Friday, April 25, 2008

History of Beer, Part Dos


The Sumerians' resourcefulness and prosperity soon became a magnet for other people around them. These strangers probably wanted all of the fantastic beer the Sumerians were brewing. Newcomers, mostly Semitic tribes from the north and west, began to move into Mesopotamia - sometimes they were friendly and sometimes not so much. As a consequence, the Sumerians eventually began to be absorbed by their neighbors and gradually disappeared as a culture. By the beginning of the third millennium BC, Sumer had faded almost completely. In its place arose a new culture, which historians call Babylonian.

Initially, the future of beer in Babylonia seemed promising, because the new rulers of Mesopotamia, like all good conquerors, took what was working for the Sumerians and made it their own. While beer in Sumeria was mostly a matter of religion, beer in Babylonia became mostly a matter of politics. And similar to modern society the Babylonians started to regulate beer.

Unlike the loosely regulated (liberal-minded) Sumerian culture the Babylonians loved their discipline. All things in Babylonian society were heavily regulated and beer was no exception, especially once Hamurabi, the 6th king, took over. Hammurabi’s famous Code classifies beer into 20 different categories, each of which we would now call a beer style. By defining beer categories in the legal code, Hamurabi was the first to regulate the production of beer. The consumption of beer did not escape his regulation either. Hamurabi slapped price controls on the brewers and innkeepers, a historical first!

In Babylonian times beer was cloudy and unfiltered (hefewiezen say what?). Drinking straws were used to avoid getting the bitter brewing residue in the mouth. Beer from Babylon was exported as far away as Egypt. Hammurabi’s Code established a daily beer ration. This ration was based on the social standing of the individual, a normal worker received 2 liters, civil servants 3 liters (who says government jobs don’t pay?), administrators and high priests 5 liters per day. In these ancient times beer was not frequently sold, but used as barter.

That's the Babylonians and beer in a nutshell,


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