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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sumerian Beer Bubbles Again

Sumerian beer, just because:
Great Lakes Brewing Company has enlisted the help of historians, scientists, and archaeologists in order to brew a historically accurate version of what is believed to be the first recorded beer recipe from ancient Sumeria. The project is spearheaded by co-owner Pat Conway, who was inspired by a visit to the University of Chicago, his alma mater.
I'm long past believing projects like this can accurately replicate the beer as it would have tasted five millennia ago--but that doesn't mean I don't endorse the exercise.  And Great Lakes is doing it right:

Credit: Smithsonian
Large porcelain vessels were created by pottery students at the University of Chicago, and the brewers have opted to use sunlight and wooden tools for the malting and mashing of the brew....

GLBC Field Quality Specialist Bridget Gauntner describes one such roadblock she encountered during this project, “Obtaining a yeast sample from the Middle East has been difficult.” The brewers originally enlisted an archaeologist to collect yeast samples during his travels, but he was unable to get the sample past customs. “We decided to instead experiment with initiating fermentation using the bappir (barley bread) as our yeast source,” Gauntner said. Trial and error were important elements of the initial brewing experiment. Portions of the finished beer were examined by GLBC brewers and lab technicians who hope to use what they’ve learned to inform and improve their second attempt in the fall.
There's not a huge amount of information here to assess the process, but the goal isn't really about the final beer--it's the exploration and discoveries that come from trying to follow ancient practices. 

By the way, if you've never had a look at the Hymn to Ninkasi, this might be a good time to have a look.  It's essentially "The Joy of Homebrewing" circa 1800 BCE (with poetic and religious overtones). 

Hat tip to Ashley for alerting me to the story.


  1. Sounds reminescent of Anchor Brewing's Sumerian Brewing Project.

  2. Any word / idea about availability out here in Beervana? I love this kind of thing, but probably not enough to fly to Cleveland for it.


  3. Worst luck, JT, no bottling or distribution.

    The GLBC website reports: reports
    'A second batch of Sumerian beer will be brewed in September, and will be used in conjunction with educational engagements only; it will not be bottled or distributed. Opportunities to learn more about the Sumerian Beer experiment will be shared by Great Lakes Brewing Company at as they develop.'

  4. I completely agree with your assessment of the "accuracy" claim. BTW, didn't Dogfish also do some alleged recreation of an ancient beer?

    It seems to me that in other industries, efforts like this would be called "gimmicks", but in the wacky world of beer geeks, this seems to be considered "innovative."

    Not exactly a fine line differentiating the two.