Beer’s Essential Role in Modern Civilization

We often hear big claims of what beer can do for us. Whether it’s with more alcohol, less calories, smoother taste, no carbs, caffeine infusion or a hint of lime, the alcohol industry is forever trying to make beer more marketable.

We also hear quite a bit about the destructive powers of beer. The disease of alcoholism, the fatal consequences of binge drinking, and driving while intoxicated are all too common topics in our newspapers and on our televisions.

Rarely do we hear about what beer has already done for us. This past July an article was published on the website (of all places) entitled “Beer: Is There Anything It Can’t Do?” This journalistic masterpiece delves into the vastly untold story of beer’s prominent place in the history of the civilized world. The article, authored by George Will (Pulitzer Prize-winning conservative journalist), defends the positive societal contributions of beer with facts and passion.

Pint of Stout Beer

Will scoffs at a line published in an Investor’s Business Daily article on the InBev/Anheuser Busch merger, which asserted: “The (alcoholic beverage) industry’s continued growth, however slight, has been a surprise to those who figured that when the economy turned south, consumers would cut back on nonessential items like beer…. “

“Non what?” Will asks, before contending that without beer there would be no civilization. He goes on to cite Steven Johnson’s 2006 book, “The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic – and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World” to support his notion that the development of civilization depended on urbanization that depended on beer.

Refer to Johnson’s intro for further explanation; “The search for unpolluted drinking water is as old as civilization itself. As soon as there were mass human settlements, waterborne diseases like dysentery became a crucial population bottleneck. For much of human history, the solution to this chronic public-health issue was not purifying the water supply. The solution was to drink alcohol.”

The most pure fluid available was alcohol and the most readily available alcohol was beer. Inevitably, beer became a driver of a species strengthening selection process.

To avoid dangerous water, people drank large quantities of beer. The body’s ability to respond to the intake of alcohol is controlled by certain genes on chromosome four in human DNA. These genes are not evenly distributed to everyone, so many of those who could not “hold their liquor” died early and childless, from either alcohol’s toxicity or from waterborne diseases. Gene pools became dominated by the survivors (those genetically disposed to drink beer) and the rest is history.

Will concludes his article with one of my very favorite beer quotes. He writes, “Benjamin Franklin was, as usual, on to something when he said, ‘Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.’ Or, less judgmentally, and for secular people who favor a wall of separation between church and tavern, beer is evidence that nature wants us to be.”

Well said Will, well said.

Check out the whole article, here.


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