Beer, tea, coffee, sugar, chocolate, garlic, salt, and bread are all typically average staple items easily found if not in your kicthen then at your local grocery store. We may not give much thought to any of them nowadays beyond venturing from our favorites to try something new. As commonplace as these items are today, each has a history that has affected people and civilization. In the case of beer the story is a complicated one dating back at least 9,000 years that writers Jonathan Hennessey and Mike Smith along with artist Aaron McConnell want to unravel and reveal for readers. Now it wasn’t until college when fulfilling a mandatory history requirement that I serendipitously discovered an instructor who made American history come alive with her personality and focus on the lives of people instead of dates of events and battles that I found history to be interesting and the writers here take the same approach.
An illustrated introduction opens the book followed by eight chapters tackling a different time period or discovery and innovation, starting from “Beer In The Ancient World” to “Drinking On The Shoulders Of Giants”. While the origin of beer is lost to time, the writers posit the brew is connected with early agriculture as people changed from a nomadic lifestyle to an agrarian one. religion and myth are subjects that interest so the first chapter with its focus on ancient Sumerian, Egyptian, and Babylonian cultures and the ways beer figured in to their religion and stories its the one I return to again and again. The Sumerian goddess Ninkasi is attributed with beer’s creation; Sekhmet was tricked from killing humanity by beer; beer, along with bread, and sex was said to civilize the wild Enkidu as told in the Epic of Gilgamesh; and in the book of Numbers Yahweh may have told Moses to pour one out (In the holy place you shall pour out a drink offering to the Lord). Another interesting point is made concerning the divide in culture and class between beer and wine drinkers originating with the ancient Greeks and Romans. The authors trace beer and its accidental and naive production methods from the ancient Mid East trace beer to Europe’s Dark Ages featuring Lambic and Trappist Dubbel and colonial expansion with Porter and India Pale Ale before shifting focus in chapter seven to the United States highlighting American style lager and picking up on the Temperance Movement and how patriotism and xeonophobia during World War I were exploited by its leaders to bring about Prohibition. This chapter and the first one fascinate me very much because just in themselves they illustrate how people’s beliefs about beer changed over the span of centuries from being considered a divine gift to a sin. Discover women’s traditional role in brewing, learn about the brewing process, why monasteries brewed beer and some still do to this day, just what in the world was gruit and why was it taxed, find out how the clever Dutch capitalized on the beverage and turned Amsterdam into an important city, what the connection between washing machines and beer is, and so many more fascinating facts.
The book is rounded out with a “Meet The Beer” feature, a page devoted to detailing various beer styles such as Lambic, Porter, and Pilsner. These are useful, text heavy reference pages that include characteristics, food pairings, and sampling suggestions. A reference index is a thoughtful addition.
McConnell has done an admirable job with the art chores. His thick, consistent line work meets the challenge of illustrating a subject that isn’t embodied in a central character yet has influenced countless people and cultures over a great span of time. He’s equally comfortable drawing people, architecture, and backgrounds from ancient to modern times. Given the lack of a colorist credit I assume the duty fell to McConnell in addition to his penciling. The flat tone color rendering is a nice complement to McConnell’s drawing style. The palette is made of primarily earth tones, yellows, greens, blues, oranges, and occasional greys and reds. There are a few spots where brown earth tones could have benefited in my opinion by including lighter shades. The decorative keg motif of the Meet The Beer pages comes to mind as an example. The spot gold coloring on the front cover to emulate beer’s hue and the book cover’s French flaps are welcomed touches.
As a rule, lettering shouldn’t attract attention to itself and letterers are often overlooked in today’s age of computer generated work. Comics veteran Tom Orzechowski was enlisted to bring his skills to the book, and it’s to his credit he delivered the goods making Hennessey and Smith’s script easy to follow and text heavy pages both easy to look at and not in the least intimidating to read.
I found the story told in this book to be an interesting and informative and a rather enjoyable reading experience. It should appeal to beer drinkers and history buff and especially to beer drinking history buffs! This book may make for a unique Christmas gift for your beer drinking friend or relative. You can buy this book from Amazon using the below link, and help support this site, or look for it at your local bookstore.