Beer in Agriculture
Did you know that an ancient thirst for beer may have been responsible for the development of agriculture as we know it today? Learn more about the relationship between beer and agriculture, what makes grains good for beer, and more!
By Emma Zhao on Jul. 22, 2022
An ancient thirst for beer may have been responsible for the birth and development of agriculture in the ancient years. Multiple studies conducted over the past decades have found some archeological evidence to prove that that ancient peoples who harvested for beer subsequently inspired plant domestication.
Nonetheless, many still question if harvesting for beer has actually led to the development of agriculture. Despite these doubts, it’s still important to understand why the relationship between beer and agriculture is such an important one.
Studies on Beer and Agriculture
While there is a growing body of research that supports the theory that beer initiated agriculture to some degree, we will only be discussing two.
Simon Fraser University finds cultural evidence that beer came before agriculture
The first study was conducted in 2010 by researchers at Simon Fraser University in Canada. These researchers analyzed a body of evidence from the Natufian culture that suggested wild grains such as wheats and barley, were domesticated in order to make beer.
The Natufian culture refers to the a group of hunters and gatherers who resided in today’s Middle Eastern regions some 10,000 years ago. More specifically, the region along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers were incredibly fertile, and this is where early farming communities might have resided.
While none of the evidence is damning, this research has nonetheless proved the complex yet important relationship that exists between beer brewing and agriculture.
Stanford University finds physical evidence that beer came before agriculture
Some years later, around 2018, another study conducted by researchers at Stanford further supported the first study, this time with direct archeological evidence. The team found beer brewing technologies in a cave in Israel. With scientific dating practices, the team was able to conclude that those pieces of technology precluded early wheat cereals in the Middle East.
The study was not created with the intention to find ancient evidence for beer brewing.
Researchers analyzed 13,000 year old mortars from the Raqefet Cave and found evidence suggesting an extensive beer making operation led by the Natufian people. The evidence suggests that they used plants such as wheat, barley, oat, legumes and bast fibre which were likely used in the brewing process.
This archeological evidence accounts for the oldest record of man-made alcohol in the world, according to Li Liu, the professor who headed this study.
Earlier forms of bread that were recorded dated back 11,600 to 14,600 years. The evidence of beer found in this study dated back 11,700 to 13,700 year ago, which would suggest it was made and consumed before agriculture was developed to make ancient cereals and breads.
Relationships between Beer and Agriculture
According to the Beer Institute, beer is an incredibly important aspect of agriculture. Brewers heavily rely on farmers for a steady supply of grains, wheats, and hops. In fact, the agricultural industry contributes to the extreme success that the craft beer industry has found in America.
Hops are becoming more and more popular due to it’s importance in the craft beer industry. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture has found that the value of hops in 2021 increased by nearly 7 per cent from the previous year. Which is significant compared to the increase in other crops!
It’s also important to recognize the hard work that goes into cultivating grains and wheats for brewing. Typically, craft brewers requires a certain quality for their brewing mash. Growing quality grains can be challenging. It takes, time, resources, and lots of effort, not to mention that many agricultural techniques have been adjusted with changes in climate like increasing draughts and environmental disasters.
Why is grain used for brewing beer?
Grains provide the sugar and fermentation compounds needed to give beer its flavor, aroma, and body. The most common grains used are barley, because it gives beer a malty quality. However, grains like rye can also be used to provide malt.
Malting is a process in which grain is soaked in water to germinate and subsequently dried in a hot climate. This will give the beer a richer, sweeter, and nuttier flavor.
This means that barley needs to be cultivated properly. High quality barley is typically defined by low nitrogen levels, high starch content, consistent seed size, and high diastatic power. Diastatic power is the ability for plants to breakdown complex molecules into simple sugars best used for fermentation in brewing. Thus, when barley is farmed to quality, the maltier your beer may be.
What you can do to support the relationship between beer and agriculture
While it’s often tempting to buy cheaper beers at the store, the relationship between beer and agriculture is closest for local brewers. Local brewers are encouraged to and often source their grains and ingredients directly from local farms. This often improves the quality of their beer, and they cut costs on shipping and receiving.
Supporting local brewers and craft beer means that you’ll also be supporting your local farmers who serve an integral role for the beer industry.
So the next time you’re enjoying a nice cold brews at your local bar, cherish the hard work, people, and immense history that preceded it.
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