19 Replies Latest reply on Jun 20, 2013 10:00 AM by Robert Tullman Branched from an earlier discussion.

    Sumerian Beer

    Robert Tullman

      The archaeology of beer and other inebriants is fascinating stuff!!  I hope you will post more about your research into the Sumerian beer and ancient brewing techniques.

       

      I too have heard the theory about grains being cultivated for beer rather than bread, but it always seemed to me that "all grain" brewing was a tough way to generate sugar for fermentation by ancient civilizations struggling to survive. Mead usually lays claim to being the oldest fermented beverage due the ready made fermentables in honey, but the Sumerian beer would seem to predate most Mead origin stories.

       

      This was another interesting re-creation of ancient 'extreme' brewing techinque and a graphic illustration of the importance of the 'hot side' for sanitization as well as extraction and another example of early enzymologists!

       

      Peruvian Chicha

        • Re: Sumerian Beer
          Robert Tullman

          OOPS.. the post above was addressed as a reply to Kent Hilliard from his post in the original thread. I changed the topic title and it spawned a new thread.

          • Re: Sumerian Beer
            Kent Hillard

            I'll be happy to post on Sumerian beer and the like. There's an old debate in anthropology about whether beer or bread was the impetus for grain cultivation. Hard to say, except that more recent evidence for the consumption (not purposeful cultivation) of cereal grains predates the Neolithic by millennia, as part of a varied diet of plants, meat, fish, etc. It's hard to imagine brewing beer at a time when no ceramic vessels were available, although animal skins were likely used to carry liquids. It may be that wine was the earliest alcoholic beverage. Grapes (and other fruit) can carry strains of Saccharomyces (and other organisms) that can allow the must from crushed fruit to ferment without external inoculation, so I can imagine the hypothetical situation where some stone ager gathering grapes and placing them in a skin bag may have found a spritzy, tangy liquid at the bottom when most of the grapes had been eaten, being the juice of broken grapes that had fermented or begun to ferment from the yeast they were carrying. Genetic evidence has suggested that grape domestication may have occurred in the transcaucasus region during the early Neolithic (maybe as much as 10000 years ago). The earliest chemical evidence for wine comes from a site in the Zagros foothills between Iran and Iraq that dates from about 7400 years ago. Ceramic jars found there had been stained on the insides with whatever the contents had been, and when this residue was analyzed (by Patrick McGovern, the guy with the glasses and beard chewing on maize in the picture from the link you posted) it was found to contain the calcium salt of tartaric acid (the latter which occurs in grapes) and terebinth resin (used, perhaps, as a preservative and possibly a flavoring agent--think of Greek retsina wine). Both FTIR and HPLC were used, but it was the UV signatures and retention times of the peaks for these that gave good confirmation. Calcium tartrate (the tartaric acid would have decomposed to the calcium salt, it was assumed, under conditions of diagenesis--the environment of the jars' underground resting place) and terebinth resin were run also as references (the terebinth resin coming from a jar sample recovered from a 3400 year old shipwreck off the coast of Turkey at a place called Uluburun), as was a sample from an identified wine jar (ID'ed by the hieroglyphic marking on the vessel) from an Egyptian tomb of the same age as the shipwreck. The Egyptian wine sample also contained calcium tartrate and terebinth resin, according to the UV signatures and retention times in the chromatogram.

             

            Chemical evidence for beer comes from the same general area, and dates from about 5500 years ago. The marker compound used to determine this was calcium oxalate, and everyone who brews all grain knows about beerstone. The vessel shapes were approximately like those of pictograms in early Sumerian texts that seem to indicate beer, and there were a few other hints as to what the jars might have contained, so it seems likely that it was beer.

             

            It may be that long ago some barley porridge cooked at the right temps (say, slow to heat up to allow some hydrolysis of the starches) that had been perked up with fruit that happened to carry yeast, and that had been left out for a while began to ferment. Beer may have been a serendipitous accident. Who knows?

              • Re: Sumerian Beer
                Robert Tullman

                Fascinating stuff.  In my next life, I think I would like to be Patrick McGovern!!!

                 

                Came across this additional archaeochemicozymurgical exploration:

                 

                Chateau Jiahu

                 

                The Mead community takes the evidence of honey in the brew as a nod toward Mead as the most ancient beverage, but this seemed to be more of a fruity sake.  The description of the Dogfish Head 'clone brew' seems to include malted barley as well, so it may have been more of a braggot.

                  • Re: Sumerian Beer
                    Kent Hillard

                    Thanks for the link, Robert. Yes, the Chinese find is interesting, even if I've always been a bit skeptical about the dates assigned to the jars. It certainly does appear to be the oldest known evidence for an alcoholic beverage, but this doesn't mean that it is the original alcohol. I still feel the evidence for the transcaucasus/Fertile Crescent region is better for the origin of wine and for beer as we sort of know it (as a barley beverage, that is). Time will, hopefully, provide a more accurate picture of the situation. Here is a link to a scholarly paper on the Jiahu drink: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC539767/pdf/pnas-0407921102.pdf. It seems to have been a mixture of rice, honey, and fruit of some kind (hawthorn berries or grapes, perhaps), so again, I suspect it was the fruit that provided the means to ferment.

                     

                    I never have had the Dogfish "clone" of the Jiahu bev and I've looked for it, so it doesn't seem to be available any longer. I have had Midas Touch, that was a Dogfish attempt to recreate the drink contained in large vessels in a ca. 2700 year old tomb at Gordion that may have belonged to the legendary Phrygian king Midas (there seems to have been a feast prepared, including a drink made of wine, barley, and honey). The Dogfish stuff is pretty good.

                     

                    One thing to bear in mind with these recreations is that there are always many assumptions to be made about what the formulation might have been, there are constraints upon the brewer as to ingredients and techniques (they have to remain FDA compliant), and the drink should, ideally, be suitable for public consumption (i.e. modern tastes). Fritz Maytag mentioned some of these practical matters when I chatted with him some years ago, so in the process of brewing Ninkasi beer a number of compromises had to be made. He was hoping that the beer would sell well enough to become a regular Anchor product, and it was offered on tap in some San Francisco locations but never really hit it off with the public. I thought it was pretty good.

                     

                    Have you ever tasted the Dogfish Jiahu drink? If so, what did you think?

                      • Re: Sumerian Beer
                        Kent Hillard

                        Oops. The source of yeast for the Jiahu beverage could have included the honey as well as the fruit, of course.

                         

                        Has anyone ever tried to make mead using just the wild yeast (etc.) contained in the honey?

                          • Re: Sumerian Beer
                            Robert Tullman

                            Thanks for the full article on the Jiahu find. I was craving more information.

                             

                            I have not tried the Dogfish product or any other of the Dogfish ancient recipes, but I am curious enough now to see if they still make any. I think they were very limited runs and probably not available.

                             

                            Early Meads seem to have been made with wild yeasts usually by the expedient of adding various fruits that, like grapes had wild yeasts growing on them also,  meaderies may have been in close proximity to bakeries.

                             

                            Here is one summary:

                             

                            Red Hot Stones and Rainwater: A Historical Look at Fermentation Methods

                             

                            Honey itself is so hygroscopic that it a natural antibiotic and few organisms can live it it, but when throwing in other parts of the comb/hive/pollen there may have been wild yeasts present. Also, once the honey was diluted, airborne yeasts could live in the solution.

                              • Re: Sumerian Beer
                                Matthew Tjosaas

                                Dogfish Head's Midas' Touch is one of my favorites and is still currently listed as a year-round brew (4-pack 12oz bottles). Well worth seeking some out. Their website is quite helpful in finding where DFH is sold, beer specs, and recommended food pairings.

                                 

                                Jiahu is listed under "occasional rarities."

                                 

                                They also brew another ancient concoction called Theobroma. I also recommend seeking this one out.

                                 

                                From DFH website:

                                 

                                This beer is based on chemical analysis of pottery fragments found in Honduras which revealed the earliest known alcoholic chocolate drink used by early civilizations to toast special occasions.  The discovery of this beverage pushed back the earliest use of cocoa for human consumption more than 500 years to 1200 BC.  As per the analysis, Dogfish Head’s Theobroma (translated into 'food of the gods') is brewed with Aztec cocoa powder and cocoa nibs (from our friends at Askinosie Chocolate), honey, chilies, and annatto (fragrant tree seeds). It's light in color - not what you expect with your typical chocolate beer. Not that you'd be surpised that we'd do something unexpected with this beer!

                                • Re: Sumerian Beer
                                  Kent Hillard

                                  I was just wondering if yeast in honey might be able to ferment if diluted with water. In any case it makes good sense that fruit might have been added to initiate fermentation or, as you suggest, mead were produce in or very near a baking area where yeast might be carried to the honey by insects. Airborne yeasts do not seem to be able to make a palatable beverage. An experiment was done a while back using airborne yeast to ferment a barley wort, and the results were not good: http://www.brewingtechniques.com/library/backissues/issue2.5/hitchcock.html.

                                   

                                  Thanks for the link. It looks interesting. I haven't had a chance to look it over but will soon. Here is a nice little paper by the late Bob Mortimer on the evolution of Saccharomyces (with an overview of its relationship with humans): http://genome.cshlp.org/content/10/4/403.full.pdf+html.

                                  • Re: Sumerian Beer
                                    Kent Hillard

                                    Reading "Red hot stones and rainwater" reminded me of this experiment:

                                     

                                    http://www.mooregroup.ie/2007/10/the-archaeology-ireland-article/

                                  • Re: Sumerian Beer
                                    Brian Elkington

                                    I managed to get a batch of mead to ferment using only naturally occuring yeasts. This was achieved by diluting 1 lb. honey in a half-gallon of water then fermenting in a growler bottle. Used sterilized fermenter/airlock/water/etc. with honey right out of the jar.  No heating or added sulfites, etc.

                                     

                                    I don't know that I will try it again as the flavor of the finished product was akin to honey-sweetened band-aids. Not very appealing.

                                      • Re: Sumerian Beer
                                        Kent Hillard

                                        Thanks for the info on honey yeast, Brian, that's interesting to know.  See the link above I posted to an article in Brewing Techniques, where an attempt was made to ferment barley wort using airborne yeast. Your result sounded better.

                                        • Re: Sumerian Beer
                                          Robert Tullman

                                          Sadly, I have had 'band-aid' Meads too even when pitching with good commercial yeasts. Band-Aid flavor seems to be related to the formation of chlorophenols, usually from residual bleach that was used as sanitizer. My band-aid Mead vessels and ingredients never saw bleach, so I'm not sure where it came from. I have well water, so no chlorine from there either.

                                           

                                          I had high hopes for my Band-Aid mead, made with a juice that Apple and Eve used make which had Mango and Passionfruit juice.  They seem to have stopped making Mango-Passion juice, but probably not because too many mead makers ended up with bad batches 

                                           

                                          Some say it can come from fermentation at high temps or over-stressed yeast, which may increase the phenolic character and may be band-aid-like even without the chlorine.

                                • Re: Corn Chica and Yuca Nijimanche
                                  Bill Stevenson

                                  That was an interesting article from the NY Times on a modern brewery replicating traditional saliva-processed South American corn beer--chica. But as the article mentioned the result was hardly authentic; the brew was made with so much barley (unknown in pre-Columbian America) that the end product came out more like a standard beer.


                                  South Americans used a variety of starchy starting materials to make beer. Here are Lewis Cotlow's impressions of nijimanche, a traditional yuca based beer, quoted from his book "In Search of the Primative."

                                   

                                  "One of the women walked from the other end of the jivara, took up a gourd or bowl, and filled it with a liquid from a very large pottery  jar that stood on the floor. As I watched, I realized how thirsty I was. 'This is nijimanche,' I told myself, 'beer made from the yuca, chewed by the women, spat into a bowl, fermented by their saliva. Can I drink it?'

                                   

                                  The woman brought the bowl to me, and I took it in both hands. I wanted a drink badly and I thought I should drink anyway, for the sake of courtesy. I put the bowl to my lips and took a tentative sip. The taste of nijimanche wasn't bad at all! It had quite a rich, malty flavor. I took a deeper drink, not even thinking about how it was made. People are silly about such things anyway, I told myself. What's wrong with saliva? "

                                   

                                  I think Cotlow was off about the beer being fermented by saliva. The enzymes in saliva break down starch into sugars, but the yeast converts these to alcohol.

                                  • Re: Sumerian Beer
                                    Robert Tullman

                                    Hey! Finally something to update the Sumerian Beer Thread:

                                     

                                    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/18/us/for-its-latest-beer-a-craft-brewer-chooses- an-unlikely-pairing-archaeology.html

                                     

                                    CLEVELAND — The beer was full of bacteria, warm and slightly sour. 

                                     

                                    By contemporary standards, it would have been a spoiled batch here at Great Lakes Brewing Company, a craft beer maker based in Ohio, where machinery churns out bottle after bottle of dark porters and pale ales. 

                                    But lately, Great Lakes has been trying to imitate a bygone era. Enlisting the help of archaeologists at the University of Chicago, the company has been trying for more than year to replicate a 5,000-year-old Sumerian beer using only clay vessels and a wooden spoon...............