‘Four Millennia of Fermentation’ Honors Students explore the history of beermaking

Bonnie Watson, instructor of the new Honors tutorial “Four Millennia of Fermentation: How Beer Shaped Humanity,” has been interested in beer-making for years. She got her start, though, in the grocery store beer aisle.

“As I was getting out of school, bored with my job, I found hobbies,” Watson says. “I would sit at Hy-Vee and places that sold individual bottles, seeing what makes each type different. I was fascinated by how deep the rabbit hole went. I wanted to know everything about the subject.”

Watson is now one of four cicerones, or beer experts, in the Columbia area. 

The beer world is immensely complex, according to Watson. Many breweries have their own dedicated lab teams to aid in the process of beer making. In Watson’s class, students delve into the history and creation of the drink, including the basics of beer making.

Man stands in front of canisters inspecting them

“We start in ancient Mesopotamia,” Watson says. For ancient Mesopotamians, beer making was a religious process – some of the oldest surviving tablets include a call-and-response prayer that doubled as beer making instructions.

Areas around the world have a rich history with beer, but the class focuses mostly on the nexus of beer culture: Europe. In Europe, beer making was relegated to the home.

“It was a household chore,” Watson says. “Germany took beer culture and ran with it.”

The class stretches from the beginning of European beer making, when yeast had not yet been implemented and beer was stored in open fermentation tanks, to the modern American corporate beer world. They explore everything from lager and microbrews to ale and the monopoly of beer companies.

Students can take the class regardless of age or major. Throughout the semester, the class has beer tastings and food pairings. Those under the age of majority are allowed alternative homework assignments based on that week’s lessons.

Cans of Logboat beer arranged in rows

The grand finale of the class is the end-of-semester tour at Columbia’s own Logboat Brewing Company. Students are allowed tastings, and are taken on a tour of the brewing facilities with commentary on how Logboat’s beer is made.

Logboat Brewing Company began in 2014 and has other Columbia-area cicerones working in its brewery. Logboat brews its beer on-site, with a clear view from the taproom into the brewery. It offers a wide range of beers, year-round. 

“Knowing beer in Columbia, you gotta know about Logboat,” Watson says.

Watson’s favorite beer? Simple — Guinness. It’s even tattooed on her arm.

“Beer has helped shape humanity,” Watson says. “We wouldn’t be the same without it.”