Picture taken in Copenhagen Denmark last year
The Tundra Tabloids proudly presents an essay by fellow Scandinavian Counterjihad writer, Fjordman. After a recent discussion with the TT concerning beer, Fjordman kindly promised to explore the history surrounding the delightful beverage and write an essay about it. This is the product of Fjordman’s discoveries. KGS
Fjordman: Honey, Mead and Prehistoric Beer:
According to historian Patrick E. McGovern, the world’s total annual production of pure alcohol for beverages is projected to reach 20 billion liters by 2012, enough to provide every person on Earth with a couple of liters each of pure alcohol, more if you consider illegal production and home-brewed beverages, which are made in substantial quantities. We should also take into account that many adults don’t drink alcohol at all, and that most fermented beverages have an alcohol content of merely 3 to 13 percent. The global production of beer has surpassed 180
billion liters per year and is expected to reach 200 billion liters before 2015, of which the rapidly growing economy of China currently produces more than 20%.
We have little archaeological evidence from the Paleolithic era regarding this, but McGovern believes that this is undoubtedly the time when humans first experimented with alcoholic beverages, as they relished their fermented fruit juices and came to apprehend their ecstasies and dangers. He speculates whether psychoactive drugs, among them alcohol, played a role in the ritual life of Paleolithic shamans associated with Ice Age grottos. As he states in his book:
Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages:
The Palaeolithic cave paintings, like so many Sistine Chapels, must have been a monumental task in their day, especially when one considers that they were accomplished with extremely limited technology in pitch- black, nearly inaccessible locations. The motivations for devoting so much time and energy to otherworldly activities were probably similar to those of today. The needs of Homo sapiens include social rituals that bring the community together, artwork that symbolizes the workings of the mind and nature, and religious rituals that give human experience meaning and coherence.
A fermented beverage or drug can enhance these experiences and stimulate innovative thought. To the people of the Palaeolithic, ceremonial observances, heightened by an alcoholic beverage and other techniques for achieving an altered consciousness, might have been viewed as assuring good health, placating the spirits of invisible ancestors and other spirits, warning of danger, and predicting the future.”
Those attempting to make Paleolithic fermented beverages would have needed access to some form of container. They could have used hollowed-out wooden containers or bags made of leather, but the oldest known examples of pottery have been found in a cave at Yuchanyan in China dating back to around 16,000 BC.
Interestingly, this is thousands of years before we have evidence of agriculture anywhere. The previous oldest-known example of pottery
was found in Japan. Pottery may well have been produced by Ice Age foragers several places in Northeast Asia, from Russia via China to Japan, which was then connected to mainland Asia. Alcoholic beverages made from fruits or berries still enjoy some commercial importance in cooler climates.
Wine” is usually defined as a beverage made from grapes, so fermented beverages derived from other fruits are called fruit wines. When the sugar source for fermentation is apple, the beverage is called a cider; perry if it has been made of fermented pear juice. Cherry wines are made in Britain, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Ireland and Poland and are popular among home winemakers. Fruit wines
from blueberries can be bought in Norway and Finland. Plum wine has been made in China, Korea and Japan for centuries.
As author Ian Hornsey says in A History of Beer and Brewing, some raw materials of fermentation (sources of sugar) were naturally available to pre-Neolithic peoples, primarily wild berries and fruits, tree sap and above all honey. However, it is unlikely that reproducible beers could have been extensively brewed and enjoyed until after the invention of some sort of pottery vessels. In temperate zones there were relatively few abundant sources of sugar:
“Thus, for much of Europe, at least, honey is the logical candidate for being the basis of the original fermented beverage, some sort of mead. According to Vencl (1991), mead was known in Europe long before wine, although archaeological evidence for it is rather ambiguous. This is principally because the confirmed presence of beeswax, or certain types of pollen (such as lime, Tilia
spp., and meadowsweet, Filipendula ulmaria
), is only indicative of the presence of honey (which could have been used for sweetening some other drink) – not necessarily of the production of mead.
For more southerly parts of Europe, and for the Eastern Mediterranean and the Near East, the fermentation of the sap and fruits of tree crops, such as the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.), offers the most likely means by which alcoholic drinks were first produced with any degree of regularity. The date palm was one of the first fruit trees to be taken into cultivation in the Old World (ca. mid-4th millennium BC), and its sap and fruits contain one of the most concentrated sources of sugar (60-70%) known on the planet.”
Moreover, as Hornsey states, In more temperate zones, mature specimens of trees such as birch (Betula spp.) and maple (Acer
spp.) were bored early in the year (January or February) and sap was collected until the trees set bud. In early spring it has been reported that a mature birch can yield some 20-30 litres of sap daily (with a sugar content of 2-8%, plus some vitamins and minerals), some of which can be stored until summer. Such activities are historically attested for in North America, Scandinavia, and eastern Europe, and in many instances it would appear that the sap was consumed ‘neat.
It is thought that sap was more important than fruit juices in prehistoric times, especially in northern Europe, something that can be gleaned from the fact that the Finnish word for sap is mahla, and that this gave its name to the month of March in both the old Finnish and Estonian languages. The sugar levels of tree sap can be concentrated by boiling, and it is of note that maple sugar was manufactured in Europe until the early 19th century (and still is in North America in the 21st century).”
Although it is theoretically possible that humans first tasted alcoholic beverages in the Paleolithic era, the major breakthrough for large-scale production undoubtedly came with agriculture. A great turning point in human history was the transition from an extractive economy (foraging and collecting) to a productive, agrarian economy with domesticated plants and animals, the so-called Neolithic Revolution, a term coined in the 1920s by the Australian-born British scholar Gordon Childe (1892-1957).
This gradual transition from the life of nomadic hunter-gatherers to more settled communities of food producers happened independently in several parts of the world, but very early (ca. 9000-7000 BC) in the Near East and the Fertile Crescent, where many useful plants and animals were naturally available.According to authors Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending in The 10,000 Year Explosion, essentially all agricultural peoples regularly consumed some form of alcoholic brew.
While such drinks have plenty of bad side effects, the consumption of fermented beverages which contained modest amounts of alcohol could be beneficial to your health in ancient times, as drinking wine or beer provided some protection against waterborne pathogens. For this reason, genes and alleles that reduced the risk of alcoholism prevailed among agricultural populations. In contrast, peoples that have not been exposed to agriculture for very long, such as Eskimos, Aboriginal Australians or the natives of North America, are more vulnerable to alcoholism, and often have other particular health problems when exposed to a modern diet.
Honey collection from wild bee colonies is an extremely ancient activity. A rock painting near Valencia, Spain in the Cave
of the Spider (Cueve de la Arana) shows a pictograph with a man gathering honey from wild bees. In early civilizations honey was used to sweeten cakes and various dishes, in the production of alcoholic beverages and even for embalming the dead. It was appreciated as one of few natural sweeteners and could be stored for years, an unusual and valuable property before the invention of modern refrigeration and food preservation techniques. Due to its antibacterial properties it was sometimes utilized to treat wounds.
Honey is the nectar of flowering plants, processed by the honeybee. Its color and flavor differ depending on the blossoms as well as the local soil and climate. Generally speaking, lighter colored honeys
are mild while darker honeys are more robust in flavor. Calluna vulgaris
, better known as common heather or ling, is a low-growing evergreen shrub found in moorland and heathland areas. It is native to northern Europe plus some mountainous areas in the south, for instance in Spain. The flowers of heather give a honey that is dark with a strong taste.
The presence of honey in a fermented beverage does not automatically make it mead. Intoxicating beverages could be brewed from a variety of plants, fruits and cereals in ancient times. The distinction was not always clear between mead and beer, as both honey and cereals could be used for the creation of a mixed beverage, or honey could be added as a flavor to the beer or the wine after the fermentation process. The supply of honey available to the peoples of Bronze Age Europe was not likely to have been on a scale that would have permitted massive production of mead. It is more realistic to assume that mead was reserved for special occasions and that beer, or eventually wine in some regions, was the day-to-day drink.
The ancient Egyptians loved honey. In Exodus 3:8 in the Bible, Moses is told that the Canaan is a land of milk and honey. The Minoan civilization which flourished on the island of Crete by 2000 BC had an advanced economy fueled by trade with Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean. Evidence from 1600 BC suggests that the Minoan
production of wine was well established by then. The emerging Mycenaean culture on mainland Greece, whose members spoke an early form of Greek, was probably familiar with wine at this point and soon dominated Crete.
After the collapse of Minoan civilization, winemaking was common throughout the Aegean. Rodney Castleden
states in Minoans, Life in Bronze Age Crete:
“Archive tablets at Knossos record offerings of honey to the goddess Eleuthia, so it seems likely that some of the large storage jars at Knossos were used to store honey. One of the many legends surrounding the Knossos Labyrinth is the story of Glaukos, a son of King Minos who, while exploring the labyrinth’s cellars, fell into a huge jar of honey and drowned….Honey does make a very pleasant additive to alcoholic drinks, especially mulled wine, and we may assume that at least some of the distinctively flavoured Cretan honey stored at Knossos would have been stirred into wine for consumption in the sanctuaries. Dionysus is mentioned already in the Linear B tablets of the Mycenaean Greeks in the mid-second millennium BC, but he appears to be a god of intoxication.
While the evidence is sparse, it is conceivable that he was originally a mead god before becoming the god of wine. The Greeks of the Classical era did not believe that they had always drunk wine. Here is what Max Nelson states in The Barbarian’s Beverage: A History of Beer in Ancient Europe:
The Greek philosopher Porphyry from the third century AD claimed, on the authority of Orpheus’ (a mythic poet), that Zeus intoxicated Cronus with honey (that is, mead) since there was no wine at the time. The second century AD author Plutarch claimed that Jews used mead for their libations before wine was discovered. One ancient source even humorously stated that mead, then used by Illyrians, was once made among Greeks but that the recipe had been lost. Though we can certainly discount this explanation of why mead was no longer drunk by Greeks, these authorities may in fact be right that mead was known to Greeks before wine. The most telling clue is the fact that the Greek word for intoxicant is methu, which likely meant mead.
Though already in Homer methu
is equated with oinos (presumably wine), there are texts in which the two seem to be opposed, thus perhaps showing that the former retained at least occasionally its original meaning of mead. In the modern era, oenology
is the science of wine and winemaking. The word is derived from the Greek oinos, “wine,” and logos
, “word” or speech. The inhabitants of what is today Portugal and Spain may well have tasted wine for the first time before the Greeks arrived there, but as usual it was apparently after the Roman expansion into the Iberian Peninsula that the locals were introduced to systematic, large-scale viticulture. Max Nelson again:
“When in the early first century BC Posidonius wrote about the situation among those Iberians in the Lusitanian mountains (in modern day Portugal) he spoke of them drinking beer and only a little wine…Later in the first century BC the historian Diodorus of Sicily said that the Celtiberians purchased wine from merchants and drank it with honey. By the time of the Empire viticulture was certainly thriving. Strabo for one said that Iberia had olives, vines, and figs on the coasts, except in the north….Pliny also spoke of the best vintages in Spain, but also mentioned Hispanians drinking beer, specifically wheat beer, and also ageing it….Finally, in the early seventh century, the scholar Isidore, from Seville in Spain, explained that beer was still to be found ‘in those parts of Hispania not fertile in wine [that is, vines].
This clearly suggests that wine, when available, was the drink of choice in his homeland, and thus that the Roman conquest of Spain was not only a political success but an ideological one as well. Celtic peoples in present-day Britain, France, Spain and Belgium were avid beer drinkers. This situation partly continued into historical times, but due to Roman influence, wine eventually came to supplant beer or mead as the upper-class beverage in most of these areas.
The place where the old beer tradition remained most steadfast was in what is now Germany, which Caesar’s comment about German resistance to wine would confirm. Wine was slowest to
penetrate northeastern Europe, which was never under Roman rule. In Poland, the most popular alcoholic beverages well into the modern era were beer and mead, but during the Renaissance period the wealthy started importing Hungarian or southern European wines.
The Germanic peoples had a warrior culture with great halls for drinking and feasting. Julius Caesar wrote that the Germans used the horn of the aurochs encased in silver as a drinking cup at feasts. The now-extinct aurochs was the ancestor of Eurasian domesticated cattle, but significantly larger than present-day cattle. This impressive animal is depicted in Paleolithic cave paintings. The last known aurochs
died in Poland in 1627. Contrary to a myth that was popularized by Wagnerian opera in the nineteenth century, Viking helmets did not have horns mounted on them. This would no doubt have been inconvenient in battle. However, it is a well-documented fact that drinking horns were in use among Celtic and Germanic groups by early medieval times, and probably among the Thracians and the Scythians in the Black Sea region already during Antiquity. Silver fittings for three Anglo-Saxon drinking horns from the early seventh century AD have been found at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk in southeast England.
The Anglo-Saxon/Old English epic poem Beowulf depicts a pagan warrior society of Scandinavians in the sixth century AD, but it was written by a Christian at some point between the seventh and the eleventh centuries. Following the collapse of Roman authority during the fifth century AD came the settlement of Germanic-speaking peoples, among them the Jutes, presumably from Jutland in modern Denmark, as well as the Angles and Saxons, allegedly from Angeln and Saxony in northern Germany. They managed to establish their Germanic language there and gave name to England. According to Max Nelson, four beverages are mentioned in Anglo-Saxon writings: medo, wín, ealo (or ealu), and beor:
It has often been taken for granted that the first two are equivalent to the modern terms mead and wine, respectively (and I have accepted this in speaking of mead halls above), and that the last two both referred to beer (though perhaps different types). However, there is no evidence that Old English beor (though it is the ancestor of the modern word beer) was a cereal-based drink, and in fact it has been convincingly argued that it rather denoted a honey-based drink, while ealo (the ancestor of the modern word ale), a distinct beverage, denoted a cereal-based intoxicant.
This argument is founded on the fact that beor was used to translate Latin ydromellum and mulsum while ealu was used to translate Latin celea and cervisa (and variants), as ancient lexicographical sources demonstrate. The etymology of the word beor remains a vexed question. A derivation from the Latin bibere (to drink), which is often proposed, seems unlikely, as is also a connection to the hypothetical root *beura– meaning barley’ since it was apparently not a cereal-based beverage. Since it was honey-based we may wish to accept a derivation of beor from Old English bēo, meaning bee.”
Although cognates of ealu
were adopted into the Scandinavian languages, the cognate in Old High German was lost by the tenth century AD, at which point Old High German bior
came to designate a cereal-based intoxicant. Presumably, this new usage replaced the old one also in English shortly afterward. Ydromellum apparently denoted mead or some form of honey-based drink, whereas“mulsum
to the Romans was a drink made from wine and honey.
Herodotus (ca. 425 BC) claimed that there were so many bees in the Danube region that it was almost impossible to travel through it without being stung. The ancient Roman province of Pannonia
, which consisted of parts of present-day Hungary, Austria, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Slovakia and Bosnia, was known for its honey. The western Mediterranean island of Corsica, situated south of France and north of Sardinia, traded honey and beeswax extensively within the Roman Empire. In the medieval period, beeswax was especially prized for candles.
folklore gives evidence of the importance of honey in the daily life of the nation. The chronicler Gallus, who visited Poland in the late 1000s, said that the woods there were rich in honey. The Russian
s and Poles were experts in making hot honey drinks for the winter as well as for making mead. All must have come from natural nests until hive beekeeping began in the 1200s, but it is hard to tell from early written records whether it had been obtained by opportunistic hunting from nests, from nests that were owned or by tree beekeeping.
Where opportunistic honey hunting continued into the late 1900s it has been studied in detail. Mountain ranges in the former Yugoslavia stretch across the Balkans from the Hungarian plains to Albania and Greece, and like the Carpathians they are a stronghold of traditional practices. Different methods were employed, from reaching nests by ropes or ladders to using smoke and fire. As Eva Crane states in The World History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting:
When the snow was melting in spring, honey hunters of some Hungarian, Slovak and Russian peoples would walk through the woods, especially any fringes facing south, looking for dead bees or other nest debris on the snow beneath a tree. Honey would be taken straight away from any nest that contained some, because the cold would prevent the bees stinging. In many parts of the Carpathians and also in Latvia, honey hunters looked for fresh tracks made in the snow by a pine marten (Martes martes, Mustelidae).
These could lead to a nest, which might be indicated by wood debris on the snow below a tree, where a marten had tried to open up a nest with its teeth and claws. Ukrainians followed bear tracks. After flowers appeared, a common method for locating nests was to watch the direction in which bees flew away after visiting flowers. In Slovakia, honey hunters walking near flowering goat willow (Salix caprea) in early spring would listen for the hum of bees working the catkins.”
Honey hunters could make an individual bee easier to see by attaching to its body a blade of grass (Ukrainians) or a small piece of paper (Estonians); this also slowed the bees down. More sophisticated methods involved catching foraging bees in a trap baited with honey. Carpathian honey hunters had a great variety of bee traps. Box traps were used in Sweden.
Mead was widely drunk in the Baltic countries, Scandinavia, Poland, Russia, the Ukraine, parts of Central Europe and in Wales more than in England. It continued to be a popular drink in many northern regions for centuries, but consumption slowly diminished as beer drinking spread. In Russia, mead was widely consumed long after its decline in popularity in the West. It is still possible to buy bottles of freshly made mead from commercial producers in many countries, but it would be fair to say that the drink has by now become a marginal product for those with special interests and tastes, compared to the far greater importance it once enjoyed.
With the beginning of the colonial period in Western Europe sugar cultivation was spread to the New World, starting with the Portuguese and the Spanish and continuing with the Dutch, the British and the French. Masses of cheap sugar, often grown by African slaves as plantation workers in the Caribbean islands and the West Indies, were imported to Europe. As prices declined, sugar became increasingly common also among the poor and was used for jams and candy as well as added to the new tropical drinks, cacao, tea and coffee. The availability of imported sugar gradually reduced the traditional importance of honey as a natural sweetener, although European countries continue to be major producers of honey.
While many nations around the world enjoyed honey, how bees reproduce was not properly understood until the birth of modern science in Europe in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Dutch naturalist Jan Swammerdam and the French naturalist René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur were both renowned for their detailed studies of insects.
(1720-1793) from Switzerland discovered parthenogenesis, a type of asexual reproduction. In 1742 he found that caterpillars and butterflies breathe through pores. The blind Swiss natural historian François Huber
(1750-1831) became an internationally respected authority on the natural history of honey bees.
His Nouvelles Observations sur Les Abeilles (New Observations on Bees) appeared in Geneva in 1802, devoted attention to the functions of the queen and promoted a genuinely scientific understanding of beekeeping or apiculture, from Latin apis for bee. The movable comb hive was perfected in 1851 by Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth (1810-1895), an apiarist and clergyman from Pennsylvania in the USA who followed up ideas championed by Jan Dzierżon (1811-1906), a Polish priest and apiarist.
While the Greeks and other ancient peoples obviously recognized the mood-altering properties of fermented beverages, they did not know that these were caused by a specific chemical substance we know as alcohol (ethanol). This is demonstrated by the fact that there were no Greek or Latin word for alcohol, only for intoxicant, which could also be used for other mood-altering substances and drugs which did not contain alcohol. Aristotle, for example, did not classify wine and beer together as alcohol-based intoxicants, but classed wine with opium, mandrake and lolium, and beer in a separate category.
The first written sources we have about beer in Europe are from peoples who did not enjoy that beverage, the Greeks and the Romans. There were many misconceptions regarding it. Not only did the ancients not know that both beer and wine were alcoholic beverages containing ethanol; they did not know that this substance comes about through the interaction of yeast and sugar. The process of fermentation in beer was understood as a form of decomposition of the cereal. Beer was seen as having rotted. This was not perceived to be the case with wine.
In the late eighteenth century Antoine Lavoisier described ethanol, also called ethyl alcohol
or grain alcohol (C2H5OH), as a compound of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. In 1808 Nicolas Théodore de Saussure (1767-1845) from Geneva, Switzerland, son of the great Swiss geologist Horace-Bénédict de Saussure, determined its chemical formula. Finally, in 1858 the Scottish chemist Archibald Scott Couper published a structural formula for ethanol, making it among the first chemical compounds to have their structures determined.
Nicolas de Saussure
also extended the work of the Englishman Joseph Priestley and the Dutchman Jan Ingenhousz and demonstrated that plants absorb carbon dioxide during photosynthesis. This showed that the carbon in plants comes from the atmosphere, not the soil, as some scholars then believed.