historical roots of beer brewing are entwined with those of
early bread baking; this is well known to every serious brewer.
In 1988, we at the Anchor Brewing Company conceived the
idea of exploring the historical relationship between brewing
and baking. Our interest came from reading a newspaper article
about Professor Solomon Katz, of the University of Pennsylvania,
who espouses the theory that the earliest farmers were moved
to stop their nomadic hunting-and-gathering way of life and
settle down to a life built around agriculture because of the
desire to cultivate barley, not for baking bread, but for making
beer! We contacted Professor Katz, who visited the brewery,
and soon we were eagerly discussing his theory. This lead us
to speculate about beers of a slightly later time, when brewing
was organized and in the hands of professionals.
brewers are aware that beer was made thousands of years ago
in ancient Mesopotamia, and that actual brewing records exist
from this "dawn of civilization." These records are
written on clay tablets and come from the ancient culture of
Sumeria and its descendants. Professor Katz assured us that
these tablets could be seen and studied, and thus we conceived
the idea of attempting to brew a beer based on these recipes.
Hidden away among the details on Anchor's 1988
Christmas Ale label is a hint of our early enthusiasm for
this project, a tiny picture of two people drinking beer from
a large jug through long straws. This 6000-year-old design is
the oldest known depiction and evidence of people enjoying beer
together. We reproduced it on our Christmas label with the permission
of the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania.
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of our new brewhouse in August,
1989 we had been planning to brew something special. When the
Institute for Brewing Studies asked us to make a special beer
for the Micro Brewery Conference to be held in San Francisco
that month, we knew, with the combination of circumstances,
it was the perfect occasion to brew the Sumerian Beer!
After reviewing the available literature, and with Professor
Katz's assistance, we began to consider the questions involved.
Gradually, a plan evolved. On the label of our Sumerian beer
is the phrase "Essay, August, 1989"; this expresses
the spirit of our effort. It is an attempt, a try, an essay.
We do not claim to be correct in all details, but we have made
a sincere effort to bring the art and craft of today's brewer
to bear on the mystery of how the ancient beers of earliest
man might have been made over 5000 years ago. There were many
questions to be answered and many decisions to be made before
we could brew. During this time we studied a number of documents
and benefited greatly from the counsel and assistance of many
final plan was as follows: We would try to duplicate mankind's
earliest professionally brewed beer by using the "Hymn
to Ninkasi" as our principal guide. This beautiful document
dates from around 1800 BC and clearly describes the brewing
process in its many phases while singing the praises of Ninkasi,
the ancient Sumerian Goddess of Brewing. Her name appears
in English and Sumerian on our beer's label. As we studied
this beautiful poem, we were intrigued to find almost every
detail had its counterpart in modern brewing practice. So
many of the details ring familiar to a practical brewer's
ear. It was a joy to study this poem line by line, matching
its imagery with modern brewing and malting. We used it as
our basic structure, integrating Ninkasi's brewing process
into our own. We would follow it where we could understand
it, and where there was a mystery or a question, we would
answer it as best we could. If we deviated from it, we would
know why. The English translation from Sumerian is by Professor
Miguel Civil of the Oriental Institute at the University of
Chicago. To our great joy, we soon discovered that Professor
Civil was not only willing to help us with our many questions,
but he brought to our quest a spirit of cheerful enthusiasm
that inspired us.
From this moment, we began to feel a thrilling link with brewers
of ages past. There was a sense of awe as we began to use
the ancient words of the Goddess Ninkasi familiarly. After
many thousands of years, bappir, munu, lal, gestin and
sim were discussed again in a brewhouse. Soon these ancient
words began flying around the world by phone and by fax. We
called Cairo and London and Chicago, Davis and Redding and
Philadelphia. We consulted bakers and food technologists,
grain millers and Sumerologists, farmers and archeologists.
We learned that in Crete today shepherds bake special bread
called "paximathia" from barley; in Sardinia there
is a shepherd's barley bread called "carasau"; in
the Ukraine beer was once made using barley bread. We met
a Polish archaeologist who had actually tasted the modern
cousin of our brew, Bouza Beer, from Egypt. The search continued
during the spring and summer, and we enjoyed the sense of
integrating the brewing trade with the other trades, especially
with that of scholars of the great Sumerian civilization.
Although the "Hymn to Ninkasi" dates from approximately
1800 BC, our goal was to duplicate a
beer from an even earlier era, the earliest beer we could
imagine being made in a professional brewery, at least 1000
years earlier than the poem. This was the reason for our decision
to use barley as the only grain in our beer. Emmer wheat,
and possibly other wheats, were used in small quantities,
along with barley from very early times. We remain uncertain
as to whether or not beers made only from barley would have
been the earliest beers, but our hunch is that they were.
In the poem we find the phrase: ". . . the piles of hulled
grain. . .", and we took this to mean various forms of
barley such as malted, unmalted, and roasted.
Hops were apparently unknown at that time. From a brewer's
perspective this is very significant because today's beers
benefit enormously from the flavors and aromas
of hops. Even in the most modern brewery today, hops have
a beneficial effect on preventing spoilage of beers. There
is inconclusive evidence of alternate flavorings or spices
in the Sumerian beer. We chose to use none at all; however,
a sweet substance of uncertain nature is mentioned twice in
the hymn, so we used honey and dates because we believe these
were the most likely.
To the modern brewer, the most interesting aspect of these
ancient beers is that they were made from bread. Actually,
as the hymn makes clear, the loaves of bread, "bappir,"
were mixed with malted barley to form a mash and thus, just
as in some modern breweries, the natural enzymes in the malt
would convert other starch sources into sugar, forming a complex,
sweet, unfermented wort. Our Sumerian scholars told us that
this "bread" was not only used in brewing, but was
also stored in government warehouses on the national highway
system. For this and other reasons we gradually formed the
opinion that the bread had to have been very dry if it would
keep indefinitely. Baking experiments with barley, and advice
from several sources, led us to conclude that this bread would
have thus been "twice baked."
We used a ratio of about one third "bappir" bread
to two thirds malt in our mash. With hindsight, we would dare
to use more bread. We think it would give our beer more flavor.
Other facts that may interest our fellow microbrewers are
* Bread "bappir": from barley, roasted barley, malted
barley and honey
* Gravity: Original: 11.1 plato; Final: 2.6 apparent
* Alcohol: 3.5% by weight
* Mashed with typical "upward infusion" mashing
* Syrup of dates added to final mash
* Wort not boiled
* Wort cooled quite gradually to simulate lack of modern cooling
* Pitched with a standard top-fermenting yeast.
Anyone desiring further technical information may contact
Many people helped us with their advice and
effort, and we wish to thank the following:
Carol Field, Solomon Katz, Miguel Civil, Al Giusto, Martha
Peterson, Marak Marciniak, Sotiris Kitriliakis, Wolfgang Heimpel,
Terry Wilfong, Bob Moore, and Charlie Papazian.