Ancient Beer the Oldest Recipe in the World
An Ancient Recipe for Beer
If you look at a field of wheat and a loaf of bread, you wouldn't guess that one came from the other. But we've known about the relationship for at least 10,000 years.
Bread really is the Staff of Life
Beer is liquid bread and in ancient Sumer, beer making and bread making were different sides of the same coin. The Sumerians left us a recipe, on a clay tablet, for making beer.
It's the oldest recipe in the world.
Recipe for Beer on a Clay Tablet
- The Groundbreaking Invention of Writing
Thank heavens we invented Arabic numerals and Roman script, otherwise we would still be stamping wedges onto clay tablets as people did 5.000 years ago in Mesopotamia
The Recipe is in Cuneiform Script
Beer was made thousands of years ago in ancient Mesopotamia, and actual brewing records exist from this "dawn of civilisation."
These records are written in cuneiform script on clay tablets.
Hymn to Ninkasi
Ninkasi is the ancient Sumerian Goddess of brewing and beer and head brewer to the gods themselves. Her name means "The Lady who fills the mouth".
The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (ETCSL), a project of the University of Oxford, comprises a selection of nearly 400 literary compositions from ancient Mesopotamia.
One text, the Hymn to Ninkasi, is a set of instructions for making beer. It tells of baked grains being broken into pieces and stuffed into a pot. Water and aromatics are added (creating a basic mash and wort) and left to ferment.
You can read the Hymn to Ninkasi from ETCSL or stick with the easier-to-read text below.
The Ancient Recipe for Beer
You are the one who handles the dough with a big shovel,
Mixing in a pit, the bappir with sweet aromatics,
Ninkasi, you are the one who handles the dough with a big shovel,
Mixing in a pit, the bappir with honey,
You are the one who bakes the bappir in the big oven,
Puts in order the piles of hulled grains,
Ninkasi, you are the one who waters the malt set on the ground,
The noble dogs keep away even the potentates,
You are the one who soaks the malt in a jar,
The waves rise, the waves fall.
You are the one who spreads the cooked mash on large reed mats,
You are the one who holds with both hands the great sweet wort,
The filtering vat, which makes a pleasant sound,
You place appropriately on a large collector vat.
Ninkasi, you are the one who pours out the filtered beer of the collector vat,
Like the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates.
How do you brew beer like an Egyptian?
Instead of using modern, cultured yeast, keep some yeasty residue from one brew to the next. The yeast sticks to the fabric of the brewing pots. Fermentation happens naturally from micro-flora
Get some organic unhulled barley in a health food store. Moisten barley. Keep it moist until it germinates, then heat the barley to stop the germination (the result is called malt).
Add water and yeast so the malt sugars ferment.
.Blend cooked and uncooked malt with water and produce a refined liquid free of husk by straining and mashing
Don't forget the bread, a by-product of making beer
Bappir is a twice-baked barley bread.
Hulled grains have the outermost hull removed (not the bran)
Brew reproduced in the early 1900s
So this is a recipe for naturally fermented beer from Sumeria over 7,000 years ago,.
Some 6,987 years later, Soloman Katz of the University of Pennsylvania and Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing followed these instructions to reproduce the brew. It was said to be reddish-orange in colour with the taste of honey. They named it, naturally enough, Ninkasi.
I would have liked to try a glass, or even sipped some through a straw, but no more has been made since that first batch a century ago.
It was Healthier to Drink Beer
Evidence for brewing beer in the Mesopotamian region was found at the settlement of Godin Tepe (in modern-day Iran), a significant Sumerian outpost along the famous Silk Road trade route.
Beer was a staple in the daily diet of the ancient Sumerians. As only fresh water was used in beer, and had to be boiled, it was healthier to drink beer than to drink water from the canals which could be polluted. Beer also contained nutrients other beverages did not.
The ancient Sumerians kept their beer in large jars and drank them in a communal fashion.
These beers were often thick, more of a gruel than a beverage, so straws were used. Two or more drinkers would sip the beer through a straw, possibly to filter out impurities (through the teeth) or to avoid sludge at the bottom of the jar.
Perhaps they just liked drinking together.
Straws were invented in Babylon
Sipping Beer through a Straw
Workers were provided with beer as part of their daily rations and, based on art works as well as writings, it was a drink enjoyed by the lowest laborer to the highest noble and was consumed through a straw.
The straw, so common in our modern world, was developed by the Babylonians, and quite possibly created specifically for the purpose of drinking beer.
Beer was so important that in the Code of Hammurabi (18th century B.C.E), beer shop owners who overcharged customers were to be put to death by drowning.
Ancient Nubians Made Antibiotic Beer
Chemical analysis of the bones of ancient Sudanese Nubians who lived nearly 2000 years ago shows they were ingesting the antibiotic tetracycline on a regular basis, most likely from a special brew of beer. The find is the strongest yet that antibiotics were previously discovered by humans before Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928.
Ancient Egyptian Brewing
Egyptian wooden model of beer making in ancient Egypt at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, San Jose, California
The Egyptians learned about making beer from the Sumerians.
The Egyptians passed the Recipe on
Beer moves across Europe
The Egyptians taught the Greeks the beer brewing process but the Greeks preferred wine. Perhaps that's why the Greeks later taught the Romans.
The Romans didn't care much for beer at all. Wine was their choice of drink too.
Beer was fit only for barbarians
A dark, slightly sour, beer from 550 BCE
Scientific evidence from an archeological site in southwesten Germany suggests that Early Celtic rulers liked to party, staging elaborate feasts. The business side of their revelries was located in a nearby brewery capable of turning out large quantities of a beer with a dark, smoky, slightly sour taste,
Making Beer the Ancient Irish Way
The Barbarian's Beverage
Europe has a long and rich beer-making tradition, which developed independently of the Middle East
The Barbarian's Beverage presents a large amount of the evidence for beer in ancient Europe for the first time, and demonstrates the important technological as well as idealogical contributions the Europeans made to beer throughout the ages.
A study of ancient beer and its brewing, consumption and characteristics providing a fresh and fascinating insight into one of the most popular beverages in the world today.
The Beer Archaeologist
Patrick McGovern is the world's foremost expert on ancient fermented beverages, and he cracks long-forgotten recipes with chemistry, scouring ancient kegs and bottles for residue samples to scrutinise in the lab.
He has identified the world's oldest known barley beer (from Iran's Zagros Mountains, dating to 3400 BCE), the oldest grape wine (also from the Zagros, circa 5400 BCE) and the earliest known booze of any kind, a Neolithic grog from China's Yellow River Valley brewed some 9,000 years ago.
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What do you think?
What came first - bread or beer?
© 2010 Susanna Duffy