A 1953 colloquium pondered the question "Did Man Once Live By Beer Alone?"

Photo of glass of beer by Alan Levin

The folks at JSTOR Daily have unearthed the proceedings of a 1953 colloquium that pondered a great question: Did early humanity first cultivate grain not for the purpose of making bread -- but brewing beer? Or, as official title of the event asked, "Did Man Once Live By Beer Alone?"

If the latter is true, then we owe the very concept of agriculture to the delights of getting sozzled.

As the proponents of that theory noted, beer-like drinks are arguably easier to create than bread. The former requires less technology:

The proponents of the beer-before-bread idea noted that the earliest grains might have actually been more suitable for brewing than for baking. For example, some wild wheat and barley varieties had husks or chaff stuck to the grains. Without additional processing, such husk-enclosed grains were useless for making bread—but fit for brewing. Brewing fermented drinks may also have been easier than baking. Making bread is a fairly complex operation that necessitates milling grains and making dough, which in the case of leavened bread requires yeast. It also requires fire and ovens, or heated stones at the least.

On the other hand, as some attendees pointed out, brewing needs only a simple receptacle in which grain can ferment, a chemical reaction that can be easily started in three different ways. Sprouting grain produces its own fermentation enzyme—diastase. There are also various types of yeast naturally present in the environment. Lastly, human saliva also contains fermentation enzymes, which could have started a brewing process in a partially chewed up grain.

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