The term Craft Beer gets bandied around a lot these days. But how many of us can hand on heart say we really know the story behind what it is, where it came from, and what has turned one of the oldest drinks in the world into a modern day cult phenomenon…
Way back when, before brands like Carlton, Budweiser, Guinness, Carlsberg and a stream of others served as a universal language that could transcend the barriers of age and culture, beer was produced in small batches brewed in caves – essentially, a simplified version of what we now refer to as ‘craft beer’. It’s one of the oldest beverages produced by man, dating back before the days of Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, and as time has gone on, every generation has developed their own special relationship with beer.
The earliest known evidence of brewing was recorded on clay tablets by the Sumerians somewhere between 4000 and 2000BC. Seen as a mystical portal into another world, beer was brewed by female priestesses who were not only highly regarded, but also protected by a spiritual deity known as Ninkas, the tutelary Goddess of Beer. Later, around the year 600AD, Saint Arnold of Metz (patron saints to beer, brewers and hop-pickers) helped end a plague by convincing people to drink beer rather than impure water, and in the 1600s it was the drink of choice amongst monks, who also brewed up the suds in monasteries in order to sanitise their water.
Fast forward to the Second World War, when British ship HMS Menestheus was famously converted into a floating brewery to supply beer to British and Allied troops in the Asian theatre. Of course, by this point water sanitisation wasn’t the issue. Instead, man’s relationship with beer had changed to such an extent that the British Government deemed the expense perfectly justifiable, for it was widely agreed that whatever else might be happening in the world, man simply cannot be expected to survive without access to a good, cold beer.
As the years wore on, demand for beer continued to grow at breakneck speed, and brewers had to learn to come up with huge quantities of this super-elixir quick enough to keep the unquenchable thirst sated. Small breweries had been common throughout Australia up until the 1930s, when beer production became centralised in a small number of very large breweries. International Mega-brewers such as AB InBev, SABMiller and Heineken controlled much of the global market for years…but it seems the tide has turned, and beer is going back to its roots.
Previously referred to as ‘micro-brewing’ or ‘boutique beer’, the craft beer movement began to re-emerge amongst the shoulder-pads and legwarmers of the 80s, as a new breed of innovative brewers rediscovered lost styles and curious flavours. Nowadays here in Australia, our local brewers are at the forefront of the Craft Beer crusade, with hundreds of breweries opening up throughout Australia, many opening within the last decade. For the most part, these breweries are owned by true beer enthusiasts who embrace the original principles of brewing, producing small quantities of artisan beers that far surpass the flavours, colours and aromas found in the mass-marketed brews churned out by international big dogs.
With the emergence of local artisan brewers came a loyal legion of committed beer enthusiasts, keen to be the first to discover the latest in beers of-the-moment, and looking to inspire and be inspired by all things brewing. A defining feature of craft brewing is that it caters to a local market rather than the masses, resulting in the development of a unique community of beer experts and greenhorns alike who share a passion for good quality beers and mind-boggling flavours.
Nowadays, the craft beer community is almost as important as the breweries themselves. Behind every craft beer there’s a story of endurance; tales of people doing something different and chasing their dreams. With cooperation trumping competition amongst the breweries, there truly exists a vibrant and strong community that support one another through the highs and lows- a rarity in any industry. In Sydney, collaboration between breweries is common place. Brewers frequently work together on various events, such as Craft Beer Week and Home Brew Masters at The Vic, and are encouraging of homebrewers and breakthrough brewers as they look to to turn their dreams into reality. From stouts to sours and lambics to lagers, the movement has brought together a whole host of fascinating local characters, all with their own interesting tales to tell and experiences to share.
By Emily Usher
Stay tuned to Dave’s Journal for more stories of beer history, discovery and adventure, told by us and the weird and wonderful folk we meet along the way.
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