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Crazy Facts About the History of Beer

Updated November 6, 2017 58.6k views21 items

Beer is more than just a beverage. The history of beer dates back thousands of years, and it has helped shape the course of civilization. At times, beer has even saved lives. There are so many amazing facts about beer that you probably don't know - and they'll definitely give you a deeper appreciation for this magical elixir.

Beer is made up of barley, hops, yeast, and water. All variations of beer are derived from this basic formula, from the darkest stout to the lightest pilsner. Sometimes other grains, such as wheat, are used instead of barley, and sometimes additional "adjuncts" (like fruit, chocolate, or coffee) are added, but the basic process is still the same: brew, ferment, and drink.

Exactly how beer was invented is unknown, though it is generally considered to have developed alongside cereal agriculture. Grains are staple crops and can grow in more varied climates than grapes. As such, the means to make beer was more widely available than wine.

Before sanitation was properly understood, beer was often used as a replacement for water. Because the water is boiled during the brewing process, any harmful bacteria present in the water is killed. The low alcohol content acts as an additional preservative and it could be transported on ships where it was impossible to keep clean water. For these reasons, beer played a large part in the spread of civilization across the globe. Where humans explored, beer followed. Check out more surprising beer facts below.

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  • Eight People Drowned in the 1814 London Beer Flood

    Eight People Drowned in the 1814 London Beer Flood
    Video: YouTube

    On October 17, 1814, a three-story-tall vat of porter burst at the Messrs. Henry Meux and Co. brewery. The explosion was so forceful it caused other vats to explode as well. The resulting 570-ton tidal wave of beer knocked down the brick wall of the brewery and flooded the surrounding street and houses.

    Two buildings collapsed under the weight of the liquid as it surged down Tottenham Court Road. In total, eight people died during the event. A court determined the incident to be an "act of God."

  • Germany Has a 500-Year-Old Beer Purity Law

    Germany Has a 500-Year-Old Beer Purity Law
    Video: YouTube

    In 1516, the Bavarian purity law called the "Reinheitsgebot" was formally passed. The law stipulated that beer would be made with only three ingredients: barley, hops, and water. It was amended to include yeast after Louis Pasteur discovered it in 1857. This law formalized a standard for keeping beer safe and pure for the purpose of consumer protection. It's still on the books hundreds of years later.

  • The Pilgrims Stopped at Plymouth Rock Because They Ran Out of Beer

    The Pilgrims Stopped at Plymouth Rock Because They Ran Out of Beer
    Photo: rachemicah / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    The Mayflower had initially intended to sail to Virginia. When it arrived on the rocky shores of Plymouth, MA, the captain of the ship noted that they were running low on beer. In order to ensure that his crew had enough to make the trip back to England, he forced the Pilgrims ashore and made them drink water.

  • Straws Were Invented for Drinking Beer

    Straws Were Invented for Drinking Beer
    Photo: 27147 / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    In ancient times, beer was drunk through straws to prevent grain hulls from being consumed with the beverage.