• Brewing beer has quite a history. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Sure, we're drinking less nowadays. But beer's 450th anniversary this month reminds us the good reasons why we've been hitting the home brew for centuries.
Helen Razer

25 Jul 2018 - 3:22 PM  UPDATED 17 Jul 2018 - 12:29 PM

450 years ago, a mortal took a blessing from the gods and placed it in the hands of humankind. This is the claim of St Paul’s in London, a cathedral now known as the birthplace of bottled beer. It may be quite true that in July of 1568, a chap named Alexander Nowell tried his hand at microbrew at the back of this British institution. It is also quite true that (a) British institutions do tend to claim history that they shouldn’t and (b) beer existed for an awfully long time before Alex is said to have first put a cork in it.

It is thought that Mesopotamians made home brew millennia before the hipsters of the West. It is known that the oldest recorded recipe of any kind is for beer. Which is not to say that beer is the oldest actual recipe – Egyptians almost certainly transformed grains into bread before they turned them into beer. Then again, Egyptians almost certainly knew that unlike the consumption of bread, the consumption of beer could transform the most efficient human memory into a beanbag. This is why they wrote those instructions down on papyrus 5,000 years ago.

There must be ancient world recipes more ancient than this one. There must be beer-bottling experiments that predate that of 1568. Still, we must find some occasional excuse to salute the staple of the drinking masses. Or, at least, to explain it. The old, old habit of drinking beer is renewed.

And, no, I’m not making this up to justify a personal fondness for beer. It is true that although Australians consume fewer alcoholic units with each passing year, they are giving a greater number of these to beer.

There’s a variety of explanations for the national downturn in drunkenness and uptick in beers. We could say that an individual’s faith or health and fitness concerns may diminish their taste for drink. We could say that marketing efforts by craft beer makers have turned many into sipping connoisseurs. Our current moderate drinking may be due to several cultural factors, but also to a single social one: money. Most of us simply don’t have much of it to spend.

Those of us in contract, casual or self-employed jobs are a growing group, already representing 40 per cent of all workers. The irregular nature of this work, the escalating cost of housing and a diminished typical wage all require the many remain relatively sober.

It is thought that Mesopotamians made home brew millennia before the hipsters of the West. It is known that the oldest recorded recipe of any kind is for beer.

None of this knowledge should prevent a terrible snob from deceiving herself that she is not on a reduced income. I recommend maintaining the fantasy of a Parisian holiday over admitting the poverty of life every time. Why not order the cheapest and most diluted beer you can in French?

Of bartenders, do not request the “shandy”, Australian English for half-beer, half-lemonade, but “un panaché”, French for the very same refreshment. It is unfortunate that staff at the licensed establishments I frequent generally refuse to assist this delusion. I shall continue to request un panaché until somebody eventually serves me one. I will wear the stripes of Breton and learn the words to La Marseillaise if I must.

If, at first, you find that you do not have the faculty to enjoy this fine tipple, please try again. Perhaps this time with a pilsener, which complements most lemonade post-mix rather well. If you are still mystified by un panaché, simply accept that you are a person unaccustomed to Gallic refinement, and slake your thirst by craftier beers.  

Or, by purer waters. Or, by finer wines. Your decision will be less fattening and more edifying than mine. But, not so economically French.


Helen Razer is your frugal food enthusiast, guiding you to the good eats, minus the pretension and price tag in her weekly Friday column, Cheap Tart. Don't miss her next instalment, follow her on Twitter @HelenRazer. 

Don't miss her next instalment, follow her on Twitter @HelenRazer.

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