Check Your Facts

gThere’s a cartoon on theoatmeal that’s been making the rounds on the Internet that claims to have 20 Things Worth Knowing about beer. The problem is alot of the “facts” aren’t even correct and wouldn’t have taken much fact checking to get right. It’s been awhile since I’ve done some Beer Myth Busting so I figured it’s time to get at it again.

1) Babylonians were the first brewers

Babylonians were not the first people to brew beer. They didn’t invent it either. They did however write a poem to Ninkasi that described the process of making beer. This by no means make them the first brewers.

2) The Vikings believed a goat with magical beer producing nipples awaited them in Valhalla.

Heiðrúnis a goat with nipples that produce alcohol but it’s not beer. Both Heiðrún the goat and Eikþyrnir the hart grazed on the leaves of the tree Lærað. Heiðrún’s teats produced mead which ran into a culdron from which the Einherjar drank. The Einherjar were the warriors that died in battle and therefore recieved high honors.

3) Pilgrims stopped at Plymouth Rock instead of Virginia because they were low on beer

The pilgrims faced many challenges that prevented them from getting to Virginia. They were low on supplies, they’d arrived far later in the year then planned, and they couldn’t get any further south safely. A decision was reached and Plymouth Rock became their home. The myth arrives from a statement from one of the colonists “We could not now take time for further search or consideration, our victuals being much spent, especially our beer, and it being now the 19th of December”

4) India Pale Ale was hoppier and higher abv then all beers so it could survive the trip to India so the British troops could have their beer.

The actual wording of the myth is one of those stories that make you feel warm and fuzzy. There are multiple things wrong though so I want to really pick this one apart in a longer post at a later date. First off many beers at the time were highly hopped and high in alcohol. Secondly the British were shipping beer long before the IPA. If beer couldn’t survive ship voyages prior to the IPA then the British were just foolish for doing it. Thirdly the most likely theory for the idea of IPA is that a enterprising brewer realized that most ships returned to India empty since it was such a self sufficient colony. Seeing that profits would be higher in India due to low shipping rates and lighter alcohol taxes he jumped on the opportunity.

4 Responses to “Check Your Facts”

  1. 1) OK who were the first people to brew beer?

    2) Didn’t know about this one.

    3) Umm, you state right in your explanation that one reason was that they were low on supplies, and quote the colonist that emphasized that they were especially low on beer, so how is this myth at least not partially true?

    4) Yes the British were shipping beer prior to IPA. But were they shipping it around the Horn of Africa and for the time and distance it took to get to India? No. Your “likely” theory could explain the higher alcohol content due to lower taxes, but does not explain the higher hoppiness. The best explanation that I’ve heard is that it was higher in alcohol and hops so it could be diluted with water when given to the enlisted men. The officers took to drinking it undiluted and developed a taste for the stronger, hoppier beer.

  2. Jared says:

    @Señor Brew™

    I haven’t seen you commenting here in awhile. Welcome back 🙂 Did you think I’d really write a post about fact checking without doing some myself? Shall we begin then??

    1) I’ll be honost, I don’t know. Then again no self respecting hitorian would say they knew either. Fermentation is required for making leavened bread. The theory is that humans ability to make leavened bread developed during pre history. Since fermentation of grains is involved it leaves a chicken and the egg question. Which came first? Regardless the answer is that someone prior to the writing of the Hymn to Ninkasi.

    3) There were many factors that caused the Pilgrims to settle at Plymoth Rock. There were at least 3 in that quote. First it was winter. The pilgrims arrived late to the US and knew they had to establish a colony ASAP. Second they were low on victuals. What’s more important to your survival? Beer or food? The water supply on ships after a 2 month voyage was most likely tainted and stale. So thirdly, beer did play a role. Playing a role doesn’t make it a reason though. If beer was so important then why didn’t the Pilgrims immidiatly stop to brew when they sighted Cape Cod on November 9? Keep in mind that the quote I posted was written on December 19th. The reality is the Pilgrims did attempt to sail south to Virginia, with contrary winds and dangerous shoals though they gave up and turned around back towards Plymouth. It was only once they finally gave up hope of reaching Virginia that they even mentioned being low on beer. Sounds like beer was pretty minor to me. How about you?

    4) Proving you wrong on this one would tip my hand on my future post. Just trust me when I say there are actuall figures showing overhopped beers in the 6.5% abv range before the “IPA” I’m not sure where the soldier myth came in to the story, but it does sound nice. BTW considering Britian shipped beer to the Caribeans, US, Russia, Poland, and other places I don’t think It’s fair to use Cape Horn as a proof.

  3. None of those places took as long to get to by boat from England as did India considering you had to sail around Africa to get there. So yes, they did ship beer before IPA, but not that distance or time.

  4. […] was some discussion on my last myth post about the origin of IPA’s. Due to my lack of internet at work I’m not able to pool all […]

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