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Article published by smithsonianmag.com

Strict gender norms pushed them out of a centuries-long tradition

Alewives drinking together
Three women dressed in period garb as alewives. The tall hats became a part of witch iconography. (Hulton-Deutsch Collection / Corbis via Getty Images)

smithsonianmag.com 
March 8, 2021

Editor’s note, March 17, 2021: Last week, we ran this story that originally appeared on The Conversation, a nonprofit news outlet that publishes writing by academic experts from around the world. After publishing, we heard from multiple scholars who disagreed with the framing, analysis and conclusions discussed in the article below. They argue, in fact, that contemporary depictions of witches originated in sources other than women brewers and that the transfer from women to men of the work of brewing, in various geographic and historical settings, came about for economic and labor reasons. We addressed a number of factual errors in our March 10, 2021, editor’s note, found at the bottom of the page, and we have changed the headline from its original version.

To understand the fuller context of this history, we encourage readers to also look at two blog posts from historian and archaeologist Christina Wade, linked here and here, and an essay by beer and spirits writer Tara Nurin, linked here, as recommended by the Smithsonian’s own brewing historian, Theresa McCulla, curator of the American Brewing History Initiative at the National Museum of American History.

What do witches have to do with your favorite beer?

When I pose this question to students in my American literature and culture classes, I receive stunned silence or nervous laughs. The Sanderson sisters didn’t chug down bottles of Sam Adams in “Hocus Pocus.” But the history of beer points to a not-so-magical legacy of transatlantic slander and gender roles.

Up until the 1500s, brewing was primarily women’s work—that is, until a smear campaign accused women brewers of being witches. Much of the iconography we associate with witches today, from the pointy hat to the broom, may have emerged from their connection to female brewers.

A routine household task

Humans have been drinking beer for almost 7,000 years, and the original brewers were women. From the Vikings to the Egyptians, women brewed beer both for religious ceremonies and to make a practical, calorie-rich beverage for the home.

In fact, the nun Hildegard von Bingen, who lived in modern-day Germany, famously wrote about hops in the 12th century and added the ingredient to her beer recipe.

From the Stone Age to the 1700s, ale – and, later, beer – was a household staple for most families in England and other parts of Europe. The drink was an inexpensive way to consume and preserve grains. For the working class, beer provided an important source of nutrients, full of carbohydrates and proteins. Because the beverage was such a common part of the average person’s diet, fermenting was, for many women, one of their normal household tasks.

Some enterprising women took this household skill to the marketplace and began selling beer. Widows or unmarried women used their fermentation prowess to earn some extra money, while married women partnered with their husbands to run their beer business.

Witch from Hansel and Gretel
A 1916 illustration of the witch from the German children’s fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel.”(GraphicaArtis via Getty Images)

Exiling women from the industry

So if you traveled back in time to the Middle Ages or the Renaissance and went to a market in England, you’d probably see an oddly familiar sight: women wearing tall, pointy hats. In many instances, they’d be standing in front of big cauldrons.

But these women were no witches; they were brewers.

They wore the tall, pointy hats so that their customers could see them in the crowded marketplace. They transported their brew in cauldrons. And those who sold their beer out of stores had cats not as demon familiars, but to keep mice away from the grain. Some argue that iconography we associate with witches, from the pointy hat to the cauldron, originated from women working as master brewers.

Just as women were establishing their foothold in the beer markets of England, Ireland and the rest of Europe, the Reformation began. The fundamentalist religious movement, which originated in the early 16th century, preached stricter gender norms and condemned witchcraft.

Male brewers saw an opportunity. To reduce their competition in the beer trade, these men accused female brewers of being witches and using their cauldrons to brew up magic potions instead of booze.

Unfortunately, the rumors took hold.

Over time, it became more dangerous for women to practice brewing and sell beer because they could be misidentified as witches. At the time, being accused of witchcraft wasn’t just a social faux pas; it could result in prosecution or a death sentence. Women accused of witchcraft were often ostracized in their communities, imprisoned or even killed.

Some men didn’t really believe that the women brewers were witches. However, many did believe that women shouldn’t be spending their time making beer. The process took time and dedication: hours to prepare the ale, sweep the floors clean and lift heavy bundles of rye and grain. If women couldn’t brew ale, they would have significantly more time at home to raise their children. In the 1500s some towns, such as Chester, England, actually made it illegal for most women to sell beer, worried that young alewives would grow up into old spinsters.

Witches in a Graveyard with Cauldron
Tools for brewing beer—like the cauldron—became part of the popular iconography associated with witches. (Historica Graphica Collection / Heritage Images via Getty Images)

Men still run the show

The iconography of witches with their pointy hats and cauldrons has endured, as has men’s domination of the beer industry: The top 10 beer companies in the world are headed by male CEOs and have mostly male board members.

Major beer companies have tended to portray beer as a drink for men. Some scholars have even gone as far as calling beer ads “manuals on masculinity.”

This gender bias seems to persist in smaller craft breweries as well. A study at Stanford University found that while 17 percent of craft beer breweries have one female CEO, only 4 percent of these businesses employ a female brewmaster—the expert supervisor who oversees the brewing process.

It doesn’t have to be this way. For much of history, it wasn’t.

Editor’s note, March 10, 2021: This article has been updated to acknowledge that it isn’t definitively known whether alewives inspired some of the popular iconography associated with witches today. It has also been updated to correct that it was during the Reformation that accusations of witchcraft became widespread.This article was originally published on The ConversationRead the original article.

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Beer-drinking cups being excavated at Khani Masi held some of the earliest chemical evidence of beer. Researchers had to take extra precautions to avoid contaminating the cups with modern compounds. (Courtesy Sirwan Regional Project)

Original article:

Smithsonianmag.com

Researchers are working on resurrecting the recipe

 

Archaeologists have long known beer was important in the ancient world, but mainly from writings and drawings—finding actual archaeological evidence of the fermented beverage has been a major challenge.

But archaeologists have now employed a new technique to detect beer residues in nearly 2,500-year-old clay cups dug up in a site in northern Iraq.

“What Elsa [Perruchini] has demonstrated is the chemical signature of fermentation in the vessels that also contains the chemical signatures consistent with barley,” says Claudia Glatz, a senior lecturer in archaeology at the University of Glasgow and a coauthor of a study published recently in the Journal of Archaeological Science. “Putting those together is the interpretation that this is barley beer.”

The use of the technique will likely prove groundbreaking, giving archaeologists a chance to find beer at other excavations. But it is also helping Glatz and Perruchini, a PhD archaeology student at the university and the lead author of the study, understand more about the Babylonian Empire’s outer reaches during a period of cultural upheaval.

Archaeologists have long known beer has been around in Mesopotamia from iconography which showed beer drinking and references to the beverage in old accounting texts describing beer given as rations. Among the best known examples are those found in the Sumerian Hymn to Ninkasi dating to roughly 1800 BC. A beer recipe in the form of a poem, the text praises the beer goddess Ninkasi for soaking malt in a jar and spreading mash on reed mats, among other things.

Further references to beer can be found in the Epic of Gilgamesh – a Mesopotamian poem considered the oldest surviving work of literature—in which Enkidu, a “wild man” who grew up in the forest, drinks seven jugs of beer and decides he likes civilization enough to become Gilgamesh’s sidekick.

“[Beer] is a quintessential Mesopotamian food stuff,” says Glatz. “Everyone drank it but it also has a social significance in ritual practices. It really defines Mesopotamian identities in many ways.”

The earliest physical trace of beer dates back to the late fourth millennium BC in present day Iran at a site called Godin Tepe, where archaeologists found what is known as beerstone, a chemical byproduct related to the brewing process and visible to the eye, on ancient ceramic material.

But Perruchini got downright microscopic, examining the chemicals present in the residues clinging to the clay of old cups and jars. She and Glatz are involved with a larger archaeological project at the site, called Khani Masi, exploring the evidence of imperial expansion of the Babylonians into the Diyala River valley. The area, in present day Kurdistan in northern Iraq, is key because it formed a travel hub, connecting the lowlands where some of the world’s first cities and imperial powers were formed with the resource-rich Zagros Mountains.

“Those are very important long distance exchange routes that are leading through this area,” Glatz says.

The excavated section of Khani Masi Perruchini and Glatz are working on dates from 1415 BC to 1290 BC, the late Bronze Age, according to the material evidence such as pottery and the evidence of burial practices excavated. Perruchini was interested in seeing how the people who lived in the area identified culturally, and what better way to get to the bottom of this than examining the food and drink they consumed?

Perruchini says that she first tried to use more traditional chemistry techniques to test the residues, but found the results had been contaminated.

“During an excavation, usually people are touching everything, so it’s going to leave residuals on it,” she says.

One particularly troublesome contaminant comes from the sunscreen often used in sun-drenched digs. As Perruchini notes, some chemical compounds in sunscreen are similar to wine, which could be confusing archaeologists in some cases.

Perruchini decided to take the lab directly to the field, handling freshly excavated bowls or cups with gloves to get more reliable results before anyone else got their hands on them.

“This isn’t something that is discussed a whole lot in the organic residue work in archaeology,” Glatz says. “So Elsa’s method is actually very important in gaining reliable archaeological results – that is not something that has happened so much in the past.”

Perruchini then analyzed the distinct compounds of the residues using gas chromatography, a technique that separates the various compounds present in a mixture. Gas chromatography had not been used in archaeology to examine a collection of compounds to identify something like beer, and the method allowed her to get very specific in her analysis. The team could ignore any contemporary chemicals, while an analysis of soil samples taken from outside the clay vessels allowed them to rule out any soil contamination which could have affected the residues over the past two millennia and “only focus on archaeologically significant compounds.” They then compared the remaining compounds with residues left from modern-day beer samples and found they matched.

“It’s actually very affordable,” Perruchini says about the process, adding that other archaeologists should be able to repeat her technique to identity beer or other residues in ancient remains.

“They were really able to get a gold mine of information out of these pots,” says Mara Horowitz, an archaeology lecturer at Purchase College at the State University of New York who was not involved in the recent work. “It looks like they have done what we’ve all been dreaming about doing.”

She adds that it’s a pity that so many cups already excavated can no longer be examined in this way, since they have likely already been contaminated by modern chemicals.

Augusta McMahon, a reader in Mesopotamian archaeology at the University of Cambridge, agrees that many archaeologists – herself included – haven’t been careful enough when handling old pots and other material evidence, other than keeping certain objects within the protocols required for radiocarbon dating. She added the study was “very exciting” and “good science.”

But both McMahon and Horowitz are also interested in the social aspect of the study and what it means.

According to iconography and excavations from sites older than Khani Masi, Mesopotamians usually drank beer from straws in a larger communal jar around the third millennium BC. But in the subsequent millennium, these larger beer jugs start to give way to individual vessels.

“We have this explosion of a very diverse range of drinking cups,” Glatz says, adding that archaeologists in the past assumed the “daintier vessels” were used for wine. But their chemical analysis shows they held beer.

Horowitz says that the shift to these cups gives archaeologists a sense of social processes, as well as marks of status and power depending on the degree of work that went into their design.

“Interactions at a site like Khani Masi can really give us a sense of what’s going on in a local scale,” she says.

Khani Masi was contemporary with the Kassite rule of the Babylonian empire in Mesopotamia and likely under Kassite control. The Kassites, who likely originated from the Zagros Mountains, assimilated many of the previous Mesopotamian cultural traditions and had diplomatic relations with other empires such as the Assyrians and the Egyptians.

“Khani Masi very much looks like another outpost if you like, or a settlement of Kassite origin in some ways,” Glatz says. But their analysis of the cups shows that while it may have sat near the edges of the empire, the locals drank beer similar to other Mesopotamians, indicating that cultural practices from the center of the empire had spread to the fringes.

Beer was important to the Mesopotamians because the malting process helps to preserve the grains for longer, while fermentation increased the grains’ nutritional value.

Or, in the words of McMahon, “It’s what most people drink because the water is not so good.”

Of course, the mild buzz was a draw, too – even the Hymn to Ninkasi notes the wonderful feeling and blissful mood of drinking beer.

Without a fridge handy, the stuff wouldn’t have lasted very long. “Mesopotamians would have been brewing beer constantly,” Glatz says.

The question on everyone’s minds, of course, is how the beer tasted. Perruchini and more of Glatz’s students are attempting to find out by brewing beer using techniques described in the Hymn to Ninkasi and ingredients which they think would lead to residues similar to those they’ve found at Khani Masi.

The trouble is, there were a number of types of beer described in old Mesopotamian texts, whether golden, red or dark ales, and Perruchini and her colleagues are uncertain of all the ingredients. Unlike other researchers who recently tried to reproduce 4,000-year old Hittite beer with tasty results, Perruchini says that they have not even tasted the stuff they brewed in their class yet.

“It smells so terrible,” she says

 

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20121130-120126.jpg

Topic: Beer

One of the oldest microbreweries in history has been found in Cyprus and University of Manchester archaeologists are raising a glass to their ‘healthy’ discovery.

Microbreweries may be an inviting and trendy way to explore the world’s kookiest ales, beers and beyond, but researchers have now discovered that our ancestors were supping different flavoured concoctions three-and-a half-thousand years ago as a safer alternative to bread and water.

The team who excavated the two by two metre domed mud-plaster structure, led by Dr Lindy Crewe, have demonstrated it was used as a kiln to dry malt to make beer.

According to Dr Crewe, beers of different flavours would have been brewed from malted barley and fermented with yeasts with an alcoholic content of around 5%. The yeast would have either been wild or produced from fruit such as grape or fig.

She said: “Archaeologists believe beer drinking was an important part of society from the Neolithic onwards and may have even been the main reason that people began to cultivate grain in the first place.

“But it’s extremely rare to find the remains of production preserved from thousands of years ago so we’re very excited.

“The excavation of the malting kiln with associated sets of pottery types and tools left in place gives us a fantastic opportunity to look at Bronze Age toolkits and figure out techniques and recipes.”

The oven discovered by the archaeologists was positioned at one end of a 50 metre square courtyard with a plastered floor.

They found grinding tools and mortars which may have been used to break down the grain after it was malted, a small hearth and cooking pots made of clay to cook the beer gently.

They also found juglets, which they believe probably contained yeast additives or sweeteners to produce beers of different strengths or flavours. The beers’ ingredients were found by the team as carbonised seeds.

She added: “Beer was commonly drunk because it is more nutritious than bread and less likely to contain harmful pathogens than drinking water which can make you ill.

“But alcoholic beverages were also used to oil the wheels of business and pleasure in much the same way as today: work brought communities together for tasks such as bringing in the harvest or erecting special buildings.

“Instead of payment, participants are rewarded with a special feast, often involving quantities of alcohol, which also transformed the work from a chore into a social event.

“The people of the Bronze Age, it seems, were well aware of the relaxing properties of alcohol.”

An experimental archaeology team, led by Ian Hill of HARP Archaeology, recreated the drying kiln using traditional techniques, to test Dr Crewe’s theory in August .

The modern version used hot air to produce a temperature of 65° C – perfect conditions for heating and drying grains but still preserving it’s enzymes and proteins.

He said: “After the beers had been strained, we felt they were all pretty drinkable, though some varieties were better than others.

“The grape was less pleasant – a bit too sweet– the outcomes are less reliable when using wild yeasts, compared to brewers yeast, but the fig beer was definitely the most popular.”

Original article:
By dean Wilkins
mancunianmatters.co.uk

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Beer Brewing Supplies and Ingredients

Image by billread via Flickr

Topic: Home brewing ancient beer

Fast upon Mondays high response to my post( 589 hits my highest one day total so far), my husband ( the archaeologist) found the following article on BrewingTechniques.com.

I thought you might find it of interest.

My only objection lies in the postscript where the author describes setting out the sprouted barley gruel out in the open air-that might have worked just fine in ancient times but with the environment we have today it’s no wonder he found mold, weevils in his mash. If you try this use cheese cloth over your mix and it should elevate much of your problems. Also you can leave you mixture indoors wild yeast are everywhere. While leaving your mixture indoors probably isn’t what the ancients did, we will never know, they also didn’t have out pollution. I have had excellent results capturing wild yeasts with this method both for my sourdough bread and my wild yeast mead.

Intrigued by Anchor Brewing’s reproduction of an ancient beer according to the Sumarian Hymn to Ninkasi, one home brewer set out to reproduce his own interpretation of an even earlier beer.

As both a paleontologist and home brewer, I could not help but be attracted by the media coverage of the reproduction of an ancient Sumarian beer. The beer, called Ninkasi after the Sumarian goddess of beer, was produced by the Anchor Brewing Company (San Francisco, California), based on a hymn inscribed on a clay tablet (1). Dr. Solomon Katz of the University of Pennsylvania and Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing worked to decipher the brewing clues contained within the hymn to reproduce the beverage so revered by the ancient Sumarians.

Apart from the sense of accomplishment in reproducing a piece of the ancient past, Katz and Maytag’s work also added new information to an old debate. Anthropologists have long argued over whether beer or bread was the primary reason for the origins of agriculture (2,3). Katz and Maytag proceeded on the premise that an understanding of beer production methods of 4000 years ago could be used as a stepping stone from which to view the origins and evolution of beer. This, in turn, would provide a glimpse into the lives and cultures of the first nomadic tribes to settle into agrarian civilizations.

I decided to borrow their stepping stone and have a look into the past for myself. We know barley has been cultivated for at least 9000 years (4). I wondered what a beer of that era would have been like, a beer that is more than twice as old as the recipe reproduced from the Sumarian hymn. I decided to try some simple qualitative experiments in my kitchen. I managed not only to produce a beer that could have been made over 9000 years ago, but also to explore the intimate link between beer and bread. These experiments led me to the conclusion that the argument over the primacy of bread vs. beer is as academic as that of the chicken vs. egg.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF A PRIMARY INGREDIENT

To set the stage for the origins of beer, consider the other uses of grain. Undoubtedly the first use of grain, before either bread or beer, was to make gruel (2). Bread is effectively a cooked dense gruel and comes in three basic types. Unleavened bread, such as the tortilla, is the simplest form. It requires pulverized grain (flour) and water and is baked on a hot stone. It has a small volume and requires little in terms of ingredients. Leavened bread, with which we are most familiar, requires a large volume of flour, water, a source of sugars, and yeast. A third and less well known, bread is made from sprouted grains. The grains are sprouted, ground to paste, and baked in a loaf. The resultant loaf is very dense, sweet and cakelike, and is in effect a kilned malt.
One could argue endlessly on the basis of parsimony, culture, and archaeological evidence over the order of appearance of breads and beer. Whether sprouted bread was a derivative of sprouted gruel or unleavened bread may never be known. What we can be certain of is that people 10,000 years ago experimented with ways to consume grain. Somewhere in these experiments they discovered beer.

The question of how beer was discovered becomes academic. Beer may have been discovered through stewing sprouted bread, heating sprouted gruel, or unintentionally cooking grains that were stored in a damp place. Fermentation was most likely due to airborne microorganisms but may have been aided by the addition of fruit, raw grains, or other ingredients bearing surface yeast and bacteria. The serendipitous “accident” of making beer probably happened not once, but several times before the right blend of microorganisms produced a palatable beverage. I have no doubt, however, that once a pleasant tasting broth with euphoric effects was produced, word traveled fast.

ANCIENT BREWING TECHNIQUES

How was the beer made and what was it like? This question can be broken down into an examination of technology, ingredients, and procedures. The technology at the time of the origin of beer was not well developed but sufficient to make fire, tools of wood and stone, and a container of some sort. These are all it takes to make beer.
The main ingredient in beer is malt, which is a sprouted grain. Many grains can be and are used, including millet, corn, rice, wheat, spelt, and barley. We know from archaeological records that barley and wheat have been cultivated for at least 9000 years (4). Barley makes a poor bread because of its low gluten content, so we may safely assume that if people were brewing, they likely used barley and may have used wheat and other grains as well. The malt may have taken any of a number of forms. Dry malt may have been made for storage by either drying the sprouted grains in the sun, or baking sprouted loaves until hard. The very earliest beers may well have been made from raw sprouted grains that had undergone no drying or kilning.

The process for making the original beers was undoubtedly abbreviated compared with modern beers, which undergo separate mashing, boiling, and fermentation steps. The first beers likely underwent a continuous mash and fermentation. Sprouted grains were ground and mixed with water in a vessel of wood or even in skin bags. This vessel was heated either by fire, by dropping in heated rocks, or by setting it out in the hot sun. Fermenting flora would have been introduced from both the grains and the air. The fermented gruel could then be consumed, or the liquid could be drawn off as beer and the remaining grains and yeast mixed with wheat flour to make a leavened bread.

The fermentation of ancient beers would have involved many different yeasts and bacteria. The trick would have been to keep the pH down low enough to inhibit noxious bacteria. A “sour mash” process, in which the warm mash is inoculated with Lactobacillus from the grain husks, can grow some truly foul aerobic organisms if exposed to air. Presumably the “sour mash” portion of the fermentation was brief, or some acidity was built up during the sprouting process.

With the invention of ceramics, the process could be much more refined. The mash could be cooked over a fire, and the liquid could be drawn off and fermented separately. Eventually, techniques would have evolved to preferentially select certain strains of microflora by the addition of fruit, which bear yeast on the surface, or by using a “magic stick” to stir the wort and transmit yeasts between batches.

ANCIENT BEER, HOME BREWED IN MY KITCHEN

To experience part of the ancient past, I wanted to reproduce an early beer. I decided to start with beer that could have been made with a mash cooked in clay pots. The idea was to sprout grains of barley and wheat, use some of the sprouted grains to make sprouted loaves, cook up a mash of sprouted grains and sprouted bread, and transfer the liquid and ferment it. To round out the experiment, I decided to collect the yeast sediment and any grains from the bottom of the fermentor and mix these with stone-ground whole wheat flour to make leavened bread.
Ingredients: I picked up the grains from a health food store. In addition to barley, I decided to include wheat and spelt for variety. Unfortunately, the barley was hulled. I knew the hulled barley could lead to problems but decided to take my chances for this first attempt.

To make the malt, I sprouted the grains in mason jars with perforated lids (these can be purchased at a health food store or made at home). I placed 200-250 g of grain in each 1-L jar and filled the jars with cold water, rotating them to ensure even wetting. I left the grains to soak in water for 24 h; I then inverted the jars and left them on a dish rack to drain. I rinsed the grains every 12 h and again left them to drain. After every rinsing I examined the grains for signs of germination. Germination was uneven, so the termination point was somewhat arbitrary; I stopped the sprouting when many of the acrospires had reached grain length and not too many had grown much longer. The wheat and spelt grains were ready in two to three days, whereas the barley took seven or more days to sprout sufficiently. By the time the barley was ready for use, the moist grains emitted a vinegary aroma, perhaps from the activity of bacteria in the grain bed.

I gave the grains a final rinse, drained them, and dumped those destined to become sprouted bread into a food processor for grinding (I could not find a mortar and pestle large enough). I emptied the resulting thick starchy paste of whole and partial grains onto a flat ceramic baking pan and formed it into “biscuits,” 15-18 cm in diameter and 2-3 cm thick. These biscuits were then baked at various temperatures and times to observe the different results. I opted for flat biscuits rather than domed loaves because the flat shape would dry more thoroughly for better storage; the dome-shaped store-bought sprouted bread must be kept frozen to prevent mold from growing on the moist, sweet loaf.

I baked the biscuits at 120-175 °F (50-80 °C) for 8-18 h. Those baked at 150 °F (65 °C) for about 10 h seemed to be the most pleasant tasting. Those baked at lower temperatures (120 °F [50 °C]) remained sticky and pasty even after 12 h and required flipping and a further 6 h of baking. Those baked in a stepwise manner (130 °F [55 °C] for 1 h, 150-160 °F [65-70 °C] for 2 h, and 175 °F [80 °C] for 8 h) came out darkened to the color of dark Munich malt or British brown (porter) malt, depending on the original moisture content. The flavor of the wheat and spelt biscuits was better than that of the barley biscuits, though they all tasted of malt.

Recipe design: With biscuits and sprouting barleycorns, I set about trying to design a recipe that could be produced by people of 10,000 years ago and that could be reproduced easily and reliably. Ancient cultures undoubtedly experimented until they achieved desirable results. I chose not to reproduce all of these experiments, but rather to shortcut that process by calling on more modern knowledge of brewing science. I had to remind myself, though, that the experiment was to reproduce a fermented beverage of the ancients, and not to brew a competition beer from which I expected perfect extraction or crystal clarity.

Mashing: The mashing technique I finally settled on was a sort of decoction. The technique has the advantage of producing the desired temperatures without actually having to measure those temperatures with a thermometer. A half and half mixture of boiling mash and room temperature mash would give a temperature of approximately 140 °F (60 °C). If this resulting mash were slowly heated, it would pass through the starch conversion temperature range, through mash-out temperatures, and on to boiling. The extracted wort would be boiled, cooled slowly, and fermented.

Fermentation: Fermentation was another dilemma. I was not about to expose this wort to the microorganisms in my kitchen, which have been responsible for more than one spoiled batch of beer. And I did not wish to use commercially available lambic cultures, because I was not producing a lambic-style beer. Some have suggested that ancient beers were fermented with a combination of Saccharomyces and Schizosaccharomyces (5), but I had no local source of the latter. Instead, I recalled a portion of Katz and Maytag’s interpretation of the Hymn to Ninkasi wherein they supposed that fruits, such as grapes (or raisins) or dates, may have been added, not as a flavoring but as a source of wild yeasts which normally live on the skins of these fruits (1).

I decided against using grapes to supply the yeast because fresh fruit is not readily available in Halifax in late fall. What is available has been shipped long distances and likely contains both pesticides and fruit fly eggs. I could have used a mix of pure wine and beer cultures to simulate wild yeasts, but instead I chose to culture the yeast from a batch of fresh unpasteurized sweet apple cider. This technique provided an inoculation with microorganisms known to produce fermentation without actually controlling the numbers or strains of those organisms. The beer was intended to be consumed young, so I was not overly concerned about spoilage or long-term storage. The recipe and procedure I settled on is shown in the accompanying box.

For those interested in specific numbers, the original gravity was 1.071 (much of it from dissolved starches). The final gravity was quite high as well – 1.033. As it fermented, the starch in suspension formed a pellicle on top of the kraeusen. As the foam fell, the starchy skin remained; its integrity was such that bubbles would collect underneath it, bursting only when they had grown to several centimeters in width. Much of the brown color of the liquid settled with the yeast as a starchy sediment as fermentation slowed, leaving a surprisingly pale liquor.

FINISHED BEER AND LEAVENED BREAD

After racking the beer into bottles, I performed the other half of the experiment. I removed a quantity (roughly 500 mL) of the yeast-starch-grain slurry from the bottom of the primary, warmed it slightly to rouse the yeast, and added stone-ground whole wheat flour to make a dough (about 1.5 L [6 cups]). After the dough was thoroughly mixed to a dense elastic texture, I left it to rise for 1 h in a warm place over the oven. I kneaded it, rolled it into a ball, placed it on a ceramic baking pan, and baked it at 350 °F (175 °C) for 55 min. The resulting loaf was dark and heavy and initially had a strong aroma of alcohol. The bread was hearty, though slightly bland from lack of sugar, oil, and salt. It was not unpleasant, and though not the best choice for a peanut butter sandwich, it would make an excellent vehicle for a ripe brie.
The beer was more of a surprise. My expectation was of a sour, yeasty, starchy brew, drinkable but not particularly enjoyable. Not so. The beer was quite pale and contained suspended starch, giving it the appearance of a Belgian White beer, though a degree or two darker. The level of carbonation was almost nil, though when poured with vigor a slight sparkling could be produced. Without carbonation it produced no head, so head retention was not an issue. The aroma was bready, yeasty, and cidery, with a hint of wheat. The cidery component was not like that of a beer made with too much sucrose, nor was it the acetaldehyde tang of a certain commercial American pilsner. The perception of yeastiness in the aroma faded after the first few sips. The flavor was soft and had a dry finish. No strong estery or phenolic notes were present, but a slight spiciness was detectable in the background. The high wheat content provided a bready character and may have contributed to the spicy note. The alcohol was noticeable, but not foremost. Despite the high original gravity, the beer was remarkably clean tasting. One taster compared it to Jade, a pale Flanders-style ale from the north of France, though I have never sampled this particular beer. It was good enough to warrant a second glass.

From this simple experiment we get a glimpse into the origins of beer and leavened bread. What was wholly unexpected in my results was that ancient beers may have been quite good, even by modern standards. The vagaries of wild fermentation would have precluded any form of quality control, and yet spontaneous fermentation with wild yeasts likely produced a pleasant end product often enough to keep the ancient brewers at their craft.

POSTSCRIPT

As a postscript to this experiment, buoyed by the success of my first attempt I decided to take one step further back: I wanted to reproduce the oldest beer. For this I would sprout barley in water, pound it into gruel, set it in the sun to mash, leave it open to the night air for inoculation, and see what happened. With any luck the sprouting grain and mash would be acidic enough to keep some of the bacteria at bay, and with even more luck I might pick up some interesting and inoffensive wild yeasts.
This idea, however, was misguided. I soaked whole feed barley in water, hoping that mold could be kept away by keeping the water level above the level of the grain. Within 36 h the concoction was churning and bubbling and dead weevils floated on the surface. After another 24 h, white mold was growing on the surface, and bacterial and yeast activity in the grain continued at a furious pace. I decided to discontinue the experiment. Between the putrid aroma and the fear of toxic molds, I decided perhaps I didn’t want to taste this beer after all.

This test was not a complete waste, however. Though it should perhaps be repeated in a warmer climate, it indicated that the earliest beer was not likely produced by the simple accident of grain being soaked by rainwater. The earliest beers likely did not appear until some process for mashing or malting was developed, either in the form of a gruel or a sprouted bread.
Kitchen Anthropology:
Home Brewing an Ancient Beer
By Ed Hitchcock
Republished from BrewingTechniques’ September/October 1994.
Intrigued by Anchor Brewing’s reproduction of an ancient beer according to the Sumarian Hymn to Ninkasi, one home brewer set out to reproduce his own interpretation of an even earlier beer.

As both a paleontologist and home brewer, I could not help but be attracted by the media coverage of the reproduction of an ancient Sumarian beer. The beer, called Ninkasi after the Sumarian goddess of beer, was produced by the Anchor Brewing Company (San Francisco, California), based on a hymn inscribed on a clay tablet (1). Dr. Solomon Katz of the University of Pennsylvania and Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing worked to decipher the brewing clues contained within the hymn to reproduce the beverage so revered by the ancient Sumarians.

Apart from the sense of accomplishment in reproducing a piece of the ancient past, Katz and Maytag’s work also added new information to an old debate. Anthropologists have long argued over whether beer or bread was the primary reason for the origins of agriculture (2,3). Katz and Maytag proceeded on the premise that an understanding of beer production methods of 4000 years ago could be used as a stepping stone from which to view the origins and evolution of beer. This, in turn, would provide a glimpse into the lives and cultures of the first nomadic tribes to settle into agrarian civilizations.

I decided to borrow their stepping stone and have a look into the past for myself. We know barley has been cultivated for at least 9000 years (4). I wondered what a beer of that era would have been like, a beer that is more than twice as old as the recipe reproduced from the Sumarian hymn. I decided to try some simple qualitative experiments in my kitchen. I managed not only to produce a beer that could have been made over 9000 years ago, but also to explore the intimate link between beer and bread. These experiments led me to the conclusion that the argument over the primacy of bread vs. beer is as academic as that of the chicken vs. egg.

THE DEVELOPMENT OF A PRIMARY INGREDIENT

To set the stage for the origins of beer, consider the other uses of grain. Undoubtedly the first use of grain, before either bread or beer, was to make gruel (2). Bread is effectively a cooked dense gruel and comes in three basic types. Unleavened bread, such as the tortilla, is the simplest form. It requires pulverized grain (flour) and water and is baked on a hot stone. It has a small volume and requires little in terms of ingredients. Leavened bread, with which we are most familiar, requires a large volume of flour, water, a source of sugars, and yeast. A third and less well known, bread is made from sprouted grains. The grains are sprouted, ground to paste, and baked in a loaf. The resultant loaf is very dense, sweet and cakelike, and is in effect a kilned malt.
One could argue endlessly on the basis of parsimony, culture, and archaeological evidence over the order of appearance of breads and beer. Whether sprouted bread was a derivative of sprouted gruel or unleavened bread may never be known. What we can be certain of is that people 10,000 years ago experimented with ways to consume grain. Somewhere in these experiments they discovered beer.

The question of how beer was discovered becomes academic. Beer may have been discovered through stewing sprouted bread, heating sprouted gruel, or unintentionally cooking grains that were stored in a damp place. Fermentation was most likely due to airborne microorganisms but may have been aided by the addition of fruit, raw grains, or other ingredients bearing surface yeast and bacteria. The serendipitous “accident” of making beer probably happened not once, but several times before the right blend of microorganisms produced a palatable beverage. I have no doubt, however, that once a pleasant tasting broth with euphoric effects was produced, word traveled fast.

ANCIENT BREWING TECHNIQUES

How was the beer made and what was it like? This question can be broken down into an examination of technology, ingredients, and procedures. The technology at the time of the origin of beer was not well developed but sufficient to make fire, tools of wood and stone, and a container of some sort. These are all it takes to make beer.
The main ingredient in beer is malt, which is a sprouted grain. Many grains can be and are used, including millet, corn, rice, wheat, spelt, and barley. We know from archaeological records that barley and wheat have been cultivated for at least 9000 years (4). Barley makes a poor bread because of its low gluten content, so we may safely assume that if people were brewing, they likely used barley and may have used wheat and other grains as well. The malt may have taken any of a number of forms. Dry malt may have been made for storage by either drying the sprouted grains in the sun, or baking sprouted loaves until hard. The very earliest beers may well have been made from raw sprouted grains that had undergone no drying or kilning.

The process for making the original beers was undoubtedly abbreviated compared with modern beers, which undergo separate mashing, boiling, and fermentation steps. The first beers likely underwent a continuous mash and fermentation. Sprouted grains were ground and mixed with water in a vessel of wood or even in skin bags. This vessel was heated either by fire, by dropping in heated rocks, or by setting it out in the hot sun. Fermenting flora would have been introduced from both the grains and the air. The fermented gruel could then be consumed, or the liquid could be drawn off as beer and the remaining grains and yeast mixed with wheat flour to make a leavened bread.

The fermentation of ancient beers would have involved many different yeasts and bacteria. The trick would have been to keep the pH down low enough to inhibit noxious bacteria. A “sour mash” process, in which the warm mash is inoculated with Lactobacillus from the grain husks, can grow some truly foul aerobic organisms if exposed to air. Presumably the “sour mash” portion of the fermentation was brief, or some acidity was built up during the sprouting process.

With the invention of ceramics, the process could be much more refined. The mash could be cooked over a fire, and the liquid could be drawn off and fermented separately. Eventually, techniques would have evolved to preferentially select certain strains of microflora by the addition of fruit, which bear yeast on the surface, or by using a “magic stick” to stir the wort and transmit yeasts between batches.

ANCIENT BEER, HOME BREWED IN MY KITCHEN

To experience part of the ancient past, I wanted to reproduce an early beer. I decided to start with beer that could have been made with a mash cooked in clay pots. The idea was to sprout grains of barley and wheat, use some of the sprouted grains to make sprouted loaves, cook up a mash of sprouted grains and sprouted bread, and transfer the liquid and ferment it. To round out the experiment, I decided to collect the yeast sediment and any grains from the bottom of the fermentor and mix these with stone-ground whole wheat flour to make leavened bread.
Ingredients: I picked up the grains from a health food store. In addition to barley, I decided to include wheat and spelt for variety. Unfortunately, the barley was hulled. I knew the hulled barley could lead to problems but decided to take my chances for this first attempt.

To make the malt, I sprouted the grains in mason jars with perforated lids (these can be purchased at a health food store or made at home). I placed 200-250 g of grain in each 1-L jar and filled the jars with cold water, rotating them to ensure even wetting. I left the grains to soak in water for 24 h; I then inverted the jars and left them on a dish rack to drain. I rinsed the grains every 12 h and again left them to drain. After every rinsing I examined the grains for signs of germination. Germination was uneven, so the termination point was somewhat arbitrary; I stopped the sprouting when many of the acrospires had reached grain length and not too many had grown much longer. The wheat and spelt grains were ready in two to three days, whereas the barley took seven or more days to sprout sufficiently. By the time the barley was ready for use, the moist grains emitted a vinegary aroma, perhaps from the activity of bacteria in the grain bed.

I gave the grains a final rinse, drained them, and dumped those destined to become sprouted bread into a food processor for grinding (I could not find a mortar and pestle large enough). I emptied the resulting thick starchy paste of whole and partial grains onto a flat ceramic baking pan and formed it into “biscuits,” 15-18 cm in diameter and 2-3 cm thick. These biscuits were then baked at various temperatures and times to observe the different results. I opted for flat biscuits rather than domed loaves because the flat shape would dry more thoroughly for better storage; the dome-shaped store-bought sprouted bread must be kept frozen to prevent mold from growing on the moist, sweet loaf.

I baked the biscuits at 120-175 °F (50-80 °C) for 8-18 h. Those baked at 150 °F (65 °C) for about 10 h seemed to be the most pleasant tasting. Those baked at lower temperatures (120 °F [50 °C]) remained sticky and pasty even after 12 h and required flipping and a further 6 h of baking. Those baked in a stepwise manner (130 °F [55 °C] for 1 h, 150-160 °F [65-70 °C] for 2 h, and 175 °F [80 °C] for 8 h) came out darkened to the color of dark Munich malt or British brown (porter) malt, depending on the original moisture content. The flavor of the wheat and spelt biscuits was better than that of the barley biscuits, though they all tasted of malt.

Recipe design: With biscuits and sprouting barleycorns, I set about trying to design a recipe that could be produced by people of 10,000 years ago and that could be reproduced easily and reliably. Ancient cultures undoubtedly experimented until they achieved desirable results. I chose not to reproduce all of these experiments, but rather to shortcut that process by calling on more modern knowledge of brewing science. I had to remind myself, though, that the experiment was to reproduce a fermented beverage of the ancients, and not to brew a competition beer from which I expected perfect extraction or crystal clarity.

Mashing: The mashing technique I finally settled on was a sort of decoction. The technique has the advantage of producing the desired temperatures without actually having to measure those temperatures with a thermometer. A half and half mixture of boiling mash and room temperature mash would give a temperature of approximately 140 °F (60 °C). If this resulting mash were slowly heated, it would pass through the starch conversion temperature range, through mash-out temperatures, and on to boiling. The extracted wort would be boiled, cooled slowly, and fermented.

Fermentation: Fermentation was another dilemma. I was not about to expose this wort to the microorganisms in my kitchen, which have been responsible for more than one spoiled batch of beer. And I did not wish to use commercially available lambic cultures, because I was not producing a lambic-style beer. Some have suggested that ancient beers were fermented with a combination of Saccharomyces and Schizosaccharomyces (5), but I had no local source of the latter. Instead, I recalled a portion of Katz and Maytag’s interpretation of the Hymn to Ninkasi wherein they supposed that fruits, such as grapes (or raisins) or dates, may have been added, not as a flavoring but as a source of wild yeasts which normally live on the skins of these fruits (1).

I decided against using grapes to supply the yeast because fresh fruit is not readily available in Halifax in late fall. What is available has been shipped long distances and likely contains both pesticides and fruit fly eggs. I could have used a mix of pure wine and beer cultures to simulate wild yeasts, but instead I chose to culture the yeast from a batch of fresh unpasteurized sweet apple cider. This technique provided an inoculation with microorganisms known to produce fermentation without actually controlling the numbers or strains of those organisms. The beer was intended to be consumed young, so I was not overly concerned about spoilage or long-term storage. The recipe and procedure I settled on is shown in the accompanying box.

For those interested in specific numbers, the original gravity was 1.071 (much of it from dissolved starches). The final gravity was quite high as well – 1.033. As it fermented, the starch in suspension formed a pellicle on top of the kraeusen. As the foam fell, the starchy skin remained; its integrity was such that bubbles would collect underneath it, bursting only when they had grown to several centimeters in width. Much of the brown color of the liquid settled with the yeast as a starchy sediment as fermentation slowed, leaving a surprisingly pale liquor.

FINISHED BEER AND LEAVENED BREAD

After racking the beer into bottles, I performed the other half of the experiment. I removed a quantity (roughly 500 mL) of the yeast-starch-grain slurry from the bottom of the primary, warmed it slightly to rouse the yeast, and added stone-ground whole wheat flour to make a dough (about 1.5 L [6 cups]). After the dough was thoroughly mixed to a dense elastic texture, I left it to rise for 1 h in a warm place over the oven. I kneaded it, rolled it into a ball, placed it on a ceramic baking pan, and baked it at 350 °F (175 °C) for 55 min. The resulting loaf was dark and heavy and initially had a strong aroma of alcohol. The bread was hearty, though slightly bland from lack of sugar, oil, and salt. It was not unpleasant, and though not the best choice for a peanut butter sandwich, it would make an excellent vehicle for a ripe brie.
The beer was more of a surprise. My expectation was of a sour, yeasty, starchy brew, drinkable but not particularly enjoyable. Not so. The beer was quite pale and contained suspended starch, giving it the appearance of a Belgian White beer, though a degree or two darker. The level of carbonation was almost nil, though when poured with vigor a slight sparkling could be produced. Without carbonation it produced no head, so head retention was not an issue. The aroma was bready, yeasty, and cidery, with a hint of wheat. The cidery component was not like that of a beer made with too much sucrose, nor was it the acetaldehyde tang of a certain commercial American pilsner. The perception of yeastiness in the aroma faded after the first few sips. The flavor was soft and had a dry finish. No strong estery or phenolic notes were present, but a slight spiciness was detectable in the background. The high wheat content provided a bready character and may have contributed to the spicy note. The alcohol was noticeable, but not foremost. Despite the high original gravity, the beer was remarkably clean tasting. One taster compared it to Jade, a pale Flanders-style ale from the north of France, though I have never sampled this particular beer. It was good enough to warrant a second glass.

From this simple experiment we get a glimpse into the origins of beer and leavened bread. What was wholly unexpected in my results was that ancient beers may have been quite good, even by modern standards. The vagaries of wild fermentation would have precluded any form of quality control, and yet spontaneous fermentation with wild yeasts likely produced a pleasant end product often enough to keep the ancient brewers at their craft.

POSTSCRIPT

As a postscript to this experiment, buoyed by the success of my first attempt I decided to take one step further back: I wanted to reproduce the oldest beer. For this I would sprout barley in water, pound it into gruel, set it in the sun to mash, leave it open to the night air for inoculation, and see what happened. With any luck the sprouting grain and mash would be acidic enough to keep some of the bacteria at bay, and with even more luck I might pick up some interesting and inoffensive wild yeasts.
This idea, however, was misguided. I soaked whole feed barley in water, hoping that mold could be kept away by keeping the water level above the level of the grain. Within 36 h the concoction was churning and bubbling and dead weevils floated on the surface. After another 24 h, white mold was growing on the surface, and bacterial and yeast activity in the grain continued at a furious pace. I decided to discontinue the experiment. Between the putrid aroma and the fear of toxic molds, I decided perhaps I didn’t want to taste this beer after all.

This test was not a complete waste, however. Though it should perhaps be repeated in a warmer climate, it indicated that the earliest beer was not likely produced by the simple accident of grain being soaked by rainwater. The earliest beers likely did not appear until some process for mashing or malting was developed, either in the form of a gruel or a sprouted bread.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I would like to thank M. Snow and J. Pinhey for their comments on the ancient beer and T. Kavanagh for discussion and information.
REFERENCES

(1) S.H. Katz and F. Maytag, “Brewing an Ancient Beer,” Archaeology 44 (4), 24-27 (1991).
(2) R.J. Braidwood et al., “Symposium: Did Man Once Live by Beer Alone?” American Anthropologist 55, 515-526 (1953).

(3) S.H. Katz and M. Voigt, “Beer and Bread: The Early Use of Cereals in the Human Diet,” Expeditions 28, 23-34 (1986).

(4) R.J. Braidwood, “The Agricultural Revolution,” Scientific American, September 1960, 130-148

(5) J.X. Guinard, Lambic, Classic Beer Style Series 3 (Brewers Publications, Boulder, Colorado, 1990), p. 9.

Recipe for an Ancient Beer

In one pot mix:
500 g (dry weight) pulverized sprouted barley gruel
1 biscuit (~200 g dry weight) sprouted wheat or spelt bread
2 L of the last barley rinse water
200 g cracked winter wheat
In a second pot, mix:
2 biscuits (~250 g dry weight) sprouted barley bread
100 g unsprouted barley, crushed
200 g unsprouted spelt, crushed
2.5 L cold water

Thoroughly break up the biscuits and allow them to soak. While the first pot soaks at room temperature, slowly heat the second pot to boiling. Once it has reached boiling, mix the contents of the two pots, and slowly bring the temperature back to boiling. With a wooden spoon, push the mash to one side of the pot and collect the liquid (plus any grain that happens to be floating around) with a cup and transfer it to another pot. Add 1 L of boiling water to the mash, stir, and repeat the pressing procedure. Repeat this until you have collected several liters of brown, gravy-like liquid, along with some grains. Bring the wort to a boil to sterilize it, cool, and pitch with your favorite wild yeast.
I confess that in the mash I did resort to a small addition of commercial malted barley to compensate for the lack of husks on the barley I had used.

Original article:
Home Brewing an Ancient Beer
By Ed Hitchcock
Republished from BrewingTechniques’ September/October 1994.
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