a history of brewing and distillation

By | 10 August 2011

{I am indebted to the wonderful work of wikipedia editors and contributors to find original sources on much of this}


Brewing alcoholic beverages is known to have started with the Babylonians at least by the second millennium BC (3000-4000 years ago). Some archaeological evidence puts production in ancient Mesopotamia as early as 5400 BC. The Code of Hammurabi had regulations surrounding beer and beer parlors. There was a Mesopotamian goddess of beer, Ninkasi. There are written records of beer in ancient Egyptian texts.

The oldest brewery in Europe is the Weihenstephaner abbey brewery, which has been in operation since 1040.

In 1516 (with an origination in 1487) the Reinheitsgebot was passed in Bavaria.

Distillation of alcohol spread to Europe via the Moors in the 800s. Distillation was written about by Greek alchemists in the first century AD, and by the 12th century, whisky was being produced in Ireland and brandy in Germany.

Wine (originally, and most commonly, fermented grape juice) is spoken of throughout the Bible; archaeological evidence also supports wine production back to the earliest days of civilization.

Alcohol has been produced for a variety of reasons:

  • medicinal
  • aromatic (ie, perfumes)
  • enjoyment
  • enlightenment
  • and more

Maximum alcohol by volume (or ABV) for a fermented-only product is approximately 18% (though some special strains of yeast have been developed that can survive to ~25% ABV); typical distillation can only achieve approximately 95% ABV, as anything above that is an ‘azeotrope with water’. Wikipedia has an interesting table of alcohol levels in common (and some not-so-common) substances.