The author describes the origin of six drinks that greatly influenced history and civilization around the world: beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola. He explains how each drink was the defining drink during a historical period from antiquity to present day. The fluids are vital because each had a role of shaping the modern world. They have been used as currencies, in religious rites, as a political symbol, sources of philosophical and artistic inspiration. Some have served to highlight the power of the elite, and appease the downtrodden. They connected world cultures by impacting trade, economy, religion, and politics.
Beer was discovered through different methods of cooking and storing cereal grains. When the ice age ended, lands such as the Fertile Crescent provided abundant cereal grains. Such grains provided a reliable source of food, and the ability to store cereal grains began to encourage people to stay in one place. This resulted in permanent settlements as societies transitioned from hunting and gathering to farming. Although the residents of such villages continued to hunt, skeletal evidence suggests that they subsisted mostly on plant-based diets.
Beer was shared, and it was symbol of hospitality and friendship. To Neolithic drinkers, beer’s ability to intoxicate and ferment seemed magical, and it was concluded that it was a gift from the gods. Beer-drinking cultures tell stories and myths of how it was discovered. Mesopotamians and Egyptians saw beer as an ancient, god-given drink that supported their existence, formed part of their cultural and religious identity, and had great social importance. It was consumed by anyone regardless of status, age, or gender.
Beer impacted the growth and diffusion of the earliest civilizations greatly. The emergence of complex societies, the need to keep written records, and the popularity of beer all followed from the surplus of grain. It was also used as a form of currency and payment. Beer also had a direct link to health. Mesopotamians and Egyptians used it medicinally. The Egyptians used bread and beer in funerals. Without the discovery of beer, the earliest civilizations of Southwest Asia and Egypt would not have been as prosperous.