BY PETE WOLSTENCROFT
The internet, moon landings, open heart surgery, nano-technology, the jet engine, the wheel and Christmas pudding. What do these things have in common? Well, none of these things would have existed without beer.
The following scenario is known as the ‘beer before bread’ hypothesis, and it goes like this: around 12,000 years ago some nomadic tribes people came across a pool of water, into which some grains had fallen. The sun shone on the mixture and slowly but surely, fermentation occurred. One of the bolder members of the tribe tentatively took a sip of the bubbling brew and something magical happened. He started to feel somehow different. The cares and worries of the nomadic day started to fade away. He even thought he might go and talk to that nice female (let’s call her Ug), who had given him some of her apple only the day before. Before long the whole tribe was gathered around this very special puddle laughing and dancing as their inhibitions were thrown to the four winds. (I realise I may be accused of a certain degree of sexism with my little scenario, so if it suits you better to imagine a female being the first drunkard, then by all means go ahead. Don’t blame me: things were very different 12,000 years ago.)
Until this moment, all around the world, people had been nomadic hunter-gatherers – but this intoxicating feeling of, well, intoxication motivated them to stay in the same place: the place that grew those wonderful grains. This abandonment of the nomadic lifestyle led directly to the first proper agriculture – the planting of seeds and the harvesting of their fruits. Animal husbandry replaced the thrill of the chase, as animals were domesticated, penned in and looked after prior to their dispatch. Everything, every single technological advance, since that long ago moment of inebriation, stems from the decision to stay in one place: the place where those grains grew.
Well, none of these things would have existed without beer.
It is reckoned by some very serious scientists that alcohol facilitated group discussions and decision making. Alcohol was the glue that bound together early societies with greater solidarity and cohesion. The more reticent would open up under the influence of what would have been mildly alcoholic beverages. Some cultures developed a system of taking decisions whilst sober and then checking them for their suitability whilst drunk. Some civilisations developed the polar opposite strategy, taking important decisions whilst drunk and then reviewing them the morning after – so to speak.
So please, no more demonisation of the demon drink. Beer has proven health benefits. It is more nutritious than other alcoholic drinks. It contains: Vitamin B, iron, phosphates and fibre. It can help improve bone density and lower bad cholesterol, leading to improved heart health. It can combat stress and anxiety – no surprise there.
In Victorian London, it was a lot safer to drink beer than it was to quench your thirst with Adam’s ale, which was usually full of unpleasant bacteria just waiting to ruin your day. In the Middle Ages beer was regarded as being food. Much of it was brewed by monks, and one can imagine how – deprived of certain other pleasures – the monks would have been happy to subject their brews to regular quality checks, just to be on the safe side.
It seems that people often fall into one of two camps; one is either a beer drinker or a wine drinker. But it is easy to have a fondness for both of these esteemed libations. Yet on a hot day, I would no more think of quenching my thirst with wine, than I would think of going barefoot in winter. When I toiled under the hot Gibraltarian sun in the dockyards of the Rock, I can safely say that it was only the thought of that first cold beer that sustained me in my labours.
Beer is a balm for the weary body, but it might also have a stimulating effect upon the mind. I have good reason to believe that beer drinkers have wider vocabularies than people who eschew the pleasures of this wonderful beverage. For one thing, beer drinkers talk more, leading to greater eloquence and erudition. A bar in my hometown of Blackpool claims to dedicate itself to ridding the world of cenosillicaphobia – the fear of the empty glass. So, if during the course of your day you have: used a microwave, sent an email, or watched television, just remember you were able to do so for one reason – humans just like to get p*ssed.