10 bizarre things you never knew about beer

Whether you prefer to glug it down in pints, sip it from an obscure craft brewer’s bottle or share the apparently mandatory six pack by the barbecue, beer has no equal.

And we mean that literally, since it’s the most popular alcoholic drink in the world. (Only water and tea stop it from being mankind’s favourite drink full stop.)

So in honour of the brew, here are 10 extremely odd facts about beer for you to lap up.

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1. Beer is so old it predates written language

In 2018 scientists in Israel found 13,000-year-old beer residue inside a stone mortar used by hunter gatherers – roughly eight millennia before the Sumerians invented writing. Some academics have even suggested it was beer brewing that caused early nomads to found permanent settlements, thus forming the basis for modern society.

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2. Beer was not considered alcohol in Russia until 2013

Stereotype tells us Russians are used to the stronger stuff, and not all stereotypes are wrong it seems. Until 2013 anything less than 10% alcohol was legally classified as a food, and beer could be sold by any shop at any hour. When the law was finally changed Russian alcohol consumption was twice the critical level prescribed by the World Health Organisation, and the move followed a 200% tax hike on beer in an effort to reduce drinking levels.

3. There is a temple in Thailand made entirely of beer bottles

The Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew is a Buddhist temple constructed from recycled beer bottles, all of them Heineken and local beer brand Chang. Built in two years in the mid-Eighties, the complex has since gained a crematorium, water towers, sleeping quarters and toilets, many of them adorned with bottle cap mosaics. Its nickname, The Temple of a Million Bottles, is not strictly accurate. It actually contains a million and a half.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew (iStock/PA)</figcaption>
Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew (iStock/PA)

4. There was a Great Beer Flood in London in 1814

In 1814 two wooden vats of porter burst in a brewery on Tottenham Court Road, obliterating the back wall of the building and releasing more than a million gallons of beer into the streets of a nearby slum. Sadly, this event was not at all jolly. Few Londoners could swim, and eight people drowned.

5. There is such a thing as 67.5% beer

‘It’s just one drink,’ they said, ‘what could possibly go wrong?’ A brainchild of the Keith Brewery in Scotland, the aptly-named Snake Venom is the world’s strongest beer and retails at around £40 per bottle. Its ungodly ABV comes in at 67.5% – stronger than some varieties of absinthe.

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6. Beer is (probably) resistant to nuclear explosions

We sincerely hope you never have cause to use this information, but according to American scientists in the Fifties, a nuclear winter needn’t stop you cracking out a cold one. An experiment in 1957 placed various bottled beverages different distances from a nuclear blast, and though the bottles accrued radiation, the contents did not. There were even unwise taste tests, determining that though the beer placed closest to the blast tasted “definitely off”,  booze from a little further away was still of “commercial quality”.

7. The earliest known drinking straw was for beer

The earliest known straw is depicted on the seal a 5,000-year-old Sumerian tomb, which shows two young men slurping beer from a large jar. The straw itself was found inside, a gold tube encrusted with lapis lazuli.

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8. Beer caused the first ever disqualification from the Olympics for doping

At the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, Swedish modern pentathlete Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall downed two beers in an attempt to settle his nerves before the shooting. He went on to win bronze, but was stripped of his medal under anti-doping legislation brought in the previous year. He competed in two other Olympic games, at which he finished sober, but empty-handed.

9. Cenosillicaphobia is the fear of empty beer glasses

Many of us have felt the chill of a depleted pint glass after missing last orders, but fear of empty beer glasses is apparently a genuine phobia with a genuine name. A very old-fashioned word that has regained some currency on the internet, it features in some dictionaries but not others.

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10. Beer baths are a thing, and it’s apparently good for you

People have been bathing in beer for centuries, and a handful of modern ‘beer spas’ (they are particularly popular in Eastern Europe) provide visitors with warm beer in the tub and cold beer from the tap. According to a 2013 study, beer contains compounds which are “anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, anti-angiogenic, anti-melanogenic, anti-osteoporotic and anti-carcinogenic.” Basically, they’re good for you.

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