The original technical core of beer brewing: a hypothesis.

 

In order to illustrate the implementation of the brewing pathways among the ancient peoples, we remain dependent on their more or less incomplete documents and remains. The descriptions of their technical processes is scarce.The research of archaeologists, ethnologists or biochemists supplements our meagre knowledge.

Despite these drawbacks, it is possible to reconstruct the technical landscape of the Brewery in antiquity, through the grid of 6 brewing pathways.

The world of the ancient brewing peoples is divided into large regions according to the criterion of homogenous brewing traditions. Each brewery basin is formed independently. On the surface of the globe there are as many ancient brewing centres as there are primary areas for the domestication of starchy plants[1].

We want to know if each of these brewery regions has itself used one or more of the methods taken from these 6 brewing methods.

The table shows that each brewery area masters several methods or has applied them in the more or less distant past. The idea of a technical specialisation of each brewing area should be dropped. Throughout its history, each brewing area has tested, developed and perfected several basic brewing techniques. We are talking here about the fundamental brewery methods, not about the details of the practical beer brewing operations.

 

 

The 6 technical brewing pathways (X = documented, x = likely)

Brewery regions

N° 1

Salivary amylase

N° 2

Amylolytic ferment

N° 3

Malting

N° 4

Amylolytic plant

N° 5

Over ripening

N° 6

Acidic hydrolysis

North China, Korea, Japan

X

X

X

? 

 

x 

South China (Yangtze).

X

?

 

 

 x

South East Asia (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Java, Sumatra)

?

X

 

 

X

X

Philippines, Indonesia

 

 

 X

 X

Tibet, Himalayas, Nepal

X

 X

 

 

 

Gangetic Plains, Bengal, Burma

 

X

X

 ?

 

 

Central Asia, Indus, Caucasus, Iran, Pakistan

 

X

X

? 

 

X

Asian Steppe, Kazakhstan, Mongolia

 

X

X

 

 

X

Middle East, Egypt

?

X

X

?

 

 

East Africa

 

 

X

X

X

X

Great Lakes Africa

   

 

 

X

 

West Africa, Niger Basin

 

 

X

 

 

x

Tropical Africa

   

 X

 

X

x

Mexico, Central America

X

X

X

 

 

x

Andean Cordillera (Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia)

X

X

X

X

X

X

Amazonia, Guyanas, Venezuela, the Carribean

X X

X 

 X

 

x

Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Patagonia

   

X 

 

 

X

Rocky Mountains, Great Plains North America*

?  

? 

 

 

 

Europe and Russia

X

?

X

 

 

X

Pacific Archipelagos**

?

?

 

 

 

X

(*) The data on early brewing in North America are very poor.
(**) The Pacific zone remains little explored (cf. List of brewery regions for the Piper methisticum).

 

Over the centuries, certain brewery areas have specialised their brewing methods by gradually eliminating other brewing pathways, according to a historical selection phenomenon. The Pathway no. 1 (salivary amylase) has survived, but only marginally, except in the Amazonian brewing basin, where it meets both technical constraints (cassava beer) and lifestyles. Towards the end of the Han Chinese dynasty (2th century), the Pathway no. 3 for malting millet and barley gradually disappeared in northern China where only the Pathway no. 2 for amylolytic ferment remained. A similar evolution occurred in the Indus Valley around 1300 BC. Rice cultivation moves up the Gangetic valley and supplants the old cereal cultivation (barley) in the Indus valley. The old malt-based barley beers are replaced by barley and rice beers brewed with amylolytic ferments.

If each brewing area masters or has mastered several "brewing routes" in the course of its history, and always taking into account the documents available, can it be assumed that each one originally knew them all?

This is what we call the " Hypothesis of the original technical core of the brewery".

The boxes left blank in the table would be explained not by the ignorance or rejection of certain methods, but by the absence of perennial documents (oral culture), the silence of written traditions indifferent to the skills of daily life, or the massive destruction of cultures, following the example of what Europeans have committed in South and Central America. But from the supposed lack of information, no argument can be drawn in one direction or the other.

 

The "original technical core of the brewery" remains a working hypothesis. It postulates :

  • that all the cultural areas originally had the same theoretical stock of brewing processes, regardless the sources of starch cultivated by the populations. It is necessary to be nuanced: societies based on horticulture had no way of exploring the Pathway no. 3 of malting, which was exclusive to cereal growers.
  • that the technical arsenal was complete, i.e. the degree of technological advancement potentially opened up all the brewing pathways, as we have described them. This is not always true (above) or verifiable.
  • that brewery basins emerged in protohistoric times. But only archaeology can enlighten us. The first written documents that have come down to us date from the times when these same regions were home to already hierarchical and technically advanced societies. This social context implies the massive production of beer under the economic control of a central authority. Such a development favoured the brewing methods 2 and 3, at least in the economic management of city-states and palaces. This does not imply that the other brewing methods are disappearing. They are used by social groups or in territories that are not of the concern of the centralised powers producing the written documents which have been preserved to us.

 

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[1] With an important nuance. Europe, and perhaps Central Asia, are not regions where their starchy plants have been domesticated. These were brought from their primary domestication areas.

25/02/2013  Christian Berger