A Short History of Imbeerialism

November 5th, 2008 by Max Nelson | Filed under Essentials of Beertheostory, Introduction.

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by Max Nelson, author of The Barbarian’s Beverage, A History of Beer in Ancient Europe, Routledge, Milton Park, 2005

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Before there was Imbeerialism (see article Beer Theory of History – An Introduction) there was Winopoly1. The Romans had the largest Empire in the ancient world, one that, at its peak, spanned the whole area around the Mediterranean as well much of the rest of western Europe, but the Romans never ventured where grapes could not be grown, and hence, where their precious wine could not be made; the limits of viticulture were the limits of culture. Although other, more ancient civilizations, such as those of Mesopotamia and Egypt, flourished with many intoxicants (fermented from fruits and honey as well as cereals), the Romans followed the Greeks in narrow-mindedly accepting the supremacy only of wine. Indeed, along with literary knowledge, precepts of law, military and administrative skills, and building techniques, the Romans spread their wine-making technology to the so-called ‘barbarians’ of northern and western Europe. And in many ways such native populations were conquered by drink, made docile by this and other Roman luxuries. However, the barbarians, even if they came to accept the Roman ideals of the supremacy of wine (the Vinocentrism which is still alive and well today), they never forgot their native beer-brewing traditions. And in the end the Roman Empire, that largest of all Empires in the ancient world, fell, and it fell to the beer-drinkers. By the fifth century, due to internal strife and economic problems, among an array of other causes, the Romans were unable to resist incursions of Germanic peoples; though a civilization was destroyed, beer was restored to its proper place alongside wine and other beverages.2

Today beer is by far the most consumed alcoholic drink in the world, and the beer that is drunk is not the beer of Mesopotamia or Egypt; it is the beer of the European barbarians. Though the first beers may (and this is a mere possibility) have been made in the Near or Middle East, this type of drink was not brewed as beer is today: baked, malted loaves were crumbled and left to ferment in water and the result was sipped from straws. It was the Europeans who, as far as we know, first boiled malted cereals (certainly already by the time of the Roman Empire), and it was they who first stored beer in barrels (certainly by the seventh century) and used hops in it (by the ninth century), all nearly universal practices of the modern beer industry.

There can be little doubt that Europe retained its grip on Imbeerialism from the time of the fall of Rome until the end of the twentieth century. Brewing technology spread with the European explorers and colonizers so that just as the English brought hoppy ales to India, the Germans brought refreshing lagers to Central and South America. Indeed, in the seventeenth century the English imported beer to North America and in the nineteenth century Germans made it big business here.

However, it could well be said that the United States has now come to overshadow Europe, not just as a sole political superpower but as a great brewing nation.3 While about one hundred years ago in Germany there were some 19,000 breweries, now there are only about 1,300, whereas the United States has some 1,500, spread throughout the country and competing in a $100 billion annual industry. This is despite the fact that only a little more than 75 years ago beer was an illegal commodity in the country. It was Krueger of New Jersey in 1935 that first stored beer in cans, and this spirit of innovation has continued into the twenty-first century, when Samuel Adams of Massachusetts has produced a 27% alcohol by volume beer and Fossil Fuel Brewing of California has made beer using a yeast strain recovered from a prehistoric insect preserved in amber. While the Germans and other Europeans continue to make traditional, consistently brewed beers, mainly according to strict regional styles, it is the Americans who are at the forefront of expansion and experimentation. Every major city in the United States has at least one brewpub and a typical brewpub has some six in-house-brewed beers to sample, showcasing a number of international styles normally ranging from light lagers to hefty stouts, with a couple special seasonals in between. The variety throughout the country is therefore enormous, and ever-changing: chilli beer, blueberry ale, pumpkin brew, meat-flavored beer made for dogs, etc. Now that’s something to be proud about!

Dr. Max Nelson


1(Beertheostorian A)  – Dr. Nelson suffers from the misconception that just because the Romans claimed they preferred wine, they actually conquered the Mediterranean regions on it. My disputes with Dr. Nelson’s conclusions on Roman civilization shall be more fully aired in later articles.
(The Editors) – Dr. Nelson suffers from the misconception that overwhelming artifactual evidence of wine flasks and other wine related items among ethnic Roman and Greek ruins and the virtual nonexistence of beer related artifacts among these same ruins demonstrates that a Winopoly existed at one time. Beertheostorian A never allows the facts to cloud the Truth, kind of like an Islamic fundamentalist.

2 (Beertheostorian A) Beer’s proper place is not along side wine, but on top and kicking the living snot out of wine.

3(Beertheostorian A) “It could well be said  that the United States has now come to overshadow Europe, not just as a sole political superpower but as a great brewing nation.” Change that to “It should be said with conviction that the United States not only overshadows Europe, but leaves it in the dust.” Yet Dr. Nelson, being a pointy headed intellectual and not a regular guy†, engages in this namby pamby Liberale-speak trying to soften the impact of the Truth. The United States is the world’s sole “political” super-power because of its brilliantly innovative beer styles, outstanding imitations of European beer styles and total beer production and until that changes, this is where the debate should end. Just as Marx had it wrong, all political power does not arise from economic power, it arises from that temple of spiritual purity from which all great beer flows, the brewery*; Max has it wrong too.
†(The Editors) Definitions-“Pointy headed intellectuals” – someone who applies the scientific method of confirming that facts actually match the theory in an attempt to explain things as opposed to “Regular Guys”who constantly apply a crypto-religious dogma to explain things regardless of the facts.
* (The Editors) Knowing Beertheostorian A as well as we do, we know he includes home brewers in this definition of a brewery, kind of like an ultra-micro-brewery.

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