STORIES FROM THE CELLAR : 2

Welcome to my blog on the history of brewing, and thanks for reading!

This blog will be spread across a series of short posts telling the story of beer – thirsty work which I have paired with beers I have been ageing at home, centring around the theme of time.

A Prologue to Europe: The First Civilisations and Their Breweries

Oktoberfest is a celebration of successful harvest and brewing held in Germany every year. This (relatively modern) institute builds on an ancient culture of celebrating beer’s intrinsic link with society.

From man’s first experience with fermented grain, intoxication has been seen as a state of transcendence; dancing with the gods. The escapism of alcohol and religion married hand in hand in early societies and alcohol soon displaced all other intoxicants as it took centre place in societal rituals.

Sumerians, Babylonians and Egyptians all took turn to host religious ceremonies centred around beer.

The Aztecs classed intoxication as a divine state; religious ceremonies encouraged all in attendance to get ‘divinely’ drunk. Anyone caught drunk outside of religious celebration could be put to death for abusing a gift from the gods.

Early civilisations brought with them the first writings of man, from these ancient artefacts we have learnt what beer meant to these societies.

Sumarian tablets (from atleast 1800 BC) bear the hymn of ninkasi, a hymn praising the goddess of beer. This hymn even included a brew recipe.

Ancient Egypt marked the start of significant commercial brewing, fuelling the large scale engineering of the day. Egyptians used 40% of all harvested grain to make beer and it was common place to pay workers with the liquid nectar. Alongside general imbibing, beer was used as a key component in hundreds of medicines, prescribed for all manner of ailments.

Commercial brewing saw the birth of ale houses with staffs or brooms erected outside to signify beer had been fermented, and was ready for sale.

TIME FOR A BREAK

Buxton/To Øl – Viscously Viscous

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For my second post I have chosen a barrel-aged barleywine. This beer was purchased in 2017. I was delighted to find that the beer had been sitting in a beer shop cellar for close to two year before being dispatched to myself. I decided to go the whole-hog and make it a nice round three years before opening this 10.4% collaborative brew.

Upon opening the bottle there is a hiss, albeit slight and short-lived. The brew pours with almost no discernible head, caramel lacing sits atop the oily beer. Aromas of stewed fruit, wood and candied sugars are forthcoming, along with slight oxidisation. The first sip is soft but with no lack of body. A coating mouthfeel stays throughout, with low bitterness and hints of sticky toffee on the palate.

Viscously Viscous is a brandy barrel-aged barleywine brewed by Buxton Brewery, in collaboration with Danish outfit To Øl. Although this beer is a sum of its parts, these parts have become homogenous and entirely melded within the bottle. There is no beginning or end of brandy notes, it is knitted throughout every slick, weighty sip. Soft flavours of raisin and fudge leave you in imminent want of your next swig. Although oxidisation is apparent, and carbonation is relatively low, flavours are not muted and the caramel lacing lingers for as long as the beer remains undrunk.

I am very new to aged flavours – I suspect I may have confused oxidisation with wooden barrel at times. Overall the beer was fantastic and I am very happy with my ageing efforts for this bottle. Again, I am excited for my next cellar beer already.

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back to the story…

Egypt was the first civilisation to tax beer, this taxation is still extremely lucrative to governments today. From taxation came the first state controls, such as the licensing of premises.

Breweries in Egypt sustained many thirsty workers and kept them content in testing times, but overconsumption hindered work ethic, and stalled construction. The first recorded death by alcoholism through beer was in Egypt around 2800BC. Further state control followed as licensed premises were ordered to ‘call time’ on drinking, keeping a hold of worker inebriation.

These measures were an acknowledgement that populations can be controlled through the restriction and incentive of beer.

When ‘the man’ tinkered with the drink of the people there was often public outcry – perhaps the first instance of ‘beer culture’.

Egypt is of course known for its hieroglyphs and there was a hieroglyph dedicated to the brewing of beer. This hieroglyph can be found in none other than the tomb of Tutankhamen. Nefertiti’s temple had its own brewery and many mummified Egyptians had their mouths filled with beer, keeping them fresh on the journey to the afterlife (known as ‘Liturgy of Opening the Mouth’). Beer was the drink of the most squalid slave, and the drink too of the most celebrated pharaoh.

Beer has not been held in higher regard since these most early civilisations. It was in these times that people and beer were one, through large scale public ritual. King Ramses II is known to have sacrificed close to half a million jugs of beer in the name of divine ceremony.

Despite the status of beer in ancient times, the conquest of the Middle-East by teetotal armies put an end to Mesopotamian and Egyptian brewing culture.

This quell of beer was compounded by the conquests of Greek and Roman populations who brought with them alcohol from the grape, more suitable for cultivation in Mediterranean climates.

Beer was set to sleep in a dusty tomb, a liquid relic of Earth’s first civilisations.

The arts and humanities that the Greeks and Romans brought to the world has ensured that wine is thought of as ‘the drink of the civilised’. The ‘lager-lout’ image of recent times has only propelled the perception that wine is a cultural cut above beer.

Greeks and Romans would have their (wine) time, but beer was to make an epic comeback, across Europe and onto the rest of world – more on than in the next blog..

 

Next time: Brewing In Europe

Paired with: Buxton Brewery – ‘The Living End’ (cellared late 2015)

 

Disclaimer: The facts and proximation detailed in this piece were collated from many sources, to be referenced and cross-checked as soon as possible.

Author: onefortybeers

A new blog with irreverent beer reviews and industry observations.

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