Rethinking the institution of beer
For many cultures in the world, from Germany to Belgium, or from Ireland to the Czech Republic, beer stands as a major pillar of social and historical existence. In fact, it’s possible that beer, which originated as early as 7000 B.C.E. across ancient Mesopotamia and ancient China, predates bread. According to an article from Minnesota magazine Inside Northside, “one theory is that ancient man discovered an inebriating mixture of sorts left after his store of grain had been soaked by rain and then forgotten for a few days.”
Humanity’s fascination with beer is seemingly unbound by creed, ethnicity, gender, class or historical epoch; people love beer. The great beer cultures of the world have perfected the art of brewing beer and established what amounts to venerable semi-religious institutions centered on this frothy delight.
What makes really good beer — and moreover, what constitutes a great beer culture? Well, if you are to believe that German beer culture stands atop the mountain of the world’s beer drinking cultures, then technically speaking, in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot or German Beer Purity Law, beer should consist only of water, barely and hops.
At first glance at this small list of ingredients, one may think beer brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot is rather lackluster and plain, but in reality the stupendous number of traditional beers brewed according to tried and true ancient methods is astounding. From Dunkels, Helles, or Kölsch to Schwarzbier, Rauchbier, or Doppelbock, Germany alone has literally hundreds of varieties of beers brewed according to the stringencies of Reinheitsgebot; add to that number the hundreds of wheat beers, rye beers, etc. then you quickly sees that there is seemingly no end to the variety from which to choose.
Consider then that Germany is but one nation that has a great brewing tradition; Ireland too has just as long and prestigious a tradition. These traditions do not simply amount to the mindless drinking of beer but include traditional song, dance, food, festivals, and a general malaise merrymaking which adds to the overall national spirit.
Now take American beer drinking culture: it’s woefully less sophisticated in general. For many Americans there is a terrible deficit in the very vocabulary of alcohol consumption. We have developed a huge number of words not for the types of beers but for the nuanced forms of inebriation: drunk, plastered, sauced, smashed, crunk, tanked, etc.
Bud Light, Coors Light, and Miller Light are considered quality beer in America; most Americans have likely never tried or even attempted to discover beers which deviate from the comfort zone of American light beer.
I propose that as Americans we attempt to reform our beer culture; rather than drinking for the sake of becoming heavily inebriated, let us drink for the beer’s sake. Imagine how delightful it would be to have bars in America filled neither with the stereotypical lush nor the heavy stench of cigarette smoke, but the joyous singing of classic drinking songs and the sumptuous aroma of hearty foods. So college students of America, besides drinking responsibly, drink for the sake of good beer. Prost!
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