Humans Wasted Over 9 Million Years Not Making Booze

caveman-beerA new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says that our human ancestors first gained the ability to consume alcohol roughly 10 million years ago.  That’s when genetic changes made it possible for our primate forebearers to properly digest ethanol, that silly psychoactive substance we call alcohol. 

But just because their furry little bodies could process alcohol, that doesn’t mean they made the stuff.  Outside of occasionally foraging on fermented fruit, our monkey-fathers were teetotalers up until about 10 thousand years ago, when they started to brew spirits.

So basically, they wasted what could have been 9,990,000 years of productive alcohol making.  Imagine the craft beers they could’ve come up with, festooned with lovely cave drawing labels.  Wooly Mammoth Maibock.  Tree Dweller IPA.  A hunter/gatherer collaboration brew, featuring rendered free range tapir fat and responsibly sourced wild wheat.  The hipster cavemen in their skinny furs would have loved that!

But instead we scampered around the freshly formed savannahs eating termites and drinking fetid water while trying to avoid being eaten by sabre-toothed tigers.  And we think we’re so smart.

The study’s lead author was Matthew Carrigan, a paleogeneticist from Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida.  His team searched humans’ genetic lineage looking for a digestive enzyme called ADH4 (short for Class IV alcohol dehydrogenases), which allows the body to break down alcohol and turn it into regrettable decision making.




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Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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24 Comments on “Humans Wasted Over 9 Million Years Not Making Booze”

  1. December 2, 2014 at 1:20 pm #

    Hurrah yer back! And yes it does seem a shame but we’re lucky enough not to have been born back then.

    • December 2, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

      Yeah, it’s been too long. Kind of like a sabbatical. I gave up all writing for the last few months, even handed away my plush gig with FSR Magazine to Ken Weaver. It got to the point where it wasn’t fun anymore, and if it isn’t fun, what’s the point?!

  2. December 2, 2014 at 1:22 pm #

    Interestingly, some ethnic groups still have problems metabolizing alcohol–thus the term ‘Asian Flush.’

    • December 2, 2014 at 1:34 pm #

      I’ve never heard that term. If you made me guess, I’d say it refers to the way toilets flush on the other side of the earth (backwards, like in Australia).

  3. December 2, 2014 at 2:06 pm #

    I’m going to call my next batch of Maibock the Mammoth.

    • December 2, 2014 at 2:15 pm #

      Nice! I almost went with “Mastodon” up there, which is a winner as well.

  4. Bill
    December 2, 2014 at 3:01 pm #

    So to review…10 million possible years of brewing…10 thousand actual years and the best selling beer is Bud? Jim…welcome back…your work here is far from finished…

    • December 2, 2014 at 9:23 pm #

      Fair point. Jim is needed. Though actually Bud is #4. Snow is #1, then Tsingtao, followed by Bud Light, Budweiser, Skol, Yanjing, Heineken, and Harbin.

      Glad to see you back, Jim.

      • December 5, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

        Quite a list of distinguished brews! 😉

    • December 5, 2014 at 12:35 pm #

      Thanks, Bill. I like to look at Bud as the primordial ooze that the more civilized created crawled out of. You gotta start somewhere!

  5. Mark S.
    December 3, 2014 at 10:53 am #

    Weird. I was just thinking about what happened to you guys, and boom – a new post.

    although I was expecting a post about Troeg’s Mad Elf!

    ‘Tis the season, after all!


    • December 5, 2014 at 12:38 pm #

      Oh, I’ve been working the Elf lately, but it’s not quite right this year. Either (like my eyes) my taste buds are going to hell, or it’s lacking a bit of the honeyed sweetness that made it such a pleasure in the past.

      Of course I’m still gonna suck it down like Kool Aid, so I guess Troegs wins.

      • December 5, 2014 at 1:58 pm #

        Or you’re getting old and your taste buds have degraded (happens, trust me.) And if the writing urge falls off–happens to me too in re my genealogical endeavors–invite some others to do guest pieces for you. That way you get to snark at them rather than the opposite.

        • December 5, 2014 at 2:10 pm #

          My first thought was aging buds, but I’m not having issues with other beers right now – just this one. Might be the first sign of me slipping, or a slightly different batch of beer. Or both (everyone sucks!).

  6. December 3, 2014 at 10:08 pm #

    Pangea Pale Ale. Nice ring to it.

    • December 5, 2014 at 12:38 pm #

      One continent. One beer. Pangea Pale Ale.

  7. Craig Hartinger
    December 5, 2014 at 2:51 pm #

    Glad to see you back.
    Humans consuming alcohol from fermentation could be 10,000 years old, but “spirits” (concentration of alcohol via distillation) is maybe 2,000 years old. Just picking a nit 🙂

    • December 5, 2014 at 3:13 pm #

      And before that we, like apes, American robins mocking birds and waxwings, were consuming fermented fruit and getting high off it. (Ever seen a Robin blitzed on fermented Pyracantha berries? Its a stitch!)

      • December 5, 2014 at 3:22 pm #

        And let’s not forget this little fella who hit the apples HARD!

    • December 5, 2014 at 3:16 pm #

      Nit noted as picked.

      In my defense, I used the phrase “brewed spirits” which adds another layer of nonsense on top of the whole thing! Guess I should’ve said “intentionally fermented beverages” but that’s a lot of typing!!

  8. Mark S.
    December 6, 2014 at 8:01 pm #

    Yeah, I passed on both Troegs and Fegleys “Elf” offerings this year.

    I found them both “off” last year already. Too cloying for my aging palate…


  9. June 26, 2015 at 2:03 pm #

    There’s so many other better tasting drinks than beer .they need to make a fruitier beer


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    […] Humans Wasted Over 9 Million Years Not Making Booze ( […]

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