Considering it has been around for an estimated 10,000 years, it’s taken a while for the world to realise the vital role that beer has played in the advancement of the species.
International Beer Day, celebrated each August, has only been with us for 15 years and you still won’t find many people putting “beer drinker” on their CV under list of hobbies or notable achievements. For at least one day a year though IBD does allow us to raise a glass and ponder where we might be without beer.
Born out of the agricultural revolution it has gone on, with its birth partner bread, to become a mainstay of communities across the globe.
Cliff Clavin, the postal worker and font of all knowledge, who propped up the bar in the long running comedy Cheers, was one of the first to articulate the cerebral benefits of beer when he compared the brain to a herd of buffalo.
Cliff espoused how the herd will be on the move and the slowest and weakest will find themselves at the margins, picked off by hunters but ensuring the herd as a whole gets faster, stronger and survives. According the Cliff, brain cells also have a pack mentality. Quoting the oft heard mantra that beer destroys brain cells, Cliff asserts that it is the weaker, slower brain cells that will be killed first, allowing the brain as a whole and its stronger cells to survive and prosper.
“That’s why you always feel so much smarter after a few beers,” concludes Cliff.
Whilst I’ve yet to hear Chief medical officer Chris Witty confirm any of that, there is evidence that beer played a vital role in the growth of civilisation.
The Hymn to Ninkasi is a song in praise of the Goddess of beer. One of the world’s earliest written works, it was found on 4000 year-old clay tablets – though the song itself is thought to be much older. As well as praising Ninkasi it also doubles as an instruction manual allowing the art of brewing to be passed down to future generations. Thank you ancient Sumerians.
And in ancient Egypt, labourers who toiled to build the great pyramids were paid in beer – about ten pints a day. The ale fuelled results has stood the test of time – though it’s not something recommended or indeed permitted on modern day construction sites.
From those impressive beginnings, beer and its younger, longer fermented sibling, lager, have conquered the world. Effective as a universal symbol of cohesion among social groups from small gatherings in a village pub to the international celebration of Oktoberfest that annually brings six million visitors to Munich.
Finally the world’s greatest brains are waking up to the vital role ale has played in the ascent of men and women.
Research by the University of Oxford’s Experimental Psychology department, found that: “social networks provide us with the single most important buffer against mental and physical illness. While pubs traditionally have a role as a place for community socialising, alcohol’s role appears to be in triggering the endorphin system, which promotes social bonding. Like other complex bonding systems such as dancing, singing and storytelling, it has often been adopted by large social communities as a ritual associated with bonding.’
Or, as rock star and hell raiser Frank Zappa put it: “You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.”
Oh, and did we mention beer is great in and with food? See, we always bring it back to the food at the end!
Beer can chicken, bacon, cheese and beer potato shells, beer battered fish tacos.
Beer Can Chicken
- 1 whole chicken
- 1 can of beer
- 2 tbsp smoked paprika
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 2 tbsp salt
- 2 tbsp pepper
- 2 tbsp garlic powder
- 2 tbsp onion powder
- 2 tbsp oil
- 2 tbsp honey
Mix all of the dry ingredients, honey and oil in a bowl, and rub into the chicken. Marinade over night. Then preheat the oven to 180 degrees, open the can of beer and place on a baking tray. Place the chicken on top of the can, through the cavity and cook for 1 hour twenty minutes. Once cooked, rest for a further 30 minutes and Enjoy!
Bacon, cheese and beer potato shells
- potato shells
- 100g butter
- ½ onion
- 100g plain flour
- 150ml beer
- 30ml milk
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 100g diced smoked bacon
- 1 tbsp chives
- 200g grated cheese
Make a roux with the butter and flour, beer and milk and cook until combined and silky smooth. In a separate pan, fry the bacon and onions until golden brown, add these to the roux. Then, add the cheese and chives. Cool this mixture down then scoop into the potato shells, then cook for 15 minutes at 190 degrees or until golden brown.
Beer Battered Fish Tacos
- 1 fillet of cod
- ½ avocado
- 1 lime
- 1 bunch of coriander
- 200g beer
- 200g onion ring batter
- pickled red cabbage
- salad leaves
After cooking the fish, the taco is essentially one big assembly job. You can put in whatever filling you like. For these tacos I made my batter by mixing the onion ring batter and beer together, dredging them in sliced cod, and then frying at 190 degrees for 3 minutes. I then assembled my taco with crushed avocado at the bottom with lime juice, then salad leaves, on top was the battered fish, topped with pickled cabbage and coriander.