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The science of alcohol
The science of alcohol

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1 The history of beer and brewing

Beer is thought to be one of the oldest drinks humans have produced, dating back to at least the 5th millennium BC in Iran. It was recorded in the written history of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia (Figure 1). Beer eventually made its way from the Middle East across the Mediterranean to Europe, where it became an integral part of life. This was especially true in northern Europe where abundant barley crops provided plenty of raw ingredients for brewers. Beer was valued both for its nutritional worth and because it was a safe alternative to drinking water, many sources of which had become contaminated with human waste.

This is an example of Egyptian artwork.
Figure 1 Egyptian artwork, thought to depict the pouring of beer

It was during the early Middle Ages that what we think of as ‘beer’ was developed, and its brewing was particularly associated with monasteries. Virtually every monastery was thought to have a brewery on site. In fact, historians very often credit monks with many brewing developments and innovations, for example, the principle of lagering (storing) as used in the present day by a number of Belgian monastic breweries.