Ah, beer – the great civiliser. As noted in the New York Times:
Current theory has it that grain was first domesticated for food. But since the 1950s, many scholars have found circumstantial evidence that supports the idea that some early humans grew and stored grain for beer, even before they cultivated it for bread.
Brian Hayden and colleagues at Simon Fraser University in Canada provide new support for this theory in an article published this month (and online last year) in the Journal of Archeological Method and Theory. Examining potential beer-brewing tools in archaeological remains from the Natufian culture in the Eastern Mediterranean, the team concludes that “brewing of beer was an important aspect of feasting and society in the Late Epipaleolithic” era.Anthropological studies in Mexico suggest a similar conclusion: there, the ancestral grass of modern maize, teosinte, was well suited for making beer — but was much less so for making corn flour for bread or tortillas. It took generations for Mexican farmers to domesticate this grass into maize, which then became a staple of the local diet.
I'm a big fan of beer, for the reasons above: it is an ancient technology, has deep roots in our social structures and history, and is quintessentially human – more so than bread, and possibly more so than farming in general. Perhaps the only reason we started static, rather than nomadic, societies is because we needed to brew beer – and so much of our civilisation began when we had to solve the dual-edged problem(s) of putting up with each other (empathy, logic, law) and the necessity of co-operation.
I'd like to try brewing. Hell, I'd like to grow all my own ingredients and THEN brew my own, much as the ancients would have, but it may have to wait until we own our dream home.
How might I build a nano-brewery? Or a picobrewery? Or, hell, femto?? To start with, I should should experiment with “consumer” brewing kits. (A few days ago I had a daydream – opening a bar and nano-brewery in Paris, to share delicious Australian craft beer with the Parisians. Something completely different from IT. I also looked up horse-riding places for Dee!)