Fascinating facts about beer

Almost from the time mankind first learned to plant crops, we’ve been coming up with ways to turn them into tasty alcoholic beverages. Beer is usually credited as being the oldest of all these, and every major population group on the planet has developed their own version of beer at some time. It’s no wonder that being so popular, there are some fascinating facts to discover about beer. Here are a few of the most unusual things about beer that you will ever read.

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1. Norwegians are serious about beer

You can tell a lot about a nation by their attitude to beer. Norwegians apparently take beer-related matters more seriously than most nationalities would. The evidence for this is courtesy of Norway’s first and only airplane hijacking, which occurred in 1985. The hijacker surrendered to police only after they promised to bring him more beer. Which just goes to show that beer can solve all sorts of problems, even something as serious as a hijacking.

Harvey's Brewery, Lewes

2. The strongest beer in the world has more alcohol than a typical whisky

Perhaps almost as deadly as its namesake if you’re not careful, the Scottish brew known as Snake Venom is officially the world’s strongest beer, with an alcohol content of 67.5%. The men responsible for its creation, Lewis Shand and John McKenzie, created it because consumers complained that their previous brew, aptly named Armageddon, wasn’t strong enough at just 65%. For comparison, most beers have an alcohol content of 5% or less. In general whisky, vodka, and rum all usually have alcohol concentrations below 40%.

Craft Beer Selection - at The Urchin Pub, Hove

3. The type of beer that is brewed depends mainly on the temperature

Everyone has their own favourite type and style of beer. Nowadays it is often a battle of brand names, but for the true beer connoisseur, it’s important to be able to identify the difference between porter, stout, ale, lager, draught beer and so on. Even within one particular category, there can be many varieties to choose from, including pilsner, bock, etc.

If you don’t want to be left behind when all the experts at your table start talking about beer styles, the most important thing to know is that ale requires warmer brewing temperature, while lager is brewed at colder temperatures.

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Porter and stout used to be considered distinctive separate types, but because people love simplifying things, they’re now considered to be part of the ale family, simply by virtue of being brewed at warmer temperatures. Incidentally, if you do decide to make a thorough study of beer and become a true expert, you can give yourself the impressive title of Zythologist, which is a fancy scientific word for “beer expert”.

4. India Pale Ale only exists because of the distance between India and England.

India Pale Ale, which is stronger than the regular stuff in both taste and alcohol content, only exists because it was found that ale would spoil on long sailing voyages from England to India. The brewers raised the alcohol content and added more bitter hops to help preserve the beer better.

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You may be wondering why they didn’t just brew beer locally in India, and that’s a very good question. The first part of the answer is that finding pure enough water in India was a serious challenge. The second part is that the only regions of India where it’s cold enough to grow hops are really difficult to access. On the other hand, simply importing dry hops would have been a lot less expensive and difficult than importing beer.

5. In most ancient cultures, beer making was a woman’s job

While today, the majority of people who take an interest in beer making are men; that hasn’t always been the case. In fact, throughout most of the world, women traditionally brewed beer.

Traditional beer made in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia was typically produced by grinding the grains with stones and other similar tools. In South America, things were a little different. The ladies there would chew the grains to a fine pulp, which they would then spit into jars, to which the other ingredients were added and then left to ferment. This method is still used by some indigenous tribes in Peru and Ecuador to this day, and it is still the women who produce it.

The Urchin Pub in Hove, Craft Beer and Shellfish

If all that doesn’t seem odd enough, in Ancient Egypt it was actually illegal for men to make or sell beer. Ancient Babylon also had laws restricting the sale of beer to female vendors, however Hammurabi went a step beyond by decreeing that women who sold bad beer would be punished by drowning. Unfortunately it’s not clear if they would be drowned in the beer they sold, nor is there any information about who decided if a beer was bad or how bad it had to be.

6. There is a brand of beer that was created especially for dogs

Everyone enjoys drinking more when they are drinking with friends, but Dutch brewing aficionado Gerrie Berendsen decided that it would be even better if a man could drink with “man’s best friend”. And thus was born a brew known as Kwispelbier, a beer created especially for dogs.

Dog at The Bull in Henfield

Before you angrily reach for the phone and call your local PETA faction, it’s worth knowing that Kwispelbier has a 0% alcohol content, so it doesn’t cause any harm at all. As a matter of fact, as we’ll see in a moment, it has a lot of healthful properties.

7. Beer (in moderation) may be good for you

One of the lies that used to be taught (and probably still is) in schools to prevent children going on to become alcoholics in later life was that every glass of beer you drink permanently kills one brain cell. However this assertion is not based on any scientific research at all, and is believed to have been simply propaganda dreamed up by the temperance movement to help persuade the US government to introduce prohibition.

Many of the other health risks attributed to beer are also exaggerated. Beer, however, like all beverages containing alcohol, can be harmful if you drink too much of it. You’re unlikely to suffer any harm from beer drinking if you don’t overindulge.

Rainbow Inn, Cooksbridge, nr Lewes, County Pub and Restaurant

Belgium is one of the countries that is widely considered to be among the best beer-making nations in the world. What is less well known is that until the 1970s, beer was openly sold in Belgian schools. This only came to an end due to outside pressures. Yet this custom was revived in 2001, and once again created an international stir.

Is all the fuss justified? For one thing, the beer sold to children has a very low alcohol content, and it’s also packed with vitamins and minerals, something you won’t find in a soft drink or even a glass of water. Beer is one of the few consumable items that has almost a complete mineral profile, making it better for your health than some other drinks. Research has also revealed that beer could help strengthen bones, lower the risk of developing kidney stones, and may even improve brain function. Well, at least until you reach for that second glass.

8. For some people, beer is a more important concern than reward or punishment

Yes, it’s really true, some people take beer very seriously indeed. Our first example involves the story of the man who saved seven people from a fire, then promptly returned to the burning house to save his beer. The second story may be even crazier. In this one, a Florida man bought a beer in a bar, went out to rob a bank, and then came back to the bar to finish his drink. Now that’s dedication.

The Urchin, Shellfish and Craft Beer, Hove

Beer holds a lot of social history

If the stories and information given above prove anything, it’s that beer is important in our world. In Ancient Babylon, people were willing to kill over disputes about the quality of beer. Norwegian police used beer to negotiate with a terrorist. Children in Belgium were denied the opportunity to purchase beer in school for more than 40 years, even though it’s known to be nutritious and refreshing.

Beer is able to have so much influence because we care about it. So, love it or hate it, beer has always been with us and always will be.

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