The history of beer is long and storied, and no one can say with certainty how it came to be. Most historians think that beer came about as an accident, and I agree with this. Unlike mead, or even wine, making beer is not really a straight forward process. It makes sense that it just “sorta happened.”
There are two main schools of thought on how it happened though. The first school, I will call it the traditional school, thinks that the first beer was from old pieces of bread that got wet in some sort of vessel and spontaneously fermented. In fact, I even hinted at that possibility in the inaugural column. The second school though, paints a different picture all together.
This recent thinking is gaining more steam, and in its own way makes even more sense. These historians and anthropologists actually think that beer predates bread by several thousand years! That would mean bread was not the reason for cultivation and basically civilization as we know it. This new theory is similar to the bread theory, only instead of bread – the barleycorns were in the vessel and got wet. This created beer through the introduction of wild yeast in the air.
In either case the beer that was being drunk would be nothing like what we drink now. In fact, it probably tasted terribly sweet and depending on the yeast that was in the air, may have been almost unpalatable. Nevertheless, someone had the cajones to try it out and probably got a pretty good buzz (the gene for alcohol tolerance was probably not very developed at that time in human history). When they realized that beer made them feel good, they tried to recreate the process of wetting grain (or bread), and eventually beer as we know it came about.
I would be curious to hear what you think about the origins of beer. Does it really come only from one place? Could beer have happened in more than one area or do you think it was one lucky dude who discovered it accidentally and then spread the good cheer on to the rest of the world?