Holy Hops! History of Beer

We recently began a new project at St. Dominic Priory: beer brewing. In an effort to highlight our efforts, I am beginning a new series dubbed, “Holy Hops!” We will explore the connection between beer brewing and the spiritual life.


But first: some history! The ancient art of brewing has transcended the ages, spanning much of human history. As far as historians tell us, beer has withstood the test of time and distinguished itself as one of the most important beverages that humanity has ever produced. However it is unlikely that whoever drank the first beer ever intended to make it in the first place. Most believe that beer was created accidentally in the ancient culture of Samaria after bread, having been soaked in water, created a mash-like substance that eventually fermented into beer.


Historians also tell us about the mystique that surrounded beer in ancient cultures. The great “Epic of Gilgamesh” captures this vividly:

“They placed food in front of him, they placed beer in front of him; Enkidu knew nothing about eating bread for food, and of drinking beer he had not been taught. The harlot spoke to Enkidu, saying: ‘Eat the food, Enkidu, it is the way one lives. Drink the beer, as is the custom of the land.’ Enkidu ate the food until he was sated, he drank the beer-seven jugs!-- and became expansive and sang with joy!” – Gilgamesh, Tablet #2


It is likely that the joy experienced by Enkidu was not the only reason that humans continued to brew. Beer as we know it today has undergone significant development as its purpose changed. For hundreds of years it was likely used as a source of nutrition. Beer was a staple of life in the Middle Ages during outbreaks of plagues. Clean water was hard to come by and beer was recognized as a safe source for families to receive their daily bread without spreading disease. In fact, St. Arnold of Soissons encouraged the faithful to drink beer because of its “gift of health” since during the brewing process the beer was boiled, eliminating any potential pathogens.

Beer as we know it today also developed within the monastic tradition, where brewing became an especially important commodity. Since monasteries served as centers for science, culture, and hospitality, beer was served to guests during their stay. Recognizing its popularity, monks eventually began to brew and sell beer as a way of supporting the life of the monastery (more on that in a future post).


Fast forward to the year 2008. I purchased my first beer brewing supplies in college after seeing Alton Brown brewing on one of my favorite shows, “Good Eats.” As someone interested in the sciences I began my experiment of brewing, and to my surprise the beer was not half bad! As I began to read more into the science behind brewing I began to understand the importance of precision, sanitation, and method. Not to mention, I began to appreciate what goes into brewing a good beer!

So...in order to celebrate our upcoming patronal feasts, the friars of St. Dominic Priory currently have two beers in production: (1) “St. Martin de Porter” (in honor of St. Martin, whose feast day is November 3rd); and (2) “St. Albert the Stout” (in honor of St. Albert “the Great” Magnus, whose feast day is November 15th). Stay tuned!