Episode 1: A Brief History of Beer and Wine

This podcast is about our favorite things in the entire world – alcoholic beverages!

We are so excited to share our debut episode of Grapes and Grain podcast with the world! It has been a truly fun, humbling, and educational experience and we are thrilled that the world premiere is finally upon us. Each week we will release a new episode (look for it on #tuesdayboozeday on your favorite streaming site) and there will be a corresponding blog post that shares more in depth details about topics covered, references, and of course featured beverages from our “Whachu Drinkin?!” segment.

In our first episode we attempt to provide a brief summary on the history of beer and wine — a tall order, we know. In this post we’ll share a little more on some of our favorite interesting facts, traditions, and misconceptions. But before we dive in, here’s our “Whatchu Drinkin?!” highlights!

Whatchu drinkin’?

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Fresh Squeezed IPA from Deschutes Brewery (Bend, Ore.): A refreshing, medium-bodied India pale ale with an amber hue and fluffy off-white head. Aromas of citrus and grapefruit come from the Citra, Mosaic and Nugget hops used in this brew. Expect a bubbly mouthfeel from the carbonation and subtle bitter kick on the backend.

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Champagne A.J. de Margerie a Bouzy Grand Cru: I decided to get a little bougie with Champagne a Bouzy for our first episode! This non-vintage Champagne is a blend of 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay, harvested from vineyards in central Reims, on hillsides overlooking Bouzy – a commune in France. This dry wine is gold in color with fine, refreshing bubbles, red apples and cherries on the nose, and a crisp finish with noticeable minerality. It’s easy to see why the Georges Vesselle Estate have been masters of crafting this lively wine for generations.

Ancient people knew how to party…and farm

The first thing we’d like to expand on is the ancient wine cave found outside the town of Areni, in modern day Armenia – there is so much more to this story! Scholars believe that the native people’s wine making process and drinking ceremonies were a tribute to their dead because nearly 20 burial sites have been found nearby. There are many examples of wine-related funerary rites throughout history, and it’s thought that these ancient peoples didn’t just doff their footwear to stomp the grapes — they did it out of respect.

Which leads to another super cool find: Not only is this area the site of the oldest known winery, it’s also the location of the oldest known piece of preserved leather footwear. The moccasin found near the entrance of the cave was dated at 5,500 years old!

Aside from alcohol imbued rituals and fancy kicks, this discovery gave tremendous insight into the development of agricultural evolution in ancient times. The societal and technological implications of this site tell researchers that by the Copper Era (about 3000 BCE), prehistoric humans had already figured out how to track seasons of growth and how to harness wild plants for their food supply. This stunning discovery is exciting and eye opening.

The Etruscans knew best

Another complex topic mentioned in the podcast is the spread of wine trade and production secrets. We mentioned that Phoenicians were avid traders, renowned for their purple dyes used to make royal garments across Europe and credited with spreading wine into regions not actively practicing viticulture or enology. But the ancient Etruscans, while also involved in trading, swapped far more than material goods — they bolstered the expanse of innovation and ideas.

In fact, one of the countries most renowned for their wine making prowess owes its humble beginnings to the ancient Italian people. The first known evidence of wine making and consumption in France can be dated back to approximately 500 BC. That’s when chemical analysis shows organic compounds from grape skins in limestone presses and Etruscan amphora (ceramic vessels used to transport and sell wine). The Etruscans are thought to have taught the French people how to plant and tend vineyards, harvest and press grapes, and how to ferment and store the final product. Italy and France were two of the earliest countries to start mastering the art of winemaking, and continue to dominate the industry as two of the top producers in the world.

Scholars think the wine they made several thousand years ago is a far cry from what they produce today, but they believe the most similar libation we have to sample in modern day is a Greek Retsina, a white or pink wine mixed with small bits of pine resin during fermentation. Retsina wine tradition traces its roots back to these ancient trading days when clay amphoras were sealed with pine resin to keep from spoiling. When societies moved on to barrel storing instead of using amphoras, there was an outcry from people who loved the taste the resin imparted into the wine and Retsina was born!

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Etruscan wine cellar in the Montepulciano region of Italy.

Why the reservations about women with wine?

We can trace this misconception back to Pliny the Elder’s large body of work titled Natural History, a 37-volume encyclopedia chronicling the natural world. In the year 77 AD, Pliny writes “On the approach of a woman in this state (of menstruation) must will become sour, seeds sterile, grafts wither away, garden plants are parched up, and fruit will fall from the tree… Her very look even will dim the brightness of mirrors, blunt… steel, and take away the polish from ivory. A swarm of bees, if looked upon by her, will die.” Ouch!

Hurt feelings aside, if we take a closer look at this stigma, it’s easy to see it’s simply based in fear. Doctors didn’t make the connection between menstruation, ovulation, and conception until the late-1800s. For thousands of years before, all people knew was that roughly once a month a seemingly healthy female member of society would spontaneously start bleeding from her hooha region. And to be fair, every other time someone in the community started bleeding it generally meant some grievous injury or illness had befallen them.

Even now that doctors grasp the concept of conception, the stigma around menstruation still continues today. Aside from silly notions still held that a woman during this time will contaminate a swimming pool or scare away prey while hunting, women across the world are still subject to isolation in menstruation huts (a 22-year-old woman died in a hut in Nepal as recently as 2018) and educational disadvantages while missing school during their cycle.The most impactful thing we as women can do to help dispel these outdated practices is contribute to groups that educate and supply sanitation products to rural regions around the world.

Have to admit though, there might be something to the French claim that women complicated the taste and aroma of wines in the 1700-1800s when it was very en vogue to wear heavy scents and perfumes. During this time, there was a common belief that water would carry disease, so no one from the low class to the nobles was bathing regularly. Additionally, the well-dressed were generally decked out from head to toe, including gloves. These gloves were fashioned from a supple leather that was first treated with animal urine and aromatic oils to soften the material. These two odorous practices combined led to the widespread use of scented powders and perfumes.

To make matters even more pungent, perfumes of the times weren’t light and floral — they used rare and expensive ingredients like civet, a liquid expressed from the anal glands of cats, ambergris, a stonelike substance excreted from the digestive tract of a sperm whale, and castoreum, a lovely substance collected from the genitals of beavers. A musky, animalistic scent was very fashionable.

Even though preferences in perfumes have evolved it’s still a bad practice to wear heavy scents when attending a tasting or wine event. In fact, our instructors specifically told all participants in the intro Court of Masters sommelier examination not to use fragrant soaps or lotions, and absolutely no perfume or cologne. So if you’re headed to a cellar door, tasting room, or wine tasting dinner, make sure to practice savvy wine tasting etiquette and save the seductive scents for another time.

Tasting Beer: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink

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Tiney here. This book has been my beer bible as I’ve started to dive in and learn the nitty gritty about beer. I specifically chose to pursue the Beer Judging Certification Program because I wanted to learn the textbook definition of each beer style, so that I could accurately write about them in my work. As I began to cover beer, I felt like my vocabulary was increasingly limited — how many times can you describe a beer as “malty” or “hoppy” without differentiating it from other similar ones.

If you’re interested in even casually learning more about beer flavors and tasting, I recommend this book. There’s also a fair amount of science in there pertaining to brewing, which was equally enlightening and humbling for this liberal arts grad who hasn’t studied chemistry since high school.

Find Tasting Beer on Amazon.

Are there really more U.S. breweries now than ever before in the country’s history?

Yes! And not even by a little bit. According to the Brewers Association, a beer industry trade group that collects data on brewery count and production, there were more than 6,000 breweries as of December 2017. And that number has only grown.

As of June 30, 2018, there were 6,655 breweries in American, the organization reports. Now that is a lot of beer.

Visit the Brewers Association statistics page to learn more about the growth in craft beer production over time.

Hymn to Ninkasi

Ancient cultures worshiped a goddess of beer. That’s right — a goddess! Her name was Ninkasi and the Sumerian civilization had a chant to honor her. Even cooler: The chant doubled as a beer-making recipe, so it could be easily passed on verbally.

Here it is in full. (Source: Ancient History Encyclopedia)

Hymn to Ninkasi

Borne of the flowing water,
Tenderly cared for by the Ninhursag,
Borne of the flowing water,
Tenderly cared for by the Ninhursag,

Having founded your town by the sacred lake,
She finished its great walls for you,
Ninkasi, having founded your town by the sacred lake,
She finished its walls for you,

Your father is Enki, Lord Nidimmud,
Your mother is Ninti, the queen of the sacred lake.
Ninkasi, your father is Enki, Lord Nidimmud,
Your mother is Ninti, the queen of the sacred lake.

You are the one who handles the dough [and] with a big shovel,
Mixing in a pit, the bappir with sweet aromatics,
Ninkasi, you are the one who handles the dough [and] with a big shovel,
Mixing in a pit, the bappir with [date] – honey,

You are the one who bakes the bappir in the big oven,
Puts in order the piles of hulled grains,
Ninkasi, you are the one who bakes the bappir in the big oven,
Puts in order the piles of hulled grains,

You are the one who waters the malt set on the ground,
The noble dogs keep away even the potentates,
Ninkasi, you are the one who waters the malt set on the ground,
The noble dogs keep away even the potentates,

You are the one who soaks the malt in a jar,
The waves rise, the waves fall.
Ninkasi, you are the one who soaks the malt in a jar,
The waves rise, the waves fall.

You are the one who spreads the cooked mash on large reed mats,
Coolness overcomes,
Ninkasi, you are the one who spreads the cooked mash on large reed mats,
Coolness overcomes,

You are the one who holds with both hands the great sweet wort,
Brewing [it] with honey [and] wine
(You the sweet wort to the vessel)
Ninkasi, (…)(You the sweet wort to the vessel)

The filtering vat, which makes a pleasant sound,
You place appropriately on a large collector vat.
Ninkasi, the filtering vat, which makes a pleasant sound,
You place appropriately on a large collector vat.

When you pour out the filtered beer of the collector vat,
It is [like] the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates.
Ninkasi, you are the one who pours out the filtered beer of the collector vat,
It is [like] the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates.

Other sources:

Mark, Joshua J. “The Hymn to Ninkasi, Goddess of Beer.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 1 Mar. 2011, www.ancient.eu/.

History of beer: Mosher, Randy. “The Story of Beer.” Tasting Beer: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink, 2nd ed., Storey Publishing, 2017, pp. 7–37.

About that lager strain: Brown, Eryn. “Beer: Yeast DNA Study Reveals the Natural History of Lager.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 12 Aug. 2015, www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-lager-yeast-genome-20150811-story.html.

“Beer.” Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, home.monticello.org/.

Brown, Brian. “This Woman Was One of the First to Open a Brewery in North Texas … in 1869.” GuideLive, The Dallas Morning News, 14 Nov. 2016, www.guidelive.com/craft-beer/2016/11/14/woman-francisca-yetzer-dallas-brewery-1869.

“The Industrial Revolution of the United States.” The Library of Congress, loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/industrial-revolution/pdf/teacher_guide.pdf.

“German Beer: 500 Years of ‘Reinheitsgebot’ Rules.” BBC News, BBC, 22 Apr. 2016, www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36110288.

Knoedelseder, William. Bitter Brew: the Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and Americas Kings of Beer. HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 2014.

“Natural World” Pliny the Elder, 77 AD

https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/01/110111-oldest-wine-press-making-winery-armenia-science-ucla/

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/the-first-french-winemakers-learned-everything-they-knew-from-etruscans-90736620/

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/features/the-history-of-french-perfume-impolite-animalistic-and-overtly-sexualised-a6882071.html

http://time.com/4694568/meghan-markle-period-stigma/

http://time.com/4339388/kenya-menstruation-education/

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/10/world/asia/nepal-woman-menstruation.html

Please send us any questions or listener mail to grapesngrain@gmail.com!

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