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.
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.
His popular book explains all :- Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages
Do you enjoy a good beer?
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What do you think?
© 2010 Susanna Duffy
Pass me a Pint
ChristopherCres on February 20, 2020:
As a Sumerian enthusiast and author of a page on here 'Origins of Cuneiform writing) I wish to thank you for all your efforts in your article.
It is so refreshing to see someone post on ancient Sumer-without tinfoil hat Pseudo-Science rubbish.
Joseph Mitchell from Nashville TN 37206. on October 17, 2018:
I enjoyed it. I am a home brewer. I do not get on hubpages as much anymore but I got 17 blogs saved in there. Take care.
Susanna Duffy (author) from Melbourne Australia on September 13, 2014:
I don't know about you but, when putting this together, I really wanted a beer. A chilled, refreshing beer
Robert Connor from Michigan on July 09, 2014:
Beer making is simply & fun
Virginia Allain from Central Florida on March 10, 2014:
Now that was fascinating. I hadn't really thought about beer beyond medieval times.
sybil watson on August 08, 2013:
Have you ever seen the documentary "How Beer Saved the World"?. It's an absolutely fascinating history of the invention of beer and the big part it has played in the history of the world. Very interesting lens.
Renaissance Woman from Colorado on July 08, 2013:
Fascinating article. I think I'll pass on that gruel beer. That code of ethics for beer shop owners might put a few liquor stores out of business these days. A general drowning, or thrown into a vat of beer?
Nancy Tate Hellams from Pendleton, SC on June 30, 2013:
I will sure have a new appreciation for beer when I enjoy my next cool one. Thanks.
Jeff Johnston from Alberta Canada on May 27, 2013:
very nice, I recently found a source of seed barley and was considering making some ancient beer, just stumbled across this article :D great job.
myoyster1957 on March 13, 2013:
And then there was beer, 5 pints is also a loaf
chickie99 on February 14, 2013:
beer always was first; but beer bread is the best
anonymous on January 23, 2013:
I love liquid bread! I had no idea that beer was 10,000 years old, much less the oldest recipe in the world. I now have a greater appreciation for beer!
CyclistLiam on November 30, 2012:
Interesting lens. I had been led to believe it was the Belgian Monks who had initially crafted beer so this put me right on the subject. Are there any companies/ breweries that still make with the Sumerian method? Does it taste like the beer we know today?
MrMojo01 on August 22, 2012:
I'm a light beer guy so not sure if I'd like this but I enjoyed reading it!
AlleyCatLane on August 19, 2012:
Interesting article but I don't particularly care for beer, and this sounds kind of gross - "more of a gruel."
GaelicForge on January 06, 2012:
Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to have fun" - I think Ben Franklin said that... anyway, beer can contribute to our lives in many fun ways! I like it that it's the oldest recipe in the world!
LouisaDembul on December 28, 2011:
I love the way you have presented the history of beer here! Liked the expression that beer is liquid bread!
HowToKeg on October 13, 2011:
I would love to try some of that, not sure how it would taste though. We should pass the recipe on to Dogfish, they make everything!
gregoryolney lm on August 11, 2011:
People used to brew beer because they didn't have a clean water supply. The adults drank the good stuff and the kids were given the "small beer".
Nice lens !
anonymous on July 29, 2011:
Hmm... Makes me wonder if the Sumerians and the Egyptians had a pub culture and disc's too! Fascinating lens. :)
anonymous on July 07, 2011:
AsianMarketplace on June 16, 2011:
I gotta admit, being a beer lover myself i don;t know too much about the history of beer. Thanks for the enriching information here. Cheers!
beckwong on May 01, 2011:
good lens :)
SHorsburgh on January 16, 2011:
Queen Victoria loved her ale and had one every night before she went to bed, warm ale.
Lynne Schroeder from Blue Mountains Australia on July 30, 2010:
I'll pass on the beer thanks, I'd prefer a wine. Fascinating history of beer
Mona from Iowa on May 05, 2010:
Interesting lens. Not a beer person myself but I have a friend who brews their own so will pass this along to her.