The historical evolution of the brewing regions.


Several key periods in human history have shaken up these brewing areas, through technical exchanges and borrowings or through cultural changes. The adoption of new plants or agricultural methods modify the brewing processes. The integration of several brewing areas into large economic and cultural complexes (empires, confederations) are changing the social role of fermented beverages (First kingdoms and First empires). Finally, the rise of the 5 major religions introduces new collective behaviours towards the fermented beverages, mainly beer which is the most widespread.

The following table lists some examples of key historical periods or events in the evolution of the brewing areas ( not exhaustive) :



Events / Evolutions

Consequences for the brewing areas

-1300 à -500

The Aryas reach the Indus Valley. Conquest/assimilation of the Gangetic tribes.

Contact between the West of the Indian subcontinent (barley-wheat-millet beers from the Indus brewing basin) and the East (rice beers from the Ganges/Bengal brewing basin).

1st millennium BC

Exchanges Central Asia ⇔ India ⇔ China

Propagation of the amylolytic ferment technique ?

1st millennium BC

Silk Roads through South-East Asia and India

Rice arrives in the Middle East, with it the rice beers.

-206 à +220

Unification of North and South China (Han Dynasty)

The brewing traditions of North and South China are converging.

Greek and Byzantine Empires

Trade Orient ⇔ Occident

Junction of Mediterranean and Persian winemaking, decline of the beer brewing in the Near East.

Roman Empire

Trade Roman ⇔ Nordic peoples

Roman winery and brewery of the Germanic and Nordic peoples.

4th – 9th centuries

Christianisation of the peoples of Northern Europe

Sacramental wine, the beer banned from the sacred space (beer = "pagan beverage")


Eastern and Central Europe invaded by the Huns

Influence of the fermented products of nomadic peoples (milk/beer/hydromel) on European beers (acid hydrolysis of beer)


Death of Muhammad, fast spread of Islam

Religious prohibition of all fermented beverages in the Middle East, Persia and North Africa. Resilience of weakly fermented beers

7th century

Muslim conquest of the Sassanid Empire. The "Silk Road" bypasses ancient Persia to the north.

Direct contacts China ⇔ Eastern Europe

Mongol Empire (1206-1360)

« Pax mongolica »

Exchanges China ⇔ Central Asia ⇔ Europe

The 4 fermented beverages of the Khans: koumiss, rice beer, mead and grape wine.

15-16th centuries

European colonisation of the Amerindian peoples

Fall of the Aztec and Inca empires.

Maize and cassava introduced in Africa and used to brew African beers and then European beers.

Potato, a source of cheap starch. Brewery and distillery in Europe.

Culture clash of Christianity. The traditional Amerindian beers are repressed and catalogued as "pagan drinks".

Mughal Empire in India (1526-1858)

Conquest of Northern India

Indo-Persian and Islamic imperial culture. Wine at the court, beer in the country. Religious syncretism.

From the 15th century onward

International maritime traffic: Atlantic ⇔ Indian Ocean ⇔ Pacific

The starchy food plants travel all over the world. Maize and cassava are grown in Africa and Europe and are changing the brewing patterns of these two continents.

Direct contacts Europe ⇔ Asie

From the 17th century onward

Direct agricultural exploitation of colonies in Africa and America by the European powers. Triangular trade and the Atlantic slave system

Colonial plantations of sugar cane, palm trees, maize, cassava, etc. Sugar abounds in Europe: alcohol distillation becomes an industry.

The European alcohols (gin, rum, brandy made from potato or manioc starch) are flooding the world.

From the 18th century onward

Industial Revolution in Europe

Industrial and scientific brewery.

Gradual disappearance of local beers.

Splitting up of the "Europe" brewing basin with the marginalisation of sour beers from Eastern Europe and Russia.

From the 19th century onward

European colonial powers and their empires: Africa, India, China, Indochina and Indonesia, the Americas.

Japanese colonial power

Invention of the Colonial Brewery. Industrial beer is produced locally (South America, China, Africa). Same with sake in the Japanese Pacific colonies.

Marginalisation of indigenous beers with commercial campaigns to disparage them.

Some key periods in the general evolution of brewing regions throughout the world.


The Table highlights political upheavals, migration of peoples and violent invasions. The local traditions and brewing areas are also modified by chains of events that unfold over a long period of time. The establishment and cultivation of new food plants on a continent has far-reaching effects. The major transcontinental exchanges refer to the global movement of products in the broadest sense (from raw materials to processed products), people, technology and knowledge. These exchanges are permanent. Identifying their consequences on brewing traditions requires extensive studies that go far beyond the scope of this general history. Here again, we provide a few examples to set the ideas. Further studies should develop each topic.


Examples of exchanges by sea :


  • Repeated contacts between China and the Japanese archipelago from the Hans introduced new methods of rice brewing in Japan.
  • The Arab merchants trade in the Indian Ocean at the dawn of the 1st millennium. Is palm wine (the fermented beverage of Sindh and Kerala) of Middle Eastern or indigenous origin? Palm sap and dates are used to sweeten beer.
  • Indian merchants frequent the coasts of East Africa. Populations in the Zambezi basin have a brewing technique (amylolytic ferment) which has no equivalent in the whole of Africa. Is it an African invention or was it brought by Indian populations?
  • Ming China (1368-1644) explored the South Seas (Indonesia, Indian Ocean) to extend its trading area, between the 14th and 15th century. Chinese silks and porcelain flood the coasts of the Indian Ocean, from Timor to the African coasts. The question arises as to their influence on the manufacture and consumption of traditional fermented beverages, particularly in Java and Malaysia.
  • In the 14th century, Europe was looking for a new route to India. The African coast is explored, before bypassing Africa from the south. East Indian plants arrive in Europe, sugar cane in particular.
  • The other way, through the West, was opened in 1492. Maritime trade gave way to the logic of territorial conquest. The American plants introduced in Africa by the Spanish and the Portuguese from the 16th century, modify the traditional African brewing techniques. Maize, cassava, yams are adopted as brewing raw material, with their preparation techniques and some brewing techniques.
  • In parallel, the contact between Amerindians and Europeans brought unknown drinks (grape wine and distilled alcohol) and new types of beer brewed by the settlers to the American lands.


Examples of trade by continental land routes :


  • The Nile basin in the 4th-3th millennia: northern-southern axis of exchange between the African brewery (Nubia, Ethiopia, Sudan = Eastern Africa brewing basin) and the brewery of Asia Minor (Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia = Near-East brewing basin).
  • The trade routes between South China and the Indian world via Burma, Yunnan and Sichuan.
  • Andean road network of the Inca Empire: brewing of maize beers and imperial communication policy over 3000 km long.
  • The three "Silk Roads" through India or Central Asia.
  • The sub-Saharan tracks from the Nile to Timbuktu and the Lake Tchad through which the Sudanese African kingdoms exchange. A East-West axis among peoples accustomed to drink beer in the Antiquity and Midlle-Age.
  • The exchanges through the Tibetan plateau between nomadic Mongolian peoples (fermented milk) and Himalayan kingdoms bordering the Gangetic valley (barley, eleusine, buckwheat beers).



25/02/2013  Christian Berger