In ancient times, farmers worried about losing precious grain to spoilage during wet winters. So they figured out how to malt grain and brew it into beer, thus preserving a nutritious source of calories. In The Comic Book Story of Beer, due out in September, we get a graphical tour of such pivotal moments — from the cradle of agriculture to the modern-day craft beer heyday.
Illustrator Aaron McConnell, writer Jonathan Hennessey and professional brewer Mike Smith cover a lot of ground in 173 pages. We learn that the covered beer stein was invented during the Black Death, when piles of bodies on the streets attracted flies and it was necessary to keep swarms of them out of drinks. The Vienna Lager style of beer was meanwhile born out of a 19th-century act of industrial espionage.
We spoke with the authors about the inspiration for the project and the challenges and joys of boiling 9,000 years of human history, economics, culture and, of course, beer into a graphic novel.
The Salt: What was the most interesting thing you learned about the history of beer while researching this book?
John Hennessey: One eye-opening revelation was that our culture arguably inherited a bias against grain-based beverages from the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Oriented as they were in grape-growing regions, the Greek and Roman civilizations were centered around wine. Beer was the choice of the "barbarian" enemies that surrounded them, and this doomed beer and beer drinkers to a second-class status for centuries to come.
The Salt: Your book covers 9,000 years of history. Does a story about craft beer really need to go back so far in time?