Beer brewing is an art first developed in Mesopotamia (present day Iraq) more than 8,000 years ago. Residual materials found in ceramic pottery identified by archeologists as the remnants of the beer makers’ craft give us reason to believe beer’s origins go back 10,000 years. But without written archeological evidence, a birth date for beer beyond 8,000 years ago remains speculative.

Evidence of brewing activity from 5,000 years ago is in the form of clay tablets with cuneiform (wedge-shaped) inscriptions that were discovered around 1840 at Nineveh and Nimrud by Austen Henry Layard, an Englishman who chanced upon Assyrian ruins while journeying overland to Ceylon. He had hoped to find some sort of inscriptions in stone, but what he unearthed was a buried library of over 25,000 broken tablets, which he removed to the British Museum for translation.

Many of the cuneiform tablets were commercial ledgers, which show us how beer (or kash) was used as currency or as an instrument of barter. Records describe how the stonemasons who built the great structures of the pharaohs were paid with vessels of beer.

Beer was used as a dietary staple before bread baking was discovered. Soon, together with bread, onions, fish and seed-seasonings, beer was to become one of the most important items in the ancient Mesopotamian diet. It is believed the Sumerians made the first fermented beer by combining barley and malt.

In the beginning, brewing was a domestic function, like cooking. Home-brewed beer was used to pay taxes to government officials, and much beer was consumed behind palace walls. Church officials collected (and consumed) beer given as religious offerings to the gods and goddesses.

Related: Beer of the Month Club Features.

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Amy Heydt
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