How would you like to chug it down just like the ancient Sumerians? Beer is a staple at many bars, ball games and college frat houses, but this alcoholic beverage has been around for thousands of years.
This ancient poem dedicated to Ninkasi, the goddess of beer and brewing, turned out to be more than just a flowery ode to the people's go-to drink. It is also an actual recipe for ancient beer, just like the Sumerians drank it in 1800 B.C. when the poem was written.
Miguel Civil, a professor who teaches Sumerology at the University of Chicago, translated the poem, which was written on two clay tablets by an author whose name is now lost in history, for his scholarly article in 1966.
Although, according to Civil himself, the poem was full of metaphors and beautiful poetic imagery, it also contains precise enough instructions for creating the perfect Sumerian brew.
Civil said that his translation remained buried with other publications until, in 1988, Fritz Maytag, the founder of Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco, decided to try his hand at recreating the ancient beer in what is now known as the Sumerian Beer Project. He presented his results at the American Association of Micro Brewers' annual meeting 1991.
Called the Ninkasi Beer, after the goddess whom the poem was about, the beer was “similar to hard apple cider” in taste and had a dryness that was lacking in bitterness, according to Civil who wrote about the experience of tasting the brew based upon the instructions in the poem he translated.
If home brewers would also like to try their hand at recreating Ninkasi Beer, the translated poem is available online. The poem describes, albeit in quite lyrical terms, the step-by-step process for beer-making used by the ancient Sumerians, and provides details about the containers in which the brew is to be enjoyed in.
In fact, the brew masters in 1991 who sampled the recreated beer, drank them from large jugs with drinking straw – just like the Sumerians did thousands of years ago.
According to Civil, the beer had an alcoholic content of 3.5 percent, which is quite similar to today's modern brews. However, Ninkasi Beer was never bottled and sold commercially by the Anchor Brewer Company, despite its founder's efforts in recreating it, because, as Civil wrote, the Mesopotamian beer could not keep well because it “was brewed for immediate consumption.”