Are We Here Because of Beer?
When you’re sitting back enjoying a few Local Beers (if you currently aren’t drinking a few Local Beers this is your cue to do so), like me, your mind probably starts to wander. As you stare into that golden elixir all manner of questions formulate - like ‘why does beer exist?’ and ‘why does this beer taste so goddamn good?’ and ‘if the average person walks 5 kilometers an hour and our nearest servo is 3 kilometers away, why is it taking Dad more than 10 years to go and grab some Tim Tams?
Some questions we may never know the answer to, but’s let’s address the first one because the answer might reveal more than we ever might have guessed!
Now I want you to think of all the incredible things that you are thankful for in this world. I am sure that like me, at the top of our list will be friends, family (still love you Dad) and single-celled fungi. Well maybe not. But fungi should be at the top of your list because these fungi, or yeasts as they are better known, are responsible for those Local Beers you are now drinking. (You did go get some from the fridge right?)
You see these yeasts love sugar, I mean really love it. Seeking out sugar is their primary purpose, just like your single mate trying to pull on the dance floor at 2am after too many beers. When they find sugar these yeasts have a massive sugary orgy, and then fart out carbon dioxide and, most importantly, alcohol. This process you might know as fermentation, and without it there would be no scotch in your soda, gin in your tonic, or (perish the thought) Local Beers in your belly.
Luckily wild yeasts are all around us, but finding sugar isn’t easy for them. It’s only when the fruit starts to rot and the skin breaks that the yeast can penetrate their way inside and start fermenting. When that happens you end up with alcoholic winey/cidery rotting fruit drink - yum yum!! It wasn't just early humans who discovered this alcoholic rotting fruit and sought it out. African elephants have been known to go on a massive bender through the savannah after gorging themselves on this rotting fruit. Luckily there is no one enforcing drunk and disorderly regulations in the African Savannah!
Early humans too would have enjoyed a few rotting fruit winey/cider concoctions but the greatest leap forward came when we worked out the same process could occur with grains. You see grains do an even better job of protecting their precious energy from yeast. The sugars in grains are stored inside their seeds and husks as starch - something that can’t be processed by yeast. But about 10,000 years ago a civilization in the Middle East known as the Sumer (or South Mesopotamia) realised that if you collected and stored barely in a dark wet pot, the seeds would be tricked into thinking they were in the soil. When that occurs the seeds germinate, meaning they sprout. The starch inside them is then converted into a form of sugar yeast. And this is how the first beer, well a thick alcoholic gloop, was created - and we haven’t looked back since.
The Sumerians weren’t really sure what was occurring and why this substance gave them euphoric and mind-altering effects. They, like most early civilisations, figured that it must be a gift from the gods. And if the gods have provided them with a gift, it would be rude, even sacrilegious to refuse.
Around the same time humans learnt how to ‘brew’ this early beer, we began to settle down in communities and start tending to fields. Was this just coincidence? Was the grain actually to be used to make bread? Well we now know the world's biggest boozehounds, the Egyptians, directed around 40% of the grain grown to produce beer. Archaeologists then are pretty much in agreement that beer was the primary factor that lead to permanent humans settlements, and later, for civilisations to arise. Could it be said then that today, we are here because of beer?
We’d like to think so, and we’ll drink a couple of Local Beers to that!