From ‘Kui’ to kegger: What’s hopping with beer and ale

What better way to celebrate a beautiful Vermont day than with a hike up a local mountain or trail, finished off with a fine brew. But that bottle or can in your hand reflects a lot more than liquid satisfaction: Beer has a long and storied history.

What better way to celebrate a beautiful Vermont day than with a hike up a local mountain or trail, finished off with a fine brew. But that bottle or can in your hand reflects a lot more than liquid satisfaction: Beer has a long and storied history.

Next time you’re kickin’ it with some friends or cheering on your favorite sports team, think about that beer in your hand. It’s much more than just 12 ounces of refreshing cold beer. It’s much more than just a nice way to relax on a Friday night. It’s a taste of tradition that has transcended time and culture for upwards of 5,000 years. I’d say that cool beer just got a whole lot cooler.

The exact origin of beer is widely disputed; most clues have come from faded hieroglyphic cave drawings. Our great, great ancestors weren’t the most sophisticated of artists so much controversy and debate has sprung up over the topic. Some say it began in China with the drink “Kui,” a drink that is said to have been wheat-based and mixed with different fruits and berries to add a variety of flavors. Others claim it clearly originated in Afghani culture as a common domestic drink. Regardless of where it came from, the origin of beer is definitely associated with the development of farming and is considered the oldest alcoholic beverage. Being a grain-based product, the emergence of domestic farming would have allowed for the crops needed for beer to be available in much greater supply. But wherever its true origins may lie, it was most likely an accidental discovery by some unsuspecting farmer. If their crops were stored in closed containers, the lack of oxygen would easily trigger the process of fermentation. With a little experimentation of flavors and a little refining of the process the world had been forever changed and man had found his new best friend.

But what really is beer? “It’s a fun way to party, man” would likely be a common answer, and certainly an acceptable one in the eyes of many college students. But do you know how it’s made? Or why it affects your body the way it does and just how you can help diminish those effects? People say you are what you eat; if you’re going to consume it you might as well know about it. So here are some fun facts that you can whip out at the next social gathering you decided to partake in rather than typing that English essay, because let’s face it, what’s one more night of procrastination?

General fact number one: Beer is a wheat-based product. So for the growing number of gluten allergic people out there (a recent statistic cites more than two million people in the U.S.), all that stomach pain after a night of heavy drinking isn’t a nasty hangover but your intestines having a meltdown. Fear not, both Angry Orchards and Woodchucks are gluten-free hard ciders that are perfectly healthy choices.

To be precise, beer is produced by the fermentation of sugars that come from starch-based materials. At this point the beer is known as a malt and goes through a series of mixing processes known as ‘mashing’. The temperature that this mash rests at is actually what helps determine the alcohol content of the final product. Resting at a temperature of around 160 degrees Fahrenheit produces sugars that are more easily fermentable by the yeast that will be added; increased fermentation results in increased alcohol content. For a less potent beer just the opposite is required, a resting temperature closer to 170 degrees Fahrenheit.

You now have the liquid, you have the starch sugars, and you next need the yeast. Yeast causes the actual alcohol content of beer. By mixing with the sugars, it initiates fermentation (or say glycolysis to sound super fancy) and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. The alcohol, as we all know, is what makes your brain start to feel a little fuzzy, and the carbon dioxide causes the fizz that can make your stomach feel full. The type of yeast used is what creates different types of beers, for example ales or lagers.

This rudimentary process that began in long ago cave parties and celebrations has been perfected by the major production labels we recognize today. Budweiser alone has increased its production to a whopping total of 780 million gallons of beer a year. Aside from trying to picture endless rows of full milk jugs, 780 million is a rather hard number to grasp. So in simpler terms, they fill 24.7 gallon jugs of beer every single second. Next time you’re bored in class, trying counting by the minutes by how many gallons of beer are produced; you better have a calculator.

General fact number two: From the moment of consumption, beer will take, on average, five minutes to reach your brain and begin intoxicating you. So the next time you are at a party, bring a watch. As soon as that first drink touches your mouth hit the timer; you have five minutes before things get real.

Everything that happens within your body happens through the functions of neurons. Millions of these cells play the game of telephone throughout your body to communicate thoughts, actions, and sensitivity to the outside world. As your body consumes alcohol, processes it, and filters it into your bloodstream, it begins to affect your central nervous system and the neurons that connect it throughout your body. The neurons transmit their signals through a series of synapses, electrical impulses that jump between cells by using neurotransmitters and their receptors. Alcohol immediately begins to target those receptors, so that as hard as your brain may try to send a command throughout your body, it will not travel as fast as it is normally able to.

One specific example can be seen in the transmitter Glutamate. Glutamate is specifically responsible for controlling muscular movement within the body. So the next time you’re in that championship game of pong and you just can’t seem to make that last cup no matter how hard you try, it’s because your Glutamate receptors are being inhibited. You could probably drain the ball in one shot when you’re sober, because your mind knows exactly how your arm needs to move to catch that perfect release. But under the influence of alcohol, the message is having a harder time being transmitted. There is a minuscule delay from when your mind knows to let the ball fly to when the message actually reaches your fingers. And so your ping pong ball is going to keep bouncing off the rim, toss after toss.

General fact number three: It is, in fact, possible to diminish the effects of alcohol – though this has to be taken with a grain of salt. Once impaired there is no magical substance one can take that will immediately bring your blood alcohol content back down to a safe 0.02 percent (what a marketable product that would be). But there are methods which can ease the severity and the intensity of intoxication.

One of the most common is to drink water. Have you ever made yourself a drink from a powdered mix that required you to add water? Unless you actually take the time to read the directions and make the correct measurements, that first sip can be a rather harrowing experience. If you didn’t add enough water to dilute the powder, that drink stays in your mouth for about a second before you spit it right back out. The amount of water in your body creates the same analogy while drinking; alcohol is the powdered mix and you’re controlling how much water is added. If you don’t keep your body hydrated, you’ll be left with a really, really, potent glass of lemonade. But if you continue to hydrate you can help dilute that powdered mix until it’s practically tasteless.

Simply due to the anatomy of humans, it is particularly important for females or anyone designated a “feather-weight” to maintain a steady stream of H20 while drinking. The more body mass you have, the more water that already exists in your system (approximately 65 percent in adult men and 55 percent in adult women). Without that extra body mass, it is even easier for alcohol to diffuse into your system. That’s why we all know that one guy or girl who seems to lose it after drinking just one Mike’s Hard Lemonade.

Today, beer no longer holds the life-sustaining role that it once played in its beginnings. It’s no longer the rationed drink Egyptians used for their workers while building their pyramids, nor is it one of the few safe and sanitary beverages to drink, as it was in Europe during much of the Dark and Middle ages. But what it has become (for better or for worse) is an integral part of our culture, just like it has for so many others. Moreover if history is any indication of the future, which it usually is, beer will be around for many more years to come.

So in the words of some familiar beer slogans: grab a Busch Beer and head for the mountains where you will be miles away from ordinary and where good things come to those who wait, so for all you do, this Bud’s for you.

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