while, but they most assuredly partied (feasted) with each other too. Back then a feast had an entirely different meaning though. Stuffing your gullet at the local Golden Corral for under ten bucks this was not.
Feasts are essential in traditional societies for creating debts, for creating factions, for creating bonds between people, for creating political power, for creating support networks, and all of this is essential for developing more complex kinds of societies," explains archaeologist Brian Hayden at Canada's Simon Fraser University. "Feasts are reciprocal — if I invite you to my feast, you have the obligation to invite me to yours. If I give you something like a pig or a pot of beer, you're obligated to do the same for me or even more.

Bottom line:  people settled down and started growing grain (and making beer), which in turn led to the establishment of communities where people sat down with each other over a meal (and a beer), which in turn set the foundation for... say it with me now: CIVILIZATION!  Beer is as much a part of our DNA as hairy backs and thunder thighs. Deal with it.

Can you imagine the consternation going through the ranks of sphincter restricted, neo-Prohibitionist types at this revelation? I have to LOL!

Here are some fun facts to funk with your mind:  Humans have been brewing beer for thousands of years.  The Mesopotamian "Epic of Gilgamesh," one of the world's oldest works of literature, contains multiple references to the elixir of the gods.  Besides being the oldest alcoholic beverage on the planet, a Mesopotamian recipe for beer is the oldest written document we currently know to exist. Yes, Virginia... even the ancients were doing keg stands like frat boys.

In the end it really isn't about what beer is, but what it does - every day, to every one, in every place. Whether at the beginning of time, or last night at your local brewpub. And based on what it's done for us in the past... can you imagine what it will do for us in the future?