Spain’s Hidden Beer History

Jonathan Carlyon, a professor at Colorado State University, had a friend from Spain who was spending a year in Fort Collins. At first the friend drank only wine, but Carlyon introduced him to the local craft beer. That experience, along with CSU’s creation of a fermentation studies program, led the professor to study the beer of ancient Spain.

The beer, called Caelia, was brewed extensively in Iberia from around 3,000 B.C. until the Romans conquered the peninsula and made wine the beverage of choice. It was a lightly-carbonated drink, made by women using a fermentation process similar to that of bread-making. Carylon describes the beverage as “like a beer juice, compared to the beer made today”.

Carylon found literary references to beer in everything from the Bible to accounts of the Roman Empire’s difficulty conquering an ancient Spanish city of Numancia. Before every battle against the Romans, the Numancians drank Caelia, contributing to the Romans’ view of them as ferocious fighters. (Tired of the heavy casualties they were taking, the Romans laid siege to Numancia and starved its inhabitants.)

Thanks to the Romans, Spain is considered a “wine country.” However, craft beer has won a following there. As for Carylon, he’s working with the CSU fermentation program to re-create Caelia in Fort Collins.

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