Historically hops, yeast, malted barley, and water have all played the greatest and most important role in society. For almost 8000 years these ingredients have been mixed and have been appreciated by all classes of society in almost all civilizations.
The old cliche "accident is the mother of invention" is a phrase that definitely holds true in the world of beer. The discovery was made way back when the Mediterranean region was the seat of civilization and barley flourished as a dietary staple. The climate of the Mediterranean was perfect for the cultivation of barley, and was used as the primary ingredient in breads, cakes, and other common food products. A farmer during this period discovered that if barley become wet, germinates, and eventually dried, the resulting barley would be sweeter and would not be as perishable as the original state of the barley.
There is not any first hand knowledge on how beer was discovered, but we can imagine the incident step by step. When the farmer discovered that his barley crop was wet, in order for him to salvage the crop, he probably spread it out to dry in the sun. Chances are that germination had already begun, and the grain had therefore malted and developed a much sweeter taste. The sweet result of what the farmer considered a disaster is now modern-day malted barley. This malted barley gave a sweeter taste to breads, cakes, or anything which had previously been prepared with unmalted barley. After a while when barley malt became a common ingredient it is thought that a loaf or bowl of this malt was accidentally left in the rain. When wet, the dissolved starches and sugars in the malted barley became susceptible to wild yeast, which started spontaneous fermentation (5). The discoverer of this new mix probably tasted it and realized how good it was. Unbeknownst to this ancient farmer, he had brewed the first beer ever.
Sumerian clay tablets dating from 6000 B.C. contain the first ever written recipes for beer. The tablets also detail specific religious rituals that one had to perform before he could consume the beverage. The Sumerians also left the first record of bureaucratic interference when their governments taxed and put tariffs on beer distribution.
Some anthropologists say that ancient strains of grain were not really good for making bread. Early wheat made heavy, pasty dough. Flour made from barley made crumbly, lousy bread. It was determined that humankind's first agricultural activity was growing barley. Forty percent of the grain harvest in Sumeria was converted to ale.
The laws pertaining to beer in ancient times were very strict. The Code of Hammurrabi in Babylon proved to be more harsh than our laws today. Establishments that sold beer receive special mention in those laws, codified in 1800 B.C. Owners of beer parlors who overcharged customers were sentenced to death by drowning. Those who failed to notify authorities of criminal elements in their establishments were also executed (1). Many of the beer makers and bartenders in the ancient world were women who sold ale under the supervision of the goddess Ninkasi, "the lady who fills the mouth." These Babylonians brewed at least sixteen styles of beer with wheat and malted barley.
Egyptians paid their workers with jugs of beer, and Ramses II was said to have consecrated over half a million jugs of it to the gods. In the Nile region beer was flavored with lavender, date, cedar, nutmeg, sugar, and probably hops.
The bible's references to unleavened bread suggest that the isolation and deliberate use of yeast was known at the time of Moses. A professor even wrote that beer is mentioned in the book of Exodus as one of the unknown leavens, and when Moses told Jews to avoid leavened bread during Passover in Exodus 12, he also meant that they should avoid beer. King David of the Jews was a brewer, and in early days of Christianity the Jews carried on the...