Without grains we’d be left with ciders, meads and wine for our fermented needs. Maybe even a little fermented milk if you’re into that. Obviously these all have some great qualities to them and can be just as good as as a bear produced with barley or wheat, but isn’t it just dandy to have a larger pool or resources to pull from?
The majority of grain we use to make our beers with (most notably barley) was not available to all of our ancestors to make their delicious concoctions with. Barley was first cultivated in the Fertile Crescent and area of Western Asia to the Nile in Northern Africa. It was used as a food source first and foremost. But eventually it was used as a way to purify water and a nutrition source.
Many cultures even used it as a source of currency. The Fertile Crescent is home to many other grains that we use for fermenting and our now cultivated round the world. Such as Wheat and Millet (a new gluten free player). Rye and Oats were in the region but at the time this place was hoping with hop heads (most likely gruit heads) these two oats were not realized as a food or fermentation source.
Over time these grains spread further into Asia and then eventually Europe. Due to the amount of heavy ocean traveling in Europe these grains took flight and began to be cultivated globally. The only grains that were really available to other folks was Maize in the Americas and Sorghum and Quinoa in Africa. These two grains seemed to be more of a food resource but there is plenty of evidence to support that plenty of regions used them for fermentation purposes.
There’s so much that can be said about the history grain but I like to try to keep things short and sweet, so find some more in the reading below.
Photo: Bob Ryskamp