Once upon a time, about 10,000 years ago (give or take a few Egyptian dynasties), some ancient Sumerians stopped at a convenience store to pick up some cigarettes and discovered… beer.

Or maybe they were watching birds fall off twigs as they ate fermented berries and—ta-da—the drinking lamp was lit. Or someone left moldy bread crusts in the village water jug, causing spontaneous fermentation by airborne wild yeast spores and suddenly they were building a temple to the Stale Bread Water Jug gods. At least after their headaches wore off.

We owe a lot to those Sumerians. They even named themselves after the best beer-drinking season. Try to imagine—not a single Happy Hour in 10,000 years of Fridays. No Schlitz, no Blatz, no Natty Lite, no St. Pauli Girls, no hoppy birthdays, no Dos Equis ads. We would all stay thirsty, my friend.

The recipe for all that and more was simple: boiled water plus grain, sugar, hops and yeast, equals, hello, alcohol. At a time when a cup of drinking water was a deadly cholera cocktail of germs and disease, the safest alternative was to grab for the gusto. Historians and archeologists also believe beer was the catalyst for agriculture. The first farmers raised barley and wheat for beer, not food, because man can’t live by bread alone.

Books, scholarly papers and magazines agree: beer saved civilization. If that sounds like anthropology through beer goggles, have another.

Here’s the ‘eureka’ moment: If Babylonians in mud huts—whose idea of high-tech was a pointy stick to get the goats off their flea-infested cow-dung mattress—could make beer, it must be idiot-proof. Even I could do it. Right?

Well, yes and no.

I started with Irish Red, which claimed to be kin to the Killian clan—a red amber ale with a robust head and a smooth finish. But five weeks later when I pried the cap off Pandora’s bottle, it was more like something St. Patrick went after when he ran out of snakes. The Killians disowned it. And I flushed it.

Since then, I have brewed several ales, ranging from very good to outstanding. I’ve made India Pale Ales (IPAs) and German wheat beers, Belgian pale ales and a lemon-zested summer shandy. Along the way I learned that Irish Red broke bad because of a common rookie mistake: What we have here is a failure to de-sanitate.

“Sooner or later, everyone will brew a bad batch,” says Chris Mitchell, 38, head of sales at Listermann Brewing, a popular Dana Avenue supplier to homebrewers in Cincinnati. “The biggest mistake is lack of sanitation. People don’t realize how sensitive beer can be. Once you start to chill it down after the boil, everything has to be sanitized to avoid contamination.”

Which means my Stankinstein Irish Red was probably an odiously authentic tribute to beers of the past, before the invention of plumbing, bathing or soap. Early brewing must have been a germ circus.

“We can recreate the recipes they used, but it’s too bad none of us can taste the beers they actually brewed back then,” Mitchell says.

Or maybe… not too bad.

For anyone who wants to learn, Listermann’s has monthly classes and helps anxious customers. “They call up and I have to talk them off the ledge,” Mitchell says. “Usually, they’re concerned because fermentation has stopped. I tell them to wait patiently. Some people think you can make a beer in a day or two. I have to explain it takes weeks or a month.

“Sometimes they are afraid it will harm them or poison them. But the worst that can happen is [that] you will make a bad-tasting beer. The way we pre-package everything, it’s easy to start brewing a good beer right off the bat. If you can make a basic recipe in the kitchen, you can brew a great beer.”

A few homebrewers have hit the big time with best-sellers. Craft brews such as Mt. Carmel and MadTree are found in supermarkets and taverns, but started out in garages and basements. And those brewers often began as customers at Listermann’s or other homebrew supply stores.

“I urge people to drink local beer,” Mitchell says.

You could call it “research.” And there are plenty of places to get started.

Listermann’s, Paradise Brewing Supplies in Anderson Township and others offer hundreds of recipe kits and variations. But the best beer is no contest: that’s the one you uncap on the patio, your own small step for mankind—saving civilization 12 ounces at a time.

Homebrewing: What I’ve learned along the way