A Natural History of Beer

George Scialabba in Inference Review:

In the beginning was beer. Well, not quite at the beginning: there was no beer at the Big Bang. Curiously, though, as Rob DeSalle and Ian Tattersall point out in A Natural History of Beer, the main components of beer—ethanol and water—are found in the vast clouds swirling around the center of the Milky Way in sufficient quantity to produce 100 octillion liters of the stuff, though only at a very disappointing 0.001 proof. On earth, beer-like substances have long existed whenever grains, nectar, or fruits have spontaneously fermented. Chimps and other mammals in the wild have been observed getting sloshed on naturally occurring alcohol, which strongly suggests that very early humans did so too. Whatever the precise date of the first tipple, beer is a truly venerable article, coeval with human civilization and, of course, with some pretty uncivilized behavior as well. DeSalle and Tattersall tell its story with enormous erudition and panache.

The earliest evidence of beer consumption is from a Chinese village around 9,000 BCE, whose pottery yielded chemical traces of a kind of rice beer.

More here.