The secret science of beer

The first beer we have evidence of probably isn’t one you’d want to drink. A staggering 13,000 years ago an ancient group called the Natufians brewed a beer more like a thin gruel then a clear, bubbly beverage.

Researchers from Israel found traces of the ancient brew on stone mortars in a cave near human remains and art on stone slabs.

The remains of this unappetising beer is the start of a history of humans and ale, and the surprising science behind it.

Beer, simply put, is a mix of a grain like barley, hops, and water. But the not-so-magic ingredient that turns grain water into beer is yeast. The same stuff that makes bread rise.  

Yeast is a type of fungus, but not the sort of mushroom you’d see at a grocery store. It’s a single celled organism that happily munches on grains, extracts the sugar, and converts it into ethanol. It also ‘buds’ meaning it creates new cells by growing a new cell on its side. Eventually when the bud is big enough, it detaches.

Beer has a long history with humans.

Ancient Nubians used beer as an antibiotic, while in India a beer-like drink called sura was a favourite of the god Indra. Ancient Egyptians drank beer daily.

It was so good that medieval people drank it instead of dirty, bacteria filled water to stay healthy…. Except that’s not actually true.

People didn’t know that water made them sick, but water that smelt or looked bad was avoided. Water was regularly drunk the same way it is now.

No, beer has lasted from 13,000 years ago until now because it got us drunk and it tastes nice. But there was an added bonus in drinking low alcohol ‘small beer’ as opposed to water – the added calories. 

A team of Belgium film-makers has created a documentary highlighting the science and the history of Belgium’s beers. The documentary, called The Secrets of Beer is one of the films showing at Scinema, the largest science film festival in the Southern Hemisphere.

Find out more at the 2023 SCINEMA International Science Film Festival

Watch the 2023 SCINEMA International Science Film festival entry, The Secrets of Beer, by registering to view it for free on the SCINEMA website. 

SCINEMA runs from 1 August to 31 August.

Register for scinema 2023

SCINEMA runs from August 1 to August 31 every year. Register now to be part of the festival and watch the films for free. REGISTER NOW.

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