Four Oregon State University faculty are featured in a documentary that tracks the history of beer and links the drink to advances in human civilization.

"How Beer Saved the World" is scheduled to air at 8 p.m. Sunday on the Discovery Channel. The documentary, originally scheduled to air Feb. 6, was filmed last fall by Australia-based Beyond Productions. Scenes from OSU's pilot plant brewery and greenhouses, as well as Block 15 and Flat Tail Brewing, were shot here in November.

The OSU contingent will be featured discussing the first "accidental beer," stumbled upon by hunter-gatherers in the Fertile Crescent - portions of the Middle East - in about 6,000 B.C.

These pre-agrarians collected grains by knocking seeds from stalks of wild barley and wheat. Beer was created when the heaps of grains became wet from rain and began to ferment.

"This accidental discovery of fermented liquid was a catalytic agent for bringing about agriculture," said Tom Shellhammer, a professor of fermentation science in the food science and technology department. The hunter-gatherers realized they could have a steady supply of wheat, barley and beer by harvesting grain and planting it to grow new crops.

"The minute that happened, agriculture started," said Pat Hayes, a barley breeder in the crop and soil science department who was featured in the film's pilot.

It took generations to refine beermaking, and the first recorded recipe is found in the Sumerians' "Hymn to Ninkasi" in about 1,800 B.C. The recipe is still used today.

For the film, pilot lab manager Jeff Clawson wanted to give viewers an authentic example of the Mesopotamian-style beer.

"We made a bread similar to what they had, right here," he said. Clawson made a fruit, nut and barley bread and mixed it with malted barley and water, allowing it to ferment for two days before sampling.

Apparently, the brew had a uniquely sour taste.

"The flavor is a little special," Hayes laughed.

In addition to the lesson on beer's origins provided by Shellhammer, Hayes, Clawson and Andrew Ross of the crop and soil science department, the documentary tracks beer brewing in medieval Europe and colonial America.

OSU is one of only two universities in the nation with a fermentation science program that focuses on beer brewing.

For the film's airing, Hayes plans to have several faculty and graduate students to his home, including Shellhammer and Clawson.

"It's definitely the sort of event you want to have some beer on hand for," he said.

Contact reporter Gail Cole at 541-758-9510 or at gail.cole@lee.net.

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