The Beer of the Working People

There’s no way to know for sure when beer was invented. It is popular in pretty much every country in the world and has been around for thousands of years. It developed simultaneously in several different countries. Yeast, the organism that turns sugars into alcohol, is actually prevalent in the wild pretty much everywhere in the world. So, whenever sugar is left exposed to the elements, it might be converted into alcohol. In fact, that’s how the earliest beers were produced.

To produce beer, grain is added to water in a way that releases its sugars. Typically, this means that it is germinated and then added to the water. Germination is when the original taproot extends from the seed. That releases the sugar from the grain. It is then soaked in water to release its sugars and many other elements. Yeast is then introduced to the process to create the fermentation that produces beer. In the past, the mechanics of fermentation were not fully understood; thus, the grains were just left exposed to the elements until they turned into beer. Often, what differentiates beer from other elements is the grain used as well as some kind of bittering agent. In North America, corn was often the grain and some kind of sage or rosemary was the bittering agent. The German iteration of beer is what most people think of, though. In early Germanic society, barley was used as the grain and hops were the bittering agent. This is the tradition that Gerard Heineken honoured.


In the 1860s, a brewery in the Netherlands was very popular with working class Dutch people. In that decade, Gerard Heineken convinced his fairly wealthy mother to buy the brewery. Heineken then set to work developing a yeast that would produce a crisp pilsner taste. Yeast is a big factor in the taste of the beer since the characteristics of the yeast produce the characteristics of the alcohol. By this time, the mechanics of fermentation were fairly well understood. So, Heineken worked with a chemist to develop a strain of yeast that is still in use today. He brewed his pilsner to the highest standards and found that working adults preferred Heineken beer. Quickly, Heineken became the most popular beer in the Netherlands, especially among working-class people. It has since spread to just about every part of the world.

The Tradition

When you open a Heineken, you are not only opening a high-quality Dutch pilsner, you’re opening a piece of history. Since the yeast is so important to the flavour and the alcohol content of the beer, breweries very carefully preserve their yeast. The yeast that is used to brew Heineken in 2016 is the same strain of yeast that was used to brew Heineken in the 1860s. In fact, it is so popular that Heineken became the first foreign beer imported to the United States once they ended their prohibition of alcohol. It has remained one of the most popular and most desired beverages around the world.