99 Bottles of Beer: Global Brewing Traditions 2500 B.C. to the Present

99 Bottles of Beer image

Past exhibition

Beer—any undistilled liquid made from fermented starches—is perhaps the oldest and most widely consumed alcoholic beverage.

Every region in the world has developed a traditional beer except pre-contact Native North America and Oceania. In both the Old and New Worlds, the invention of beer was related to the domestication of grains, certainly by 4,000 BC and perhaps as far back as 11,000 BC.

Beer consists mostly of water, typically with grain at its base. While malted barley is most popular in Europe and North America, other common grains are wheat, millet, sorghum, corn, and rice. Beer can also be made from manioc and other starchy tubers. Yeasts act to break down the starches into sugars, which can then be turned into alcohol plus carbon dioxide. Hops, an aromatic floral cone, have been added to European beer since about 900 AD to ensure stability and serve as a bittering agent. Flavorings such as fruits, honey, and spices may also be used.

In many parts of the world, beer is often produced at home, usually by the women of the household. Beer has also been produced on a large-scale in breweries ever since ancient times, gradually becoming larger and more industrialized.

More so than many other foods and beverages, beer is often consumed in groups. Beer alone may be reason enough to get together, but the drink is also commonly served at festive parties associated with important social events such as harvests, puberty ceremonies, or weddings.

The brewing traditions of Europe have had a world-wide impact. While these European styles have largely supplanted indigenous traditions, many traditional brewing customs are still going strong because of their tight incorporation into local culture.

Drawing from a collection of over a thousand beer-related items, this exhibit focuses on the material aspects of beer production and consumption— objects for brewing, storing, transporting, serving, and drinking. This rich display reveals the striking unities and diversities of human cultures as they come together to celebrate the fruit of the grain.