I cannot be the only one who has wondered about the origin of the word beer. Sipping on the smooth and frothy drink in my hand, I started to ponder. While sitting at a bar with friends, pre-gaming before a concert, the subject came up in conversation. Why is beer called beer? None of us knew the exact answer. From that point on, I was on a mission to find out. Here is what I have discovered! Where did the word beer originate? Why is beer called “beer”?
The word beer comes from Old Germanic languages. Throughout history, languages and cultures have spread and evolved all across the world. The origin of our common English word, beer, comes from the Old English word: bēor. Bēor was the definition of a strong drink or mead. The word bēor derives from the Old Germanic word: bier and is still used today in Germany. Even the Old Norse word björr can be traced back through the centuries. In Old Frisian, the word for beer was biar. In variations of the Dutch language, beer was known as bier. Bibere was the Latin word for beer and simply meant “to drink”.
As you can tell, this word is ancient and easily traceable to thousands of years ago. It is hard to pinpoint the true origin of the word. However, we can clearly see that it has been part of humanity for many lifetimes. The word beer made its way into our modern-day language through the migration of Germanic tribes, Anglo Saxons to the British Isles, and eventually the United States. “Beor,” used in Old English, began to become very common in language use around the 16th century. The word beer is found in old poems and songs dating back to the 18th century. The English Drinking Song, for example, dates back to the year 1757. Other famous English folk songs about beer indicate a true love for the sweet, sour, and sometimes bitter beverage.
Once I thought about this and realized that this word has an origin that dates back centuries ago, I had an instant burst of curiosity. It led me to understand that the word beer comes from languages used over 1000 years ago! From the 5th through 11th century, Old English was the primary English language. We can safely say this was the earliest form of our modern-day English language. From that information, we can conclude that the word beer itself has been around for thousands of years! Like beer, the origin of the word itself, and its history is also quite intoxicating.
How was beer made in ancient times?
Beer is one of the oldest alcoholic beverages in the world. Some may even consider this beverage prehistoric. It is also quite possible that beer is the oldest recipe of any kind in world history overall.
Around 4000 B.C., the Sumerians of the Late Neolithic Age and Middle Bronze Age harvested grain that led them to produce some of the first kinds of beer to ever appear in human history. The grain was used for food, of course, and also for making beer. Stanford archaeologists have confirmed evidence of tools and domesticated cereals that are several millennia old in the Ancient Near East (a region including Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and Egypt). We know that beer comes from fermented cereal grains, like wheat or barley. In ancient times, beer was made by crushing grains and heating them with water to start the fermentation process. Soaking barley bread with yeast was also customary for making beer. Grains and bread have been part of beer production for thousands of years. Beer production is not a modern invention.
There is tons of evidence that ancient people were enjoying a beer or two, just like we do today. An old Sumerian poem honoring a goddess of the brew dates back about 4000 years. The poem, found on a clay tablet, not only honors the goddess but is also the oldest beer recipe discovered in the world.