Pre-Industrial History of Beer and Brewing

While the word beer can be traced in Europe to circa 1000 AD (origin Old English béor, possibly by way of Latin bibere)*, there is considerable historical and archeological evidence that brewing of beer and beer-like beverages goes back to the earliest agrarian societies. Brewing, using various grains and sometimes other plant materials, apparently arose independently in a number of cultures around the world, possibly as early as 8000-6000 B.C. A grain called emmer wheat was used by the ancient Sumerians, early peoples of Asia brewed rice-based beverages at least as early as 2000 BC, and Incas of South America made a fermented maize beverage called chicha. Barley was one of the first grains cultivated by early farmers in what is now Europe, as well as in ancient Egypt, and was processed in various ways to make it suitable for consumption. Some of these early farmers obviously discovered a method for converting barley into a fermentable form, and beer was born. Beer brewing in Europe has been an important activity from ancient times to the present day.

* The etymological entry from the Oxford English Dictionary (second edition, 1989,
[Common WGer.: OE. béor = OHG. bior, MHG. and mod.G. bier, MLG. bêr, MDu. and Du. bier, all neut.; cf. also ON. bjor-r masc. Etymology uncertain.
The OTeut. form might be *beuro-(m), f. *beuwo- barley (whence ON. bygg: see BIGG); Kögel, taking the same derivation, has suggested as the Gothic form *biggwis:OTeut. *beuwiz-; Sievers points out that one of the other forms of the neuter suffix -os, -es, -s, viz. *beuwoz-, or rather *beuwz- would better account for the WGer. forms. Others (see Kluge) have thought of a connexion with brew (taking beuro- as for *breuro-). Franck's suggestion of an Aryan *bhur- 'to ferment' seems unwarranted, there being no known Aryan roots in -ur.]


Nelson, Max. The Barbarian's Beverage: A History of Beer in Ancient Europe, Routledge: London, 2005. Crerar TP577 .N45 2005

Esslinger, Hans Michael and Ludwig Narziss. "Beer" in Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, Wiley-VCH: New York, Article Online. Posting Date: January 15, 2003 (DOI: 10.1002/14356007.a03_421)

Lewis, Michael J. "Beer and Brewing" in Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology, Wiley-VCH: New York, Article Online Posting Date: January 17, 2003 (DOI: 10.1002/0471238961.0205051814091919.a01.pub2)

Beer Coasters

Photo by Barbara Kern