Wine is a spontaneous fermentation of sweet juices from grapes, fruits, berries, or various sap that are simply collected.

The beer is made from starch which is neither liquid, nor sweet, nor fermented. In the Neolithic period, societies that opted for a way of life based on agriculture and stockbreeding had to learn how to bring about and control three transformations, in the right order. 1) To liquefy the starch 2) To turn it into a sweet juice 3) To trigger its alcoholic fermentation.

Nothing very easy. The feeding techniques were adapted to the varied characteristics of each source of starch in the world: cereal seeds, tubers, floury fruits, the pith of certain trees and other plants.


First corollary: the starch is used as a criterion to distinguish beer from other fermented alcoholic beverages: wines, mead, fermented milk (alcoholic).

Second corollary: any alcoholic fermented starch-based beverage is a beer. When faced with a fermented beverage that does not resemble an industrial Western beer, all you have to do is ask the question: has raw starch been saccharified to make it? The addition of fruit or sugars after this operation (and before or after fermentation) does not affect the nature of the beverage. It is a true beer.

Third corollary: all beers are equal from a technological point of view. This is the point that annoys, not technologists, but historians. Some do not want to grant the status of "real beers" to beers of antiquity or to traditional indigenous beers of old and new. These archaic beers would be proto-beers, "beer-like", primitive types of beer, or at best some fermented porridges. A more critical matter, these historians systematically rename "rice wines" the age-old rice beers brewed in China (jiu) or Japan (sake), to remain faithful to the Western outdated translations of the classics of their literature. As a result, the world history of beer would be cut off from the Asian continent, deprived of fundamental comparative studies on the economy and social role of beer since the most remote antiquity.


Beer is a product of human intelligence, wine a gift from the gods.


Confirming or invalidating this sentence means questioning the origin of fermented beverages and unmasking the preconceived ideas. It is also the way to ensure that the project of a General History of Beer rests on solid ground. The history of a material object - even a technical and thirst-quenching one like the beer - which would have no other existence than a linguistic or cultural convention, would forge a chimera!

The question of the origins of "beer" is fundamental. Answering this question requires the gathering of countless materials and requires extensive historical and technical research. This essential journey through time and brewing techniques must answer the following questions:

1 - Does the inventory of ancient brewing processes throughout the world, as far as we can reconstruct them, plead in favour of inventive schemes, an indication of a certain technical intelligence, or does it lean in favour of primitive recipes that were invariable and blindly repeated until the advent of modern brewing? A tenacious idea runs through the historical studies of beer up to the present day: before the advent of modern western brewing (let's say late 18th European century), it is the prehistoric reign of badly fermented broths, cervoises, ragouting "beers". The historian talks about them, but does not imagine drinking them (except for special mention of monastic beers reputed to be healthy and easy to drink). The old documents say something quite different. Babylonian, Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, and closer to us African, Amerindian or Tibetan, brewing techniques are sophisticated, adapted to the production context and not monotonous. The beers produced are delicious!

2 - Did the first beers appear as a result of natural accidents (a bowl of soaked grains subjected to spontaneous fermentation!) or do they coincide with certain stages in the social and technological evolution of human communities (pottery, agriculture, village, granaries, etc.)?

3 - Back to our initial question: defining the Beer. We propose a definition, based solely on biochemical processes. It deviates from the fiscal and contingent definitions, which vary according to national legislation. Not applicable to the beers of the past, they are an encumbrance to their world history.



01/04/2013  Christian Berger