hist-brewing: archaic brewing

Steve Thomas fabricus at hvi.net
Tue Feb 16 08:09:40 PST 2010

   Anyone who doubts the historic depth of brewing should be given a 
bucket of wheat or barley and a mortar/pestle, then left to make bread 
to feed themselves for a week.
   It is an education to most people just how much energy goes into 
reducing grain to flour.  There is a reason that the first powered 
machinery went to milling grain.  The benefits of soaking grain prior to 
cooking and/or milling would not be lost on anyone with only primitive 
technology on hand.  Extra grain, soaked but not immediately used, will 
tend to sprout; sprouts are delicious and nutritious in themselves, and 
when cooked by primitively available means will produce noticeable 
saccharification.  Any unconsumed saccharified gruel would shortly 
become somewhat alcoholic.   Such a series of steps, each one with its 
own benefits, would be hard to avoid, not difficult to produce.
   Archaeologists focus on the persistent artifacts.  There is no 
evidence of a development time for important technologies like string, 
nets, knots, felting, or tanning, so they are left out.  Alcoholic 
gruel/porridge would require no more than a bucket--say folded out of 
birchbark, or a hide sack.  No archaeologist is going to stake much 
reputation on events that leave no irrefutable evidence, but that 
doesn't make them right.  Flat stones for baking on, parched grains for 
food leave clear evidence, so that's what goes in the books.  It is rare 
to have mention of how selective survival biases our perception of 
   I like to imagine that storytelling was one of the great cultural 
attainments of prehistory, similarly unrecorded.  And accompanied by 
alcoholic gruel.
 --Steven Thomas

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