From: Jane Zhou and Ben Gonin, Worldwatch Institute, More from this Affiliate
Published March 16, 2010 09:41 AM

Life-Cycle Studies: Beer

Enkidu, a man raised by wild animals in the classic Sumerian poem Epic of Gilgamesh, knew nothing of beer until a prostitute guided him to a shepherd's camp. Upon finishing seven full cups, "his soul became free and cheerful, his heart rejoiced, his face glowed.... He became human." Beer was so popular throughout ancient Mesopotamia that some historians argue it inspired the earliest farmers to domesticate grain.


Beer is the third most popular drink in the world, after water and tea. Per-capita annual consumption is highest in the Czech Republic, at 157 liters per person, followed by Ireland (131) and Germany (116). World beer consumption has risen almost every year for the past two decades. The world average in 2005 was 23 liters per person.

Conventional beer is made with malted grains (often barley or wheat), hops, yeast, and water. The hops act as preservatives and add to some beers' characteristic bitter flavor. Yeast is added after the grains are cooked from a few days to several months. The yeast combines with the mashed grains' sugary compounds to form alcohol. The brew is then fermented again, filtered, and cooled.

One liter of beer traditionally requires between four and six liters of water and four or five kilograms of grain. Energy consumption - mostly from refrigeration and transportation - is also significant. But the greatest environmental impact is created by beer containers, overwhelmingly single-serving glass bottles or aluminum cans. One ton of glass embodies as much energy as is contained in 135 liters of oil and creates 845 kilograms of mining waste.

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