The Story of Beer


Join Active Minds as we tell the story of beer. We will discuss the origins and history of beer, how it is made, different types of beer, as well as the rise of several great American brewers and beer families. We will end with a discussion of the current trends of microbrews and craft beers and their strong Colorado connections. Cheers!

Key Lecture Points

  • Beer has a history going back nine thousand years, probably discovered independently by many different cultures around the globe. Chemical tests of ancient pottery jars reveal that beer was (like wine) produced in what is today Iran.
  • Beer was beloved by the Egyptians, but not by early European Empires, the Greeks and Romans. Beer came to northern Europe around 800 BCE, but the Romans found it paled in comparison to wine. Roman Historian Tacitus wrote, “To drink, the Teutons have a horrible brew fermented from barley or wheat.”
  • In the Middle Ages, beer became part of everyday life in much of Europe because the boiling and fermenting process made it relatively free of contamination. During this era, expertise and experimentation in brewing resided in religious orders. Monks and abbesses were the great beer makers.
  • William IV, Duke of Bavaria, emphasized the importance of beer in Germany by adopting the Reinheitsgebot (purity law), perhaps the oldest food regulation still in use today.
  • With the invention of the drum roaster in 1816, industrialization of beer became a reality. Louis Pasteur’s discovery in 1857 of the role of yeast in fermentation allowed brewmasters to further increase efficiency and innovation.
  • The first commercial brewery in the Americas opened in New Amsterdam, now New York City, in 1612.
  • The influx of German immigrants into the US in the mid 1800s paved the way for Frederick Miller, Eberhard Anheuser and Adolph Coors to open their own breweries here.
  • From 1920-33, Prohibition in the US undermined, but did not completely destroy the American beer industry. American brewers were forced to diversify, some even manufacturing cookware and scientific items, as well as a near-beers to stay in business.
  • In 1978 Jimmy Carter signed legislation that again permitted beer production at home, the first time since the repeal of prohibition. This helped to create the “Craft Beer” movement, facilitating the growth of hundreds of new, local breweries and brewpubs.

Exploration Questions

  • How has science and experimentation changed beer over the years?
  • What are the causes of the “beer renaissance” that is taking place in the last 20 years?

Reflective Questions

  • What beers (if any were the favorites of yours or your family’s?
  • What beer advertisements can you remember?

More to Explore

Books For Further Reading

  • Oliver, Garrett, Tom Colicchio and George Philliskirk. The Oxford Companion to Beer. Oxford University Press, 2011. 920 pages. Attractively illustrated with over 140 images, the book covers everything from the agricultural makeup of various beers to the technical elements of the brewing process, local effects of brewing on regions around the world, and the social and political implications of sharing a beer.
    Click here to order
  • Palmer, John J. How to Brew: Everything You Need to Know to Brew Beer Right the First Time. Brewers Publications, 2006. 347 pages. This authoritative text introduces brewing in a easy step by step review.
    Click here to order