The University of Windsor has moved to an “essential service only” model. Learn More.
UWindsor history professor Max Nelson holds a reproduction of a Philistine beer jug from around 1200 BC in his office on Sept. 22. Dr. Nelson will participate in a symposium discussing the ancient beverage on Sept. 30.UWindsor history professor Max Nelson holds a reproduction of a Philistine beer jug from around 1200 BC in his office on Sept. 22. Dr. Nelson will participate in a symposium discussing the ancient beverage on Sept. 30.

Cheers to the barbarians: UWindsor to host symposium on ancient brews

The next time you’re sipping on a pint of your favourite peanut butter porter, take a moment to pour one out for the barbarians.

If it weren’t for those Germanic tribes in northern Europe, says University of Windsor professor Max Nelson, the popular alcoholic beverage may still be considered the “effeminate drink of foreigners.”

“The Greeks held pseudo-scientific beliefs about alcohol, including that wine is hot and manly while beer is cold and effeminate,” Dr. Nelson said.

Beer: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern symposium will be held on Sept. 30, 2017 in the McPherson Lounge in Alumni Hall from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.“When the western Roman empire fell to the Germanic tribes, the German tribes couldn’t countenance the idea of beer being womanly.”

It’s one of the points Nelson will be discussing during a history symposium hosted by the University on September 30.

Beer: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern will run from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday in McPherson Lounge, Alumni Hall.

Nelson will help to unveil the shroud of mystery that surrounds the origin of the intoxicating drink.

Richard Unger, a medieval history professor at the University of British Columbia, will discuss hops and commerce in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

University of Toronto’s Jeffrey Pilcher will take listeners on the global travels of lager beer from 1842 to 2017.

“People like to say that we can pinpoint a specific origin of beer, but we can’t,” Nelson said. “Our problem with the pre-history of beer is that we don’t have written sources and so we have to rely on archeological finds that are few and far between.

“Luckily, there have been a number of important finds.”

Nelson said that the earliest evidence for alcohol drinks going back to 6000 BC in China shows that various ingredients — including cereal, fruits, and honey — were fermented together. 

“Beer, as a distinct beverage, emerged by about 3,000 BC, in both the Middle East and in Europe,” he said.

Researchers tested the ancient pottery and found what might be the earliest known beer residue.

Nelson said it was during the medieval period that beer became a large item of trade and commerce.

“While monks were really important in carrying a brewing tradition forward, we find evidence among the Celts for commercial breweries,” he said, adding that people often think monks were the first to have large-scale breweries. “We know there was a kind of brewers’ guild where both men and women worked as professional brewers.”

Today, Nelson said, beer is living in its golden age.

“There’s a real appreciation for beer through craft and local brewing,” he said. “Even in the discipline of history, the study of food and drink is relatively new within the last generation.”

While no beer will be served at the symposium, Nelson said the event should appeal to everyone.

“There are so many popular notions about beer and a lot of misconceptions,” he said. “This is an opportunity to learn about what actual scholars, who have looked at the evidence in different time periods, have to say.”

For more information about the event, contact Rob Nelson at rnelson@uwindsor.ca.