CULTURE & ARTS
08/21/2015 09:22 am ET

Comic Recalls The Accidental Brewing Of The Very First Beer

To early humans, it was a miracle from the gods.
Jonathan Hennessey and Mike Smith

Where does that crisp, summery IPA you guzzle on weekends come from? Today, the answer is pretty straightforward. But when, and why, did humans start brewing beer in the first place? A new comic book attempts to explain, with beautifully calligraphic panels, the early days of crafting tasty, drinkable grains.

Beer's origins are tough to pinpoint precisely, but historians and anthropologists think it dates back before humans starting using ceramics as vessels for their beverages. So, even though we can get a good sense of what different, porous ceramic containers contained, beer probably predated all of that.

The authors of The Comic Book Story of Beer write, "the very first beer was probably brewed in an organic container like an animal skin or wooden vessel." (Brooklyn-based micro-brewers, take note: you're doing it wrong.)

But, we have no archaeological record of those decayable vessels, so we have to rely on piecing together the puzzle ourselves. The first batch of beer was probably brewed around 9,000 B.C., when "civilization took a quantum leap forward with the invention of agriculture," according to the comic.

Oddly enough, some scholars even think beer is responsible for our shift away from a nomadic lifestyle. No, that's not because societies stumbled into hangover-induced dormancy once alcohol was divined from the gods. The theory is that humans had access to grains and cereals way before they could grow their own crops. Wheat and barley were used to make gruel, a bready meal that combines the grains with water, thereby resulting in fermentation -- and, voila! -- alcohol.

The speculation continues: the difficulties of early agriculture "may only have been worth all the effort if it paid off in this flavorful, mystical and socially important beverage."

So, if it weren't for beer -- that deterrent to so much modern-day productivity -- civilization as we know it might not exist. 

To read an excerpt from The Comic Book Story of Beer, see below.

Jonathan Hennessey and Mike Smith
Jonathan Hennessey and Mike Smith
Jonathan Hennessey and Mike Smith
Jonathan Hennessey and Mike Smith
Jonathan Hennessey and Mike Smith
Jonathan Hennessey and Mike Smith
Jonathan Hennessey and Mike Smith
Jonathan Hennessey and Mike Smith
Jonathan Hennessey and Mike Smith
Jonathan Hennessey and Mike Smith
Jonathan Hennessey and Mike Smith

Reprinted with permission from The Comic Book Story of Beer, by Jonathan Hennessey and Mike Smith, copyright © 2015. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC.

Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Aaron McConnell

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