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zaterdag 9 november 2013

Beer ! A short history.

I’m sure this one will interest you guys!
Beer: another one of Belgium’s most fabulous products.

The first beer ever made was probably somewhere in Mesopotamia around 4500BC. With that, it is one of the oldest drinks in human history. It took us a while, but here in Belgium we are closing in on perfection!
People had been drinking beer in most of Western Europe, but the Romans switched over to wine, the pussies. From that moment, beer was associated with ‘uncivilized’ people, as there were: the German, the Gaul, the British, … Unfortunately, this idea hung on for a very long time.
In the middle ages, beer was customary for the common people. It was safer than water! Imagine that. But if you know that the water in the cities was polluted and full of germs and other nasty shit (and this is no joke), you’d prefer to have a good beer instead as well.
You had to cook and filter the water before you even could start making beer. And while you’re at it, beer is so much more fun to drink than water.
Very smart people calculated that the average consumption was around 300 litres per person, per year. Little note here, the beer was of a very low percentage, so it may sound cool, but it’s really not so.
Brewing happened in monasteries and was mostly done by women. They had three versions they made there: a heavy version for the monks, a lighter one for the nuns and the rest (the lesser quality) for the people.
In those days there wasn’t any hop yet to use. But they had a mixture of herbs called Gruut. This mixture was used for taste and to keep the beer drinkable for a longer time.
In Bruges there was a family who was clever enough to make sure they were the only ones who had the privilege of importing that mixture. So, if you wanted to buy any, you had to pay taxes to them.
That family’s name was “of Brugge” and later changed to “of Gruuthuse” and was one of the most influential families in the 13th until 15th century’s Bruges. They made a fortune with it! You can still see their ‘palace’ today in Bruges. It’s near the church of Our Lady.
They had so much money; they could afford over 147 books. You may think: “what the hell, I’ve got more than that myself”, but in those days a book had the price of a house. So they actually had over 147 houses. Now who can beat that?
From the 15th century, Gruut was replaced by hop. There are some reasons for this. When using hop the beer stayed drinkable for even a longer time, so you could transport it across greater distances, with hop the taste was also better and… Gruut was a little bit of an aphrodisiac. So the monks could become “happy and willing” sometimes, if you know what I mean. While hop was more sedative, it was better to keep those ‘happy boys’ down.
While different countries started making beer, it was Belgium and the south of Germany who had a more independent, isolated beer culture.
The industrial era made the beer production explode. New techniques made the beer safer, but also a little predictable.
The improved cooling methods made fermented beer possible. A company in a Czech city called Pilsen did this for the first time. There they made ‘Pils’ for the very first time, now it is the beer you get ‘from the tap’ and most dranked in the world.
Many people and breweries started experimenting with different products, such as adding fruit which is still very popular, but they also started making bitter, sweet, strong, brown, blonde, light and all the other combinations you can imagine.
In total there are around 1400 different beers in Belgium. With this, we have the largest collection. Raging between 6 and 12,5%, you can get drunk really fast.
The wall of beer in Bruges gives you an impression, but it’s only a little and limited collection you can find there. Each with a matching glass!
But on that, I’ll tell you more later.