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In this Hands on History video with Ron Hazelton, learn how beer is made from some of the oldest breweries in America. Discover how dozens of flavors of beer are made from just four simple ingredients: water, yeast, barley malt, and hops. See these actual ingredients in a Sam Adams Brewery and then travel to Yuengling & Son, the oldest brewery in America, to witness the evolution of beer. In this video, you will learn all of the steps it takes to create a truly great-tasting beer.
According To History, We Can Thank Women For Beer
Beer has come a long way in its 5,000-year history. Today, women as brewery owners, brewers, beertenders, beer writers and beer consumers are rapidly chipping away at the perception of beer as a man’s drink. For centuries from beer’s inception, though, beer was intrinsically linked to women.
The first written beer recipe is considered to be the Hymn to Ninkasi, circa 1800 B.C. Ninkasi was the Sumerian goddess of beer, and the Sumerians were one of the first peoples who left us hard evidence of beer-drinking. Beer predates that recipe, though: Archaeologists have placed the first fermented beverage consumption at roughly 9,000 years ago and the first signs of beer, specifically, about 4,000 years later. Many believe beer propelled the shift from Paleolithic to Neolithic civilization when hunter-gatherers realized they’d have to settle in one place to reliably harvest grain.
Right from the start, brewing, a kitchen task, was women’s work. Both the Sumerians and Egyptians praised beer goddesses and associated brewing with women. In addition to Ninkasi as a woman to look up to, the Sumerians also had Kubaba. She is the only woman on the Sumerians’ list of kings, and she earned her ruling role not through birth, but through her work as a brewer. The Egyptians worshipped goddess of beer Menqet, and celebrated sun god Ra’s daughter, Sekhmet, whose bloodthirsty ways were calmed by beer.
Even as beer became a product to sell, women remained in charge. Patty Hamrick, a writer with a master’s in archaeological anthropology, teaches a class called The Archaeology of Beer at the Brooklyn Brainery. She points to the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi from Mesopotamia, one of civilization’s first set of written laws, as evidence of women’s authority in beer.
“[The Babylonian language] Akadian is a gendered language, and every time a law is listed for anything having to do with a tavern — like not overcharging for beer — every mention of a tavern owner uses ‘she,’” Hamrick said.
The concept of an alewife emerged around the fifth century A.D. Women were making large volumes of beer for their families and often had a surplus, so they’d signal that they had extra beer for sale by placing greenery over their doors, or in some cases, a broom. (Alewives sometimes also stood on corners to advertise, wearing tall hats, and had cats to chase the pests that ate their grain it’s theorized that the alewife image gave way to the witch image.) Some alewives — or “brewsters,” a term for female brewers — even set up rough versions of bars in their homes.
Hamrick places the shift of brewing from women to men around the development of brewing guilds. The earliest guild was founded in London around 1200, and they existed more widely by the 1500s.
“This is when we begin to see people making rules for how a beer is brewed, and the use of hops is becoming prevalent, so beer would last longer and you could make larger quantities at a time and ship it to different cities and even countries,” Hamrick told HuffPost. “Beer was becoming larger-scale than before.”
While hops and their preservative powers were the beginning of the end for women’s dominance in brewing, it’s believed to be a woman who first wrote about their scientific properties, says Jeffrey Pilcher, an author and professor of food studies at the University of Toronto Scarborough. Benedictine abbess Hildegard of Bingen was a brewer and herbalist who described using hops in beer in the 12th century.
When beer grew from a cottage industry to a big business with an import/export trade, it was no longer in the household domain. In addition to guilds, government officials set rules to take advantage of beer’s selling power. In Bruges, the first association of brewery workers met in 1447 to protect themselves from “innkeeper, woman, and provost.”
The Industrial Revolution further improved the efficiency of brewing and shipping beer worldwide. By the dawn of the 20th century, beer production — and subsequently, beer consumption — was firmly in the hands of men.
“Beer became known as a man’s beverage because it was made by men,” says Teri Fahrendorf, a brewmaster for three decades and founder of the Pink Boots Society, an organization for women in the beer industry. “The teamwork that had existed earlier in beer [production] went away, and women had a new image: demure, virginal, married. Suddenly it was maybe not so ladylike to have a beer.”
When Western women began entering the workforce en masse during the 1960s and 1970s, breweries became an option for employment. It’s been a struggle to overcome consumer attitudes and tone-deaf marketing campaigns — from objectifying women to suggesting they need their own special beer — but real change is happening, especially in more recent years.
“There are many women in the beer industry today, exponentially more than when I began my career,” says Tonya Cornett, R&D brewmaster at 10 Barrel Brewing in Bend, Oregon. “Women are plugging along and making a significant impact. … Most female brewers I know want to be known for the quality of the beer they make, rather than constantly focusing on the fact that they are female.”
Statistics are hard to come by, but a study by a Stanford University research team found that 20 percent of American breweries open in 2014 had a female co-founder only 2 percent were exclusively female-owned. Furthermore, only 4 percent of the breweries they coded had a female head brewer or brewmaster.
It’s slow but steady going, and good news isn’t difficult to find. In 2014, Belgium got its first female Trappist brewmaster. More women are opening breweries in America’s booming craft industry, and the range of jobs women are exploring in beer is expanding, from becoming Cicerones who consult on bar and restaurant beer programs to those with science backgrounds running quality control for breweries or starting yeast labs. On a consumer level, a recent Brewers Association study found 31 percent of craft beer drinkers are women, up from 29 percent in 2015, points out Grace Weitz, who has a master’s in food studies and is the marketing manager at beer magazine Hop Culture.
Women’s growth in today’s industry is evident in the ever-increasing membership of the Pink Boots Society. The organization started as a list of all the female brewers Fahrendorf met or heard about on a cross-country brewing trip in 2007. There were 60 people on her first list, and 16 brewers and six beer writers at the first PBS meeting in 2008. According to current PBS President Laura Ulrich and board member Jen Jordan, there are now 2,090 members, 72 state chapters and 13 international chapters, and they are growing at a rate of 157 new members per month.
Hop Culture celebrated the role of women in beer today with a weeklong Beer With(out) Beards festival in August. Spearheaded by Weitz, events included panels on women’s beer history and on women in beer media and a festival featuring breweries that have female owners and/or employees.
“[It] came together because of an experiment that I did,” Weitz says. “I asked people to close their eyes and think about the last beer they had . think about the aromas, the flavors, then think about the person that made that beer. Are they short or tall, blonde or blue-eyed, are they a big, bearded man or a woman? Nine times out of 10, they pictured this stereotypical big, burly man.”
Weitz and Hop Culture sought to create spaces for conversations to take place, for both men and women to take what they learned to their own communities and keep pushing boundaries. The events made a noticeable impact, according to Ann V. Reilly, events and promotions coordinator at Five Boroughs Brewing Co.
THBC further expanded, covering three city blocks and hiring 250 employees. The city of Terre Haute itself became a wild place, being referred to as “Sin City,” as it was known for its betting houses, saloons and brothels – which were often frequented by Chicago’s mobsters.
During the era of Prohibition, the brewing company changed its name to Terre Haute C.V. Company. Under this new name and image, they produced a non-alcoholic version of Champagne Velvet (a cereal beverage) and their own root beer. Eventually, the restrictions of Prohibition forced the brewery to suspend operations in 1928 and its assets were sold. Crawford Fairbanks died in 1924.
The History of Beer – When Was Beer Invented?
Once upon a time. An American archaeologist found the first known residue of barley beer in a jar at the Godin Tepe excavation site in western Iran.
It had, presumably, been sitting there since its last owner took his (or her) last sip around 3400BC.
And that’s not the only evidence beer has a long-established past. In 2004, archaeologists discovered a 5000-year-old brewery in China.
Two newly-excavated subterranean pits in Mijiaya, a site located in Shaanxi Province, had a variety of artefacts including clay wide-mouth pots, narrow-mouthed vessels, and funnels.
The team also dug up what looked like a primitive stove in each pit. And based on the particular pottery style, the archaeologists determined that the artefacts date back to the late Yangshao period, between 3,500 and 2,900 B.C.
However, no one knows the exact period man developed the first beer chug or keg stand. But one thing’s for sure- the ancient man enjoyed beers as much as (if not more than) we do. Here’s why:
The world’s oldest known beer recipe comes from ancient MesopotamiaSource: Schneider-Weisse
Posted By: Alok Bannerjee September 22, 2017
It is hypothesized that beer (or at least the precursor to beer-like concoctions) was probably developed independently in different parts of the world. In fact, some believe that beer was actually the by-product of cereal-based agriculture, with natural fermentation playing its part in the ‘accidental’ lead up to the brewing. This dawn of proto-beer making possibly harks back to the early Neolithic period, circa 9500 BC. However, beyond the scope of localized variants of beer-like concoctions, historians are certain of one aspect from this parcel of history – the oldest known standard recipe for brewing beer comes from ancient Mesopotamia. Simply put, the first deliberate production of beer (or ale) in history can be attributed as one of the achievements of Sumerians, with the evidence of the oldest known surviving beer recipe contained within a 3900-year-old poem – Hymn to Ninkasi.
Now in terms of Mesopotamian mythology, Ninkasi was the ancient Sumerian tutelary goddess of beer (and alcohol). Symbolizing the socially important role of women in brewing and preparation of beverages in ancient Mesopotamia, the entity (whose actual depictions have not survived the rigors of time) historically also alluded to how beer consumption in itself was an important marker for societal and civilized virtues.
To give an example, in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the world’s oldest known epic, the wild man Enkidu “did not know how to eat bread, / nor had he ever learned to drink beer!”, with the second phrase suggesting how drinking beer was seen as a ‘quality’ of a civilized person. At the same time, the literary work also mentions the ‘social lubrication’ aspect of beer, with Enkidu, who later becomes Gilgamesh’s deeply beloved friend, enjoying his fair share of the beverage – “…he ate until he was full, drank seven pitchers of beer, his heart grew light, his face glowed and he sang out with joy.”
A modern stylized depiction of Ninkasi, the ancient Sumerian tutelary goddess of beer. Source: Pinterest
These earliest known mass-produced specimens of beer were possibly concocted with the aid of barley that was extracted from bread. In that regard, the Hymn to Ninkasi was actually translated from two clay tablets by Miguel Civil, Professor of Sumerology at the University of Chicago. And what’s more, the recipe was even successfully recreated by Fritz Maytag, founder of the Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco. Upon listening to the presentation of these brewers at the annual meeting of the American Association of Micro Brewers in 1991, Civil wrote –
[The brewers] were able to taste ‘Ninkasi Beer’. sipping it from large jugs with drinking straws as they did four millennia ago. The beer had an alcohol concentration of 3.5%, very similar to modern beers, and had a ‘dry taste lacking in bitterness,’ ‘similar to hard apple cider.’ In Mesopotamia hops were unknown and beer was produced for immediate consumption, so the ‘Sumerian beer didn’t keep very well, but everyone connected with the reconstruction of the process seems to have enjoyed the experience.
Coming to the historical scope of beer consumption, while its first known literary evidence, in the form of the Hymn to Ninkasi, dates from circa 1800 BC, the ‘brewing song’ in itself is undoubtedly older. In other words, beer was made and consumed in Mesopotamia long before the onset of 19th century BC. In fact, archaeological evidence for brewing beer in the Mesopotamian region dates back to circa 3500 BC (or possibly even before), with researchers being able to identify chemical traces of beer in a fragmented jar at the ancient Sumerian trading settlement of Godin Tepe, in modern-day Iran.
Credit: Trustees of the British Museum
Interestingly enough, a different clay tablet dating back to circa 3300 BC (pictured above), salvaged from the Sumerian city of Uruk, depicts a human head eating from a bowl and drinking from a conical vessel. The bowl represents ‘ration’, while the conical glass alludes to consumption of beer. The tablet also consists of cuneiform records of the quantity of beer being assigned to each worker. In essence, the ancient Mesopotamian artifact is the world’s oldest known payslip that rather hints at how the hierarchical system of workers and employers existed even five millennia ago – and they were possibly connected by exchange of beer, instead of money as we know today (which was invented around three centuries later).
And lastly, in case one is interested in the English translation of the Hymn to Ninkasi (by Miguel Civil), he can take a gander at the passage below –
Borne of the flowing water,
Tenderly cared for by the Ninhursag,
Borne of the flowing water,
Tenderly cared for by the Ninhursag,
Having founded your town by the sacred lake,
She finished its great walls for you,
Ninkasi, having founded your town by the sacred lake,
She finished its walls for you,
Your father is Enki, Lord Nidimmud,
Your mother is Ninti, the queen of the sacred lake.
Ninkasi, your father is Enki, Lord Nidimmud,
Your mother is Ninti, the queen of the sacred lake.
You are the one who handles the dough [and] with a big shovel,
Mixing in a pit, the bappir with sweet aromatics,
Ninkasi, you are the one who handles the dough [and] with a big shovel,
Mixing in a pit, the bappir with [date] – 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 bakes the bappir in the big oven,
Puts in order the piles of hulled grains,
You are the one who waters the malt set on the ground,
The noble dogs keep away even the potentates,
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.
Ninkasi, 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,
Ninkasi, 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,
Brewing [it] with honey [and] wine
(You the sweet wort to the vessel)
Ninkasi, (…)(You the sweet wort to the vessel)
The filtering vat, which makes a pleasant sound,
You place appropriately on a large collector vat.
Ninkasi, the filtering vat, which makes a pleasant sound,
You place appropriately on a large collector vat.
When you pour out the filtered beer of the collector vat,
It is [like] the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates.
Ninkasi, you are the one who pours out the filtered beer of the collector vat,
It is [like] the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates.
‘Brewing A Revolution’ Brings Craft Beer History To The Smithsonian
Washington, D.C., November 8, 2019 -- Charlie Papazian, the man who founded the American Homebrewers . [+] Association and the organization that preceded the Brewers Association trade group, photographing one of his first mash paddles in a new Smithsonian craft beer exhibit called "Brewing a Revolution."
If John F. Kennedy had lived a few decades longer … and appreciated the legacy of craft beer … and attended the Last Call celebration to inaugurate the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s new craft beer collection Friday night, he may have riffed off his 1962 quote by observing of the invited speakers, “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of DIY talent, of bootstrap innovation, that has ever been gathered in Washington, D.C. - with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”
Or, as panelist and American Homebrewers Association founder Charlie Papazian said, “There are pioneers and there are explorers. Explorers go into a jungle not knowing what’s there. And they figure out how to survive. These guys were explorers. The pioneers — they had a map.”
Washington, D.C., November 8, 2019 -- A speakers panel marks the official opening of a new . [+] Smithsonian Museum of American History food history exhibition called "Brewing a Revolution." From left, Michael Lewis, Jack McAuliffe, Charlie Papazian, Theresa McCulla, Fritz Maytag, Ken Grossman, and Bill Mares, author of the book Making Beer.
Photos by Jaclyn Nash, courtesy of the National Museum of American HistoryThis image was obtained from the Smithsonian Institution. The image or its contents may be protected by international copyright
Indeed, the congregated explorers — Papazian (who also founded the organization that preceded the Brewers Association trade group), Sierra Nevada Brewing principle Ken Grossman, former Anchor Brewing owner Fritz Maytag, New Albion Brewing co-founder Jack McAuliffe and former University of California Davis brewing program director Michael Lewis — could be likened to a Mount Rushmore of craft beer history. Though some might argue for the inclusion of others – Boston Beer’s Jim Koch, say, or any number of influential women – there’s no disputing that these five men nearly single-handedly created the global Post-Prohibition craft beer industry as we know it, from the 1960s to the early 80s. Many came after them. But almost no one came before.
“Last Call was an extraordinary privilege to assemble such a talented, accomplished group of speakers—and attendees—and hear them speak with each other about the past fifty years of beer. Even while moderating their conversation I felt like I was able to sit back, listen, and feel amazed by their stories and their long perspectives,” emails panel moderator and curator Theresa McCulla, who’s using a grant from the Brewers Association and others to assemble the “Brewing a Revolution” collection.
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Speakers reflected on the difficulties of making and selling craft beer long before there was a market for it.
“It was hard to educate the consumer and hard to educate the wholesaler,” said Grossman, who started Sierra Nevada in Chico, California, in 1980, and still runs it with his children. “It was a lot of hard work and sleepless nights.”
But with the exhaustion and defeats, of course, came the triumphs. Out of necessity, craft brewers have been a collegial bunch since the beginning. But Maytag offered a little-known alternative explanation to the narrative that early artisan brewers had to cooperate to compensate for their lack of educational resources and even greater lack of supplies in sizes and quantities small enough to scale.
He said when craft brewing started in the mid-20 th century, the existing survivors of Prohibition “were not microbrewers. They were old rural families all making very boring, very bland lager beer. Mostly they were in individual territories. They were not competing directly with each other and that added an element of camaraderie.”
Washington, D.C., November 8, 2019 -- Charlie Papazian, who founded the American Homebrewers . [+] Association and the organization that preceded the Brewers Association trade group, chats with Jack McAuliffe, whose New Albion Brewing helped launch the craft beer industry.
Photos by Jaclyn Nash, courtesy of the National Museum of American History
While some might find it strange that the venerable Smithsonian is devoting time, space and most importantly, money to preserve and display artifacts, photos and interviews to chronicle the 20 th and 21 st century American beer revolution, a statement released by the museum explains why: “The history of brewing in the U.S. is a story of immigration, urban change, technological innovation and evolving consumer tastes.”
A rotating showcase of craft beer memorabilia now forms a major part of the newly revamped food history gallery. Items like the homebrewing mash paddle used by Papazian and a travel notebook that journeyed through Belgium with the founders of Colorado’s seminal New Belgium Brewing (both of whom attended the event), make up the initial display.
Event guests got the added benefit of browsing some objects that aren’t yet on public view.
“Mark Carpenter’s signature in that Anchor Brewing visitor book and their white jumpsuits he and other brewers wore to work,” listed international beer judge Herlinda Heras, who traveled from Santa Rosa, California, to attend. She co-hosts a radio segment on beer with Carpenter, who spent 40 years as Anchor’s head brewer.
McAuliffe, who co-established the long-defunct New Albion in 1976 as the first US ground-up craft brewery since Prohibition, came escorted by his daughter, Renee DeLuca, who contracted Raleigh Brewing to reproduce New Albion ale for the occasion. The 74-year-old Navy veteran from Fayetteville, Arkansas, was also accompanied by his sister, brother and two adult grandchildren.
“It was an amazing experience for Jack to be honored in such prestigious company in the craft brewing world. I know he never could have imagined it when he first opened New Albion! The night was extremely emotional for me, seeing my father recognized in the hallowed halls of the Smithsonian where I had been on nearly every field trip of my life as a kid growing up in suburban Maryland,” DeLuca says.
Seeing the value of McCulla’s work, the Brewers Association has extended the funding for her research through 2022.
“Beer is a thread that runs throughout the fabric of our nation’s history and culture,” she said.
Columbus Beer History
Similar to Cleveland, in the early 1800’s German immigrants began to settle in Columbus in an area later referred to as the German Village. In 1836 Louis Hoster opened the first beer brewery in Columbus, the City Brewery. As more breweries opened over the next several decades, this area became known as the Brewery District. In an effort to help better market their beer, the breweries formed the Columbus Consolidated Brewing Company in 1904. With the passage of National Prohibition, this coalition was hit especially hard. In 1923 Columbus’ first brewery, City Brewery, went out of business.
In 1968 the Anheuser-Busch company opened a Columbus-based base of operations where it brews its domestic beer varieties.
A visual history of the beer can
Today is Beer Can Appreciation Day! While it might seem silly to add this to the never-ending list of “national days,” we’ll take it this time, because beer is great and the evolution of the traditional beer can is even better. The day marks the first sale of a canned beer.
Breweries started toying with the idea of canning beer in the early 1900s, but struggled to figure out how to develop a can that was able to withstand pasteurization and still arrive fresh and tasty for consumers. Once they figured it out, cans underwent even more overhauls.
The first beer can was finally developed in 1933 by American Can, for Gottfried Krueger’s Brewing Company. By the time it hit shelves in 1935, the benefits were already obvious. The cans were lighter than glass bottles and less likely to break. They weren’t totally light, though. The flat-top cans that had to be opened with a churchkey weighed about four ounces each. They were originally made out of tin, then steel, then aluminum in 1958.
It didn’t take long for the development of the small New Jersey brewers to gain national attention. Pabst, out of Milwaukee, jumped on board and started producing their blue ribbon-winning beer in cans in 1935 as well.
The idea of packaging beer in cans was fine and dandy, but not possible for all breweries — especially smaller ones that didn’t have the money to revamp their bottle lines for the new technology. This is where the cone top came in. This design allowed brewers to use their bottle and packaging lines to fill cans, and seal them with bottle caps. According to the Brewery Collectibles Club of America, there were four cone styles: low profile, high profile, J-spout and crowntainer. Though this style was mainly used by smaller breweries, hence why we don’t see many in vintage and antique shops, Schlitz used this design for a while.
After a lull in can production during World War II, canned beer came sweeping back into the mainstream. With more beer brands sticking to canning as opposed to bottling, the need for versatile packaging was less important and cone top cans started fading out. The next iteration of canning started in Pittsburgh, home of aluminum manufacturer Alcoa. Iron City Beer was the first to use the the easy-open can with a pull tab. Not one to sleep on beer trends, Schlitz adopted this style can as well, tweaking it a little with the first finger loop.
For the first time, the sales of canned beer surpassed those of bottled beers.
Since humans are apparently unable to be trusted with small pieces of metal, lest they toss them on the ground, the first fixed tab beer can as we know it now was developed. With the tab and piece of metal staying attached to the can, people and animals rejoiced as they stopped accidentally swallowing sharp pieces of aluminum.
The first fixed tab beer can was produced by Falls City Brewing Company and is used by just about every brewery and soda company to this day. While some hip breweries might use old can designs as part of their gimmick, the 43-year old design still seems to be going strong!
Making Beer - HISTORY
Beer was a result of the Agricultural Revolution (c. 10,000 BC), as fermentation was an accidental by-product of the gathering of wild grain. It’s said that beer was not invented but discovered, yet the manufacturing of beer was an active choice and the ancient Egyptians produced and consumed it in huge volumes.
When I began this project, like many of my contemporaries I believed that ancient Egyptian beer would be revolting. I expected a thick, tasteless, gruel-like mixture that was mildly alcoholic. But the brewers on the team thought otherwise – quite rightly they argued there was no way the Egyptians would be making beer in such quantities if it was not good. But to all of our surprise, it didn’t just work, but it was absolutely delicious!
Using traditional methods and ingredients, we aimed to get as close as possible to a beer the ancient Egyptians would have drunk. Our research started in the British Museum, using objects in Rooms 62 and 63 to guide our initial research. We had further input from curators and physical anthropologists to focus our findings, and used archaeological reports and chemical analysis of pots to refine our method. We were also guided by an ancient Sumerian poem, the Hymn to Ninkasi (goddess of beer).
Our contemporary ceramic vessel. Photo: Tasha Marks.
So, how is ancient Egyptian beer different from what we drink today?
Then: In ancient Egypt, beer was so essential it was treated principally as a type of food – it was consumed daily and in great quantities at religious festivals and celebrations. Beer was an essential for labourers, like those who built the pyramids of Giza, who were provided with a daily ration of 1⅓ gallons (over 10 pints). Yet it still had divine status, with several gods and goddesses associated with beer. Hathor, the goddess of love, dance and beauty, was also known as ‘The Lady of Drunkenness’.
Now: Beer is still very popular, but I wouldn’t say it has ‘divine status’, and a liquid lunch is now a little frowned upon (especially if you are operating heavy machinery!)
Female figure with face of Hathor. From the Temple of Hathor, Faras, Nubia (in modern Sudan), 18th Dynasty (c. 1550–1292 BC).
Then: In the Museum’s Egyptian galleries, you can see models excavated from tombs which show wooden figures of brewers straining mash through a cloth into ceramic vessels. This visual clue, alongside the research of Delwen Samuel, led us to use a two-stage mash, which we then left to ferment in a vessel containing a harvested yeast culture. The advantage of a two-stage mash is its simplicity. The cold mash is made using ambient temperature water and a malted, ground grain. This mash will contain all the active enzymes required to convert starch to sugar. The second mash, which is processed at the same time, consists of ground, unmalted grain. This is mixed with hot water and further heated.
There is evidence of heat exposure on ceramic brewing vessels found in Egypt. It is unlikely that earthenware would be heated above 80 degrees (as it would compromise the material), so this was the temperature to which we heated the hot portion of the mash. Heating grain to this temperature allows the starches present to unravel, but kills the enzymes. By preparing the two mixtures separately and then combining them, both the accessible starches and the enzymes required to convert them are present in the final mix.
The hot mash and the cold mash were mixed together and left to cool, so that the enzymes could start to convert the starches in the grains to fermentable sugars. When cool, the mash was sieved of any residual grain, directly into the terracotta fermenting vessel, which had been pre-inoculated with a harvested yeast strain. More warm water was used to rinse remaining starches and sugars form the grains. The vessel was covered with a muslin cloth and left to ferment. The resulting beer would have been drunk while still actively fermenting from the ceramic vessel itself.
Now: In modern brewing all of the grain is processed together in a single mixture, within a very narrow temperature window. It is then boiled, which halts any further starch conversion. After which it is cooled and yeast is added. This process allows modern brewers to utilise up to 80–85% of the fermentable sugars. In our ancient Egyptian beer, because there was no boil, all of the starches were converted into sugars and the maximum end amount of alcohol was produced, making it 100% efficient.
Painted wooden model of four figures preparing food and beer. From Sidmant, Egypt, 6th Dynasty (c. 2345–2181 BC).
Then: The ceramic vessel is key to the ancient Egyptian fermenting process, as its porous interior is the ideal surface for the wild yeast culture to grow. It is also cooler to the touch than the ambient temperature, which would be an obvious advantage to brewing in a hot arid climate. With this in mind, it was incredibly fortunate that the father of Michaela Charles (our excellent brewer) is a ceramicist! Inspired by objects in the British Museum’s collection, David White was able to create a contemporary ceramic vessel for us in which to ferment the beer. In keeping with examples in the Museum, it was unglazed but was single fired to a higher level to reduce porosity. It had a wide, open mouth to allow air to circulate and encourage wild yeast to enter. The slight evaporation from its walls also cooled the fermentation.
Now: Modern brewing almost exclusively happens in stainless steel, with wild or harvested yeast cultivation being discouraged in favour of single-strain brewer’s yeast, added in a controlled environment.
Pottery beer jar. From Esna, Egypt, Second Intermediate Period (c. 1650–1550 BC).
Then: The beer was unlikely to have been decanted from many of these large ceramic vessels so a drinking straw was a must. Many academics believe the straw was to prevent sediment being consumed by the drinker. There is an element of that, however it’s also likely to be about hygiene, as many people would have drunk from the same vessel – a bit like one of those fishbowl cocktails served in bars and clubs today.
Egyptian straws would have been made from clay, with holes or a filter at the end to sieve out some of the sediment. These are several much later (early 20th century) examples in the Museum’s collection made from reeds, which may also have been a likely material for ancient Egyptian straws.
Now: You’d probably be laughed out the pub if you used a straw to drink your pint.
Beer-drinking straw made of reed. Zambia, 20th century.
Then: The most noticeable absence in ancient Egyptian beer is hops, as these were not in use until the medieval period. The grain, too, is different, as ancient grain would have been higher in protein and predates modern varieties of wheat and barley. For our ancient Egyptian beer we used emmer, the earliest precursor to modern wheat. It was widely grown in the Fertile Crescent and has been identified by Delwen Samuel and her team on brewery excavations in the ancient workers’ village of Amarna, built in 1350 BC.
Although beer was not routinely made using dates or other flavourings, we decided to present a possible version of a royal brew. Spices and sweetness were a mark of status and I believe that the royal brewery would have been likely to create a more luxurious beer for its illustrious consumers. We paid a visit to the organic store at the British Museum, where we were able to see 5,000-year-old examples of emmer, barley, pomegranates, figs and other edible offerings. Inspired by the experience, we added an Egyptian-style spice mix called dukkah to the brew. Our blend consisted of rose petals, pistachios (the resin of which was also used in Egyptian embalming), sesame seeds, coriander and cumin seed. This is also influenced by the aromatic resins and garlands used in ancient Egyptian funeral preparations. We also tried adding dates, to further enrich the brew and help the wild yeast, as the sugars speed up the fermentation.
Now: All modern beers are made with barley unless they specify otherwise. Hops are a near permanent feature, and flavourings are widespread and experimental. From Earl Grey tea to bacon, we love a flavoured beer – there’s even one with snake’s venom!
Brownware pottery dish containing emmer wheat and barley.
To look back on it now, the Egyptian method makes a fool of modern brewers. We have added so many steps to improve on ancient methods, but our trial illustrates that ancient Egyptian beer ferments faster and is materially more efficient. Working without thermometers and starch tests, without the microbiology of yeast and enzyme conversion, the ancient Egyptian brewers created a crisp refreshing beer, that could have been made continuously in huge volumes.
It is amazing that one can look back and assume the ancient knowledge was lacking in some way. Perhaps there wasn’t a need to store beer for long periods? Perhaps there was a perfectly good method of extending the shelf life of a beer that we have not found evidence of. But I think it is a mistake to look back into history and assume it was in more primitive or less extraordinary than what we can produce today.
Watch the full process, meet the team and find out more about our experiment in the video:
Tasha Marks is a food historian, artist and the founder of AVM Curiosities.
With thanks to Michaela Charles, Head Brewer at the AlphaBeta Brewery, and Susan Boyle, Beer and Wine Consultant at Two Sisters Brewing.
Join Tasha, Susan and other guests from our Pleasant vices series at a special panel discussion on Friday 25 May to discover more delectable treats inspired by history and the Museum’s collection.
Founding Fathers and Beer
Celebrate America’s Holidays the way the men who started them did: with a glass of beer.
It is widely known that the framers of American Independence were men of vision, courage and wisdom. Less well known is the fact that they were also great imbibers of beer.
Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams and James Madison vigorously promoted the brewing industry in the colonies. George Washington operated a small brewery at Mount Vernon. And during the Revolutionary War, he made sure his troops received a quart of beer each day. In their fondness for beer, these great men were only following an American tradition that was already well established. No sooner had the colonies of Pennsylvania, Vermont and New York been founded, than their governors established breweries to provide their subjects with refreshment. Since the first of these was built in 1623, it can be seen that the practice of enjoying beer in America is older than America itself.
America observed its 50th birthday on July 4, 1826. By that time there were already hundreds of breweries to help the new nation celebrate.
Thomas Jefferson wrote much of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia’s Indian Queen Tavern. Later, after two terms as President, he experimented with brewing techniques during his retirement years at Monticello.
Our founding fathers would no doubt be pleased at the role beer has come to play in American life today. It is as much a part of our Fourth of July and Memorial Day celebrations as the sound of a parade or the smell of a barbeque.
From the eastern seaboard to the Pacific coast, it’s a traditional part of a family reunion, a day at the beach, or an afternoon at the ballpark. And the traditional reward for mowing the lawn, clipping the hedge, or cleaning the garage.
So the next time a national holiday provides an occasion to celebrate with a beer, why not toast the men who made it all possible.