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10 Historical Reasons why Beer is the ‘Drink of Death’

Beer is a refreshing and enjoyable beverage best served with an entree of violence and a side of burials. It has been a part of funerals, war, and other deadly events throughout history. The Grim Reaper probably cracked open a cold one after he was done killing people during these well- and lesser-known events. Continue reading for why beer is the “drink of death.”

The Ancient Egyptians Buried It With Their Dead

Ancient Egyptians credited Osiris, the Lord of the Underworld and Judge of the Dead, with instructing them in the craft of brewing beer. Among other celebrations and rituals, ancient Egyptians featured the barley-fermented drink prominently at funerals. Funeral guests would drink beer as part of the “celebration of life” for the decreased. Beer was one of the most common goods buried it in tombs as an afterlife accompaniment, and nobilities were buried with the best beer. The beer that the funeral guests drank was the same beer brew that was buried with the celebrated decreased. The famous King Tut was buried with a high-quality honey beer for his afterlife journey and deathly drinking needs.[1]

The Ancient Scythians Drank It Out of Dead People’s Skulls

The ancient Scythians were notorious nomadic killers that lived in what is now modern-day Siberia for about 700 years. The ancient Greeks called the Scythians barbarians, and they referred to Scythian customs as barbaric. For example, the Greeks noted the barbaric Scythian preference for alcohol overindulgence, drunkenness, and drinking alcohol unfiltered and undiluted. Scythians drank wine, beer, and fermented horse milk called koumiss.

As recorded by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, Scythians drank beer and other alcoholic beverages out of cups made from dead enemies’ skulls. Sometimes the skull was a previous head-piece of a family member with whom the drinker had a fight and subsequently killed. Herodotus recorded that these skulls were sometimes ornate, particularly for those who were wealthy. Herodotus wrote: “…Having sawn off the portion below the eyebrows, and cleaned out the inside, they cover the outside with leather. When a man is poor, this is all that he does; but if he is rich, he also lines the inside with gold: in either case, the skull is used as a drinking cup.”[2][3][4]

Vikings Believed Dead Warriors Got an Endless Supply of It… From a Goat

According to Viking belief, worthy warriors enter Valhalla, which was essentially a Viking heaven, upon their death. These dead warriors were believed to live out their death-days to then envy of every Viking: with days full of valorous, victorious battle and evenings full of food and drink. During their nightly banquets, an endless supply of mead was supplied from the udders of a goat named Heidrun. As the legend goes, Heidrun eats leaves from Laerad, which is the highest branch on the mythical World Tree known Yggdrasil. Heidrun would be present in Valhalla’s banquet hall, continually filling a giant drinking jar for the dead Viking’s sustenance.[5][6]

Russians Died in Battle Because They Drank Too Much of It

In early Russian history, Russia was separated into several principalities, each with a different ruling prince. In the 1300s, the Mongol Empire invaded Russia, and the ruling princes decided to work together against a common enemy. During one such cooperation, the princes agreed to convene their troops at a riverside location. As the troops were waiting for straggling principalities to arrive, they grew bored and restless. In their boredom, the new comrades began to drink together. They drank mead, ale, and beer and consequently became very inebriated. Unbeknownst to the drunk Russians, Mongol troops were hiding nearby. The Mongols surprise attacked and slaughtered the intoxicated Russian armies. The commander, who was also drunk, died trying to get across the river. Russians later named the river “Pyana River,” a derivative of the Russian word for “drunk” or “tipsy” (i.e., piany).[7][8]

It Was Brewed in an Army Fort

During the French and Indian War, the British Army built a fortification in what is now modern-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and called it “Fort Pitt.” After the war ended in 1763, the British Army continued to occupy Fort Pitt. In 1765, the Army built a brewery inside the fort. Women cooked and brewed the Fort Pitt beer, providing daily rations of beer for the soldiers. The British Army eventually abandoned the Fort, including the brewery. Later, an entrepreneur bought the bricks of the Fort Pitt brewery and used those bricks to build the 1800’s-era Point Brewery, Pittsburgh’s first commercial brewery.[9][10][11]

It is a Choice Drink of American Soldiers

George Washington: president, founding father, military leader… and an avid homebrewer and beer drinker! When Washington became the commander of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, he insisted that his troops receive a daily ration of beer. In 1775, a soldiers’ Congress-approved daily rations would include items such as soap, bread, beef, beans, and “one quart of good spruce or malt beer or cider.” George Washington is noted as having a knack for identifying encampments that were within reach of beer supply.

The Revolutionary War was the first time beer was included in American soldier’s rations, although it was not the last. Beer is in almost all eras of American war history: in the Civil War, World War II, and the Vietnam War. American beer was made available to soldiers during these wars, sometimes as mandated by the government. During World War II, American breweries were required, as ordered by the US Department of Agriculture, to set aside 15% of their production for US troops.[12][13]

Eight People Died in a Flood of It

In the 17th and early 18th century, porter-style beer and giant storage vats dominated London’s beer scene. The beers vats had the holding sizes between 1,500 and 20,000 barrels of beer. These giant beer vats were often a public spectacle, and brewers received commendations for having particularly impressive ones.

In October of 1814, hoops on a beer vat at London’s Horse Shoe Brewery corroded and broke, consequently spilling a massive amount of beer. This vat was holding an estimated 7,600 barrels of porter (over 300,000 gallons). The force of the massive beer spill caused a chain reaction, and other vats in the storeroom also began to break and spill. A tsunami-like wave of porter spilled out of the brewery and into poorly-drained London streets. With nowhere else to go, the wave of beer swept through nearby residences and flooded basement apartments. This massive beer flood ultimately took the lives of eight people. The victims died drowning in the beer or under the fallen structural debris that collapsed due to the weight of so much beer.[14][15]

It Helped Fund a War

In 1861, the Union, led by President Abraham Lincoln, were looking for ways to fund the Civil War. Enter the Revenue Act of 1862, which instituted a tax on some goods and services that previously went untaxed. For the first time in American history, beer was a taxed item. As stated in the Act, a $1 tax per 31-gallon barrel was initiated “on all beer, lager beer, ale, porter, and other similar fermented liquors, by whatever name such liquors may be called.” That $1 per beer barrel helped fund the Civil War and assisted (however indirectly) in the Union’s defeat of the Confederacy.[16][17]

There Were Deathly Happenings at Pubs in Nazi Germany

In 1923, Hitler was planning to take over the Bavarian state government. He wanted to convince the Bavarian state commissioner, Gustav von Kahr, to join the Nazis and lead a march on Berlin. However, von Kahr declined Hitler’s offer to lead the march. Shortly after that, Hitler discovered that von Kahr was scheduled to speak at a large, beer-centric pub (known as a “beer hall”) in Germany. So, Hitler hatched a new plan of kidnapping and forced loyalty. Nazis, led by Hitler, surrounded the beer hall and took von Kahr captive. Later that evening, Hitler left the beer hall. In Hitler’s stead, a Nazi World War I general named Erich Ludendorff was in charge.

Upon Hitler’s exit and von Khar’s agreement to join the march, Ludendorff lets von Kahr free. However, von Kahr had no intentions of joining the Nazis and leaves the beer hall. Ludendorff then tried to rectify the situation by leading a spontaneous march from the beer hall. Soon after, Ludendorff and his marchers encountered a police barricade. The march subsequently became a bloodbath; 16 Nazis and four police officers died. This event becomes known as “Beer Hall Putsch.” The dead Nazis became martyrs, and Hitler proceeded to commemorate them and hold an annual march in the putsch’s memory. Exactly 16 years later, Hitler spoke at a different beer hall in Germany, in commemoration of Beer Hall Putsch. During the commemoration, a Nazi opponent named Georg Elser attempted to assassinate Hitler with a bomb but failed. However, Elser’s detonated bomb does kill seven other people who were in the beer hall.[18]

It Killed 75 Funeral-Goers in Mozambique

In January of 2015, over 70 people in Mozambique died at a funeral. The cause of their death? Poisoned beer. The funeral attendees drank a traditional homebrewed beer known as Pombe. Pombe is a fermented drink made from corn, sorghum, and bran. After the funeral, the mourners who drank the beer entered hospitals with diarrhea, vomiting, and muscle aches, which are common poison-ingestion symptoms. Seventy-five people died, including the woman who brewed the deathly beverage for her family and friends. Besides the 75 people that died, the poisoned beer also hospitalized more than 100 of the funeral goers.

Reports initially suggested that the funeral beer was poisoned with the digestive juices, or bile, from a crocodile. However, a Professor at the University of Zimbabwe named N.Z. Nyazema analyzed crocodile bile samples and conducted crocodile bile tests on mice. The samples were found to similar to that of human bile, and the mice survived the crocodile bile tests, which confirmed that poisoning of this nature was not possible.
The National Health Institute also investigated the cause of the poisoning. The National Health Institute, based on samples from the beer barrel where the deathly drink was stored, found toxic levels of a bacteria called Burkholderia Gladioli. This bacteria is sometimes associated with diseases in plants and was found to have been in the corn flour that was used to make the beer.[19][20][21]

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