The Swedish have been chugging back beer by the pint since the Iron Age, as confirmed by new findings unearthed by archaeologists working in Uppakra.
A team of experts specializing in archaeobotany have discovered carbonized germinated hulled barley grains in Uppakra, a village in southern Sweden known for its rich archaeological finds.
The team, led by Mikael Larsson of Lund University, has made the discovery at a site populated by multiple kilns, or special ovens used for drying cereal grains, dating back to 400 to 600 AD.
The findings, which are published in the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, suggest that the Swedes have been brewing their booze at a large scale, possibly for trading and feasting, for thousands of years.
Large-Scale Beer-Brewing In Uppakra
Uppakra was an important settlement during the Nordic Iron Age, which took place between the fifth century BC and eighth century AD.
Discoveries of luxury items at the site, including gold and silver jewelry, indicate that it was a rich and powerful seat influential in trade, politics, and religion at the time. The village also yielded excavations that show evidence of several halls, houses, grain storage buildings, and a ceremonial site.
However, the particular area in which the germinated barley grains were found next to multiple kilns had no living quarters anywhere close. This has led the researchers to believe that the site used to be a facility for producing large amounts of beer used for mass consumption.
"Because the investigated oven and carbonized grain was situated in an area on the site with similar ovens, but absent of remains to indicate a living quarter, it is likely that large-scale production of malt was allocated to a specific area on the settlement, intended for feasting and trading," Larsson says.
Beer Goes Back To Ancient Times
Archaeologists have long known that beer played an important part in ancient cultures. Ancient documents unearthed in the Middle East show the Mesopotamians have been brewing the beverage since the fifth millennium BC.
However, the earliest known written evidence of beer in the Scandinavia dates back only to the Middle Ages. For the most part, experts studying pre-historic accounts of beer depend on botanical evidence.
So far, they have found only two proofs of malted grains but were not able to establish the context in which they were used. The earliest evidence was found in Osterbolle in Denmark, where germinated grains dating back to 100 AD were found in two ceramic pots. The other was in Eketorp in Orland, also in Sweden, where researchers discovered grains at a stone ringfort site built at around 500 AD.
How Beer Is Made
The first part of beer-brewing is the malting process, where the cereal grains are soaked in water so that enzymes can break down the proteins and starches into sugar. The grains take four to six days to germinate.
The germinated grains are then taken to the kiln for drying to stop the germination process. This also brings out the caramel and bitter flavors of the beer. The researchers believe their discovery was in the kilning phase.
"The germinated grains found around a low-temperature oven indicate that they were used to become malt for brewing beer," says Larsson.
The second part involves grinding the malt into a grit. The gritty malt is mixed with hot water to turn the starch into sugar, which produces a sugary, grainy substance called sweet wort. When a liquid develops, the wort is removed and boiled with additives for flavor.
It's unclear if Iron Age Swedish beer was flavored with hops. The earliest evidence for Nordic hops use dates back to the Vikings from 800 to 1050. The researchers say a plant called sweet gale was used throughout Nordic Europe at a much earlier time. Other possible flavorings could be St. John's wort, Labrador tea, wormwood, or yellow rattle.
Once the beer is flavored, the additives are removed and wild yeast is added to turn the sugars into alcohol.