Who Brewed Beer First?

Some may say, that the craft beer phenomenon has reached its golden age. Breweries and pubs opening in mass numbers, different varieties of styles and flavors available and like sports, beer has become the social conduit that binds people together. But we all know that beer is not new to contemporary spirit beverages but being rediscovered.

Beer has a very long and rich history. The Gods drank beer and the poor drank beer. Beer was a daily sustenance and had medicinal use. Beer sewed the social fabrics of life!

So, I did some scholarly research and surfed the web! And wanted to know who brewed beer first and it didn’t take too long to find out-about 4500 B.C. loooonnnggggng!

Mother cradle of civilization

Mother cradle of civilization

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away…oops wrong subject! Ok back to the subject at hand…

Mesopotamia, the cradle of western civilization, where early writings emerged, the first laws of the lands, the first armies formed and first fortified grid cities erected, and most important, these desert dwellers were the first to concocted beer to give to their citizens and pay homage to the Gods. Patrick McGovern, an archaeochemist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. And author of Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages. Says that many ancient artifacts, e.g. pots and jugs, have traces of beer residue. And it makes total sense, the Sumerians perfected horticulture and experimented with different foods. Beer being the most sustainable and highly cured healthy beverage, and insured that a bad case of projectile diarrhea was avoided!  McGovern, also believes that beer has a lot to do with human genetic evolution and fostered the development of cultures.

It is said that beer may have been accidentally discovered. With early cultivation methods, wheats and grains where highly harvested and add some of that Tigris magical water and bam…BEER was discovered!!!!

The Sumerian city state -Ebla, is where many of the clay tablets were unearthed that contained lists of beer-making ingredients .

Cuneiform ancient tablet - this piece has a receipt for beer!

Cuneiform ancient tablet – this piece has a receipt for beer!

The tablets date from 2500 BC, and show that Ebla was brewing a hearty selection of beers. Also, other city states (Babylonia) brewed their own flavored beer! (wonder if they had any beer making competitions or beer games, that would be neat?)
Because beer contained plenty of nutrients, every indication is given, in the tablets that beer was a staple of the Sumerian diet—even laborers were paid by beer rations. It is also said that beer may have proceeded bread! What I found most interesting – that beer was consumed with… a straw!
Yes, a straw. While some of us modern day beer connoisseur may squint at the idea of drinking beer from a straw , this Babylonian invention (straw) helped the beer drinker to avoid ending up with the bitter brewing residue in the mouth. These straws were made of metal, bronze, or gold.

Early ritual beer drinking, with a straw!

Early ritual beer drinking, with a straw

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

slender spout on a 4,500-year-old golden beer mug from ancient Mesopotamia was designed to filter out unwanted particles, according to researchers.

slender spout on a 4,500-year-old golden beer mug from ancient Mesopotamia was designed to filter out unwanted particles, according to researchers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beer and religion went hand and hand. The famous ancient “hymn to Ninkasi,” was a poem for a beer recipe!  She was the goddess of beer making and alcohol . She was responsible for providing the gods with beer! She was the deity that was integral with the development of Sumerian culture. Anchor Steam Brewing Co, located in San Francisco, Ca and my personal favorite brewing company, actually experimented with Ninkasi beer recipe and was successful, read about it here.

Ninkasi - Goddess of Beer!

Ninkasi – Goddess of Beer!

Sumerian women were the honorary brewers of that time, and it was a respected occupation. The Sumerians had many different words for beer from `sikaru’ to `dida’ to `ebir’ (which meant `beer mug’) and regarded the drink as a gift from the gods to promote human happiness and well being (that rings true today!!!!)

Hey and you don’t mess with Sumerian beer too! As documented in Hammurabi’s laws (first laws of western civilization)

Under Babylonian rule, Mesopotamian beer production increased dramatically, became more commercialized, and laws were instituted concerning it as paragraphs 108-110 of the Code of Hammurabi make clear:

Law 108

If a tavern-keeper (feminine) does not accept corn according to gross weight in payment of drink, but takes money, and the price of the drink is less than that of the corn, she shall be convicted and thrown into the water.

Law 109
If conspirators meet in the house of a tavern-keeper, and these conspirators are not captured and delivered to the court, the tavern-keeper shall be put to death.

Law 110
If a “sister of a god” open a tavern, or enter a tavern to drink, then shall this woman be burned to death.

Law 108 – had to do with those tavern keepers who poured `short measures’ of beer in return for cash instead of corn (which could be weighed and held to a measure) to cheat their customers; they would be drowned if caught doing so. WOW! talk about zero tolerance!

Beer was commonly used in barter, not for cash sale and a daily ration of beer was provided for all citizens, the amount depending on one’s social status.

The second law 109 concerns tavern keepers encouraging treason by allowing malcontents to gather in their establishment

And the third law 110 – cited concerns women who were consecrated to, or were priestesses of, a certain deity opening a common drinking house or drinking in an already established tavern. The Babylonians had nothing against a priestess drinking beer (as, with the Sumerians, beer was considered a gift from the gods) but objected to one doing so in the same way as common women would. Lets make no mistake, religion was the overall ruler of society and very real, if you dared crossed religion – be ready to burn in hell!

So what we know about early beer brewing, is that it has a long and rich history, it was not a drink to be frowned upon, it was sacred! It was accidentally discovered(I think destiny), mixed wheat and grains and water and bam beer! It provided grub for the masses, gods and deities drank beer, there were written laws and art depicting and cherishing beer, people literally worked for beer! oh and you don’t mess with Sumerian beer or you get a swift kick in the ass or axed!

I don’t know about you guys, but I would have thrived during this era. If they had invented Rock-n-Roll and offered free Wifi – sshhh…I’m submitting my two weeks notice @ work, go straight to my local time-machine and purchasing a one way ticket to Mesopotamia. Tell next time…Cheers!

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~ by Golden Foam Notes on July 10, 2014.

4 Responses to “Who Brewed Beer First?”

  1. Wow, great post GoldenFoam! Totally didn’t know about using beer as a form of exchange, and that it was prized so highly that there was a true entitlement to a certain amount of beer a day. That would be pretty crazy today, walking by your local beer portion office to pick up your 6 pack of brew (not the bud light crap either). The idea of drinking beer at room temp, especially considering that area of the world… would be what… maybe 78-80 degree beer if it is kept inside? lol, maybe they got used to it. Back then, beer provided a much needed buzz while at the same time giving you a disease free beverage with some calories that you needed to get the day’s work done. These days, we don’t really need those extra calories, but taking them out reduces the flavor, so we end up with beer bellies instead. A worthy trade off I think, especially if it keeps the gods from hitting us with meteors or blowing up some volcanoes.

    The straw thing is strange, but I guess it goes along with the beer being warm? Could be it cools it before it gets to your mouth. I have noticed that if you sip beer onto the tip of your tongue, it tastes different than if you push it back farther back. Maybe warmer beer tastes better if you use a straw and suck it back? Worth a shot!

    I think beer was something that flowed freely during good times, when crops were doing well, and there was enough wheat to feed the masses and enough left over for making the nectar of the gods. Also, it was probably a good way of salvaging ruined wheat… say you have a big hail storm right before harvest(just saw this on little house on the prairie), and your wheat gets knocked off and hits the floor. It’s now soggy and ruined, right? Wrong! Pick it up, throw it in some barrels with water, yeast, oats, and you turn that trash into mmmm mmmm good!

  2. This is a great read.
    GoldenFoam, just so you know, they did have wi-fi… in ancient Egypt:

  3. And apparently, touchscreens:

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