5,000 Year Old Beer Recipe Brewed at British Museum...

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by NeroFiddled, Aug 15, 2019 at 4:18 PM.

  1. NeroFiddled

    NeroFiddled Poo-Bah (10,893) Jul 8, 2002 Pennsylvania
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  2. officerbill

    officerbill Disciple (300) Feb 9, 2019 New York

    Interesting experiment, but is there a hazy milkshake or barrel-aged coffee version? :wink:
  3. Alefflicted

    Alefflicted Initiate (83) Dec 2, 2017 Minnesota

    These types of experiments always fascinate me. I would love to be able to try the beer.
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  4. MNAle

    MNAle Poo-Bah (1,511) Sep 6, 2011 Minnesota

    No but they did try "pistachio, rose petal, cumin, coriander, and sesame."

    It seems like something like this happens every few months...
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  5. jesskidden

    jesskidden Poo-Bah (1,822) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey

    I heard it's not as good as last year's 4,999 year old recipe.
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  6. officerbill

    officerbill Disciple (300) Feb 9, 2019 New York

    Not sure about pistachio or rose, but, depending on the base beer, cumin, coriander, or sesame could be very interesting.

    The original story was published in the museum's blog in May, 2018 (https://blog.britishmuseum.org/a-sip-of-history-ancient-egyptian-beer/) and goes into much more detail (no hops, an ancient nuttier tasting wheat called emmer, harvested yeast) and this little tid-bit
    Edited due to some weird formatting
    #6 officerbill, Aug 15, 2019 at 5:07 PM
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2019 at 5:16 PM
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  7. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (4,093) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    Needless to say there is no way of truly knowing what a beer of 5,000 years ago tasted like. Having a contemporary brewed version being ‘drinkable’ should not be too surprising.

    Since you are very knowledgeable of the brewing process I am not really educating you specifically here:


    It is very important in brewing to maintain proper sanitation or else unwanted microorganisms (e.g., bacteria) will also ‘eat’ the wort and create off-flavors. I have little doubt that the contemporary brewers knew to properly sanitize during the brewing of these beers. What were the exact sanitation processes of the brewers 5,000 years ago? Nobody truly knows.


    I tried to find out what specific yeast strain the contemporary brewers used to brew these beers but I was not successful. I am confident they used a brewer’s yeast.

    The ancient brewers would not have had specific knowledge of yeast and those brewers would depend upon yeast ‘floating in the air’ (or whatever) to inoculate their wort and ferment it into beer. We would refer to these yeasts as being wild yeast in modern day parlance. There are many wild yeasts that will ferment wort (i.e., consume the sugars and produce ethyl alcohol, CO2, etc.) but most of those yeasts would not produce ‘drinkable’ beer by today’s standards. Were the ancient Egyptian brewers successful in ‘isolating’ a wild yeast that produced “absolutely delicious” beer and also keeping other wild yeast strains out of the brewery? I suppose we could all speculate here.

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  8. NeroFiddled

    NeroFiddled Poo-Bah (10,893) Jul 8, 2002 Pennsylvania
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    Very good points Jack, I completely agree. We can't even know what a beer from 250 years ago tasted like!

    I've always been of the mind that we like the foods that we have because that's what we're given, or have to work with. Had we lived back then I'm pretty sure we'd have enjoyed those sour beers! As for the "off-flavors" from the yeast? Well I personally like funky beers, and I understand everyone does not, but if that was all you'd ever known...

    So, yeah, these re-creations are just imaginings. I still enjoy them, taken with a grain of salt.

    I do wonder though, how good were they really? Not including the 'aliens built the pyramids' theories, I think they may have been pretty advanced.
  9. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,936) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    Reading/thinking about these kinds of things are always fun for me.

    Doing this sort of stuff to a reasonable degree of reverse engineering is what the relationship between Patrick McGoven at U. Penn and Dogfish Head with their series of Ancient Ales. McGovern had the knowledge and skills to figure out what had been in the beverage with approximate proportions and DFH had the interest and brewing knowledge to apply and they jointly worked out what might/should/would make a reasonable substitutes for things no longer easily available. e.g., the Midas Touch

    Hope the Ancient Ales series continues... A lot of the time a carefully reverse engineered beer gives us a reasonable sense of what it might have been like back in the day, e.g., The first Goze beer brewed 25 years after the syle went dead is reverse engineer based on using brewer's notes and the 25-35 year old memories of folks who had had the beer. (Memories are not the most reliable things tho. :slight_smile:

    As @JackHorzempa points out an exact reproduction isn't really practically, but personally I've enjoyed the reverse engineerd ones I've tried...
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  10. Bitterbill

    Bitterbill Poo-Bah (6,677) Sep 14, 2002 Wyoming
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    That's way before the Sumerians, isn't it?
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  11. bbtkd

    bbtkd Poo-Bah (2,552) Sep 20, 2015 South Dakota
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    Back then, it was probably brewed in someone's skull though.
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  12. FatBoyGotSwagger

    FatBoyGotSwagger Meyvn (1,326) Apr 4, 2009 Pennsylvania

    It was during their period when they developed into City States. Mostly the height of Egyptian power. Imhotep was alive.

  13. AZBeerDude72

    AZBeerDude72 Poo-Bah (1,740) Jun 10, 2016 Arizona
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    I always wonder why, if this tastes so good, someone does not run a batch for the rest of us to try. If its tasty why not sell some then? You know it would sell just for all folks who want to say they had it.
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  14. FatBoyGotSwagger

    FatBoyGotSwagger Meyvn (1,326) Apr 4, 2009 Pennsylvania

    Even if it was tasty which I am sceptical of we wouldn't be able to reproduce that taste because our modern day water is polluted compared to that time and the air that grew the malts was much cleaner. They could of done some open tank/bucket/jug ferm with airborne yeast like Allagash does today but we couldn't recreate the ancient airborne yeast.
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  15. Amendm

    Amendm Zealot (509) Jun 7, 2018 Rhode Island

    Cool article and experiment, that said I'm not believing the “absolutely delicious”, in the context that as much as they did their best to replicate the way beer was made 5,000 years ago it was not likely stored in glass bottles. Joe the spear tip maker traded two nice tips for a goat bladder half full of malted beverage is a more likely scenario.

    We have some knowledge of what foods were accessible and consumed back then however no one knows what food tasted like-and beer was food, think of an ancient energy supplement drink. But then Joe finds another brewer who has a fermented version, low alcohol yet just enough to give Joe a slight euphoric feeling, welcomed after a day of pounding rocks. The rest is history.

    It’s not likely that any considerable effort was put into making foods and beverages “taste good” until the end of the middle ages or early renaissance. Before that food was all about sating that hurt in the pit of the belly and staying alive.
  16. pweis909

    pweis909 Poo-Bah (1,829) Aug 13, 2005 Wisconsin

    The article didn’t mention grains.
  17. ForagedBudLite

    ForagedBudLite Initiate (16) Aug 11, 2019 Michigan

    That was very informative. I'll have to get around to trying this. It reminds me a bit of the recipe for "chang" in Stephen Buhner's Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers (a unique book, to be sure).

    My guess from the article is that they used hot, near boiling water primarily. They also may have understood, to some extant, that vinegar and certain plants can be added to water to create a stronger sanitizer.
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  18. cjgiant

    cjgiant Poo-Bah (4,717) Jul 13, 2013 District of Columbia

    The Fairfax DFH partner restaurant is having a tenth anniversary celebration and have gotten some aged versions of the “ancient ales” - ironically? enough. FWIW, they tasted pretty good.

    Agree with Jack, hard to know what I’ll generically call quality control ancient brewers had. But taking the discerned ingredients of old and producing an enjoyable beer from them now is still interesting. And potentially marketable.
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  19. jesskidden

    jesskidden Poo-Bah (1,822) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey

    See the link @officerbill noted in his post (#6) above - https://blog.britishmuseum.org/a-sip-of-history-ancient-egyptian-beer/
  20. pweis909

    pweis909 Poo-Bah (1,829) Aug 13, 2005 Wisconsin

    Thanks, that helps me see some plausible answers to some of the other comments.

    Emmer, and malted emmer, no less, is not widely available, so don’t expect to see this all over the world anytime soon regardless of how tasty it may have been. It probably has a low enzyme content as it has not been subject to centuries of artificial selection for malthouse performance. It also probably lacks the agronomic selection of modern grains in terms of starch content. Although emmer, unlike wheat, is a hulled grain, there may have been concerns that it would have gummy residues (beta glucans) like wheat that effect the lautering process These grain concerns coupled with an unusual double mash approach that used unmalted grains exclusively in a second mash probably contributed to expectations of a thin gruel.
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  21. Squire

    Squire Poo-Bah (2,242) Jul 16, 2015 Mississippi
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    Bread and beer being daily staples I expect they got pretty good at producing both and lack of scientific knowledge was made up for by prayers to the Brewing Gods.
  22. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,936) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    I also don’t disagree with Jack that it’s hard to know. But as a fan of Archeology I have also have learned that there is another big caveat. We often wear modern goggles when viewing what the Ancient folks were able to do. Those goggles can lead us to underestimate the ingenuity of our own remote ancestors or over estimate the difficulties they faced in accomplishing some things back in the day.

    Without refrigeration they knew their beer had a short shelf life beyond which it was not drinkable or consumed. Some off flavors take time to develop. Brett flavors, which there days are considered off, by some brewers for their beers. Brett flavors take a while to develop in the bottle, but are wanted in Lambics, say. By then the ancient beer batch could well have been only a memory without some of the off flavors developing. Thus some modern standards of sanitation would be unnecessary overkill. If Brett never shows itself, does it matter if it was in the mix? Etc. So do we really have to worry about those off flavors in projecting what the flavors were like for them?

    Through the modern goggles of construction the Tower of Alexandria could never have been built, the lower stone would have crumbled, under weight from above, yet we know the tower was there and the stone that was used. We know the ancients drank beer and enjoyed it. Humans generally don’t voluntarily repeat unpleasant experiences they don’t enjoy. Thus I’d suggest that another big part of the problem lies in getting rid of the modern goggles to be able to ignore the differences that don’t matter when we do the translation from then to now.

    Jack is 100% correct that there are some things we may never be sure of but it seems to me that we have a bigger problem in figuring out if our modern goggles conceal things from us about back then or lead us to see problems that those old time folks didn’t have.

    If your goal is what did it taste like, then implicit in Jacks important observations is also the problem of translation between back then and now and and having confidence the flavors are basicallyh much the same. Stevia and sugar are very similar in their flavor profile to the point that the difference isn’t a difference that makes a difference to many.

    Reverse engineering is a lot like translation. If the semantics cross over succesfully the details of the original grammar get lost as irrelevant. (We don't sucessrully translate from or to German using a literal translation from the langauge of origin. We may get a translation that is good enough for communication, but...)
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  23. Ranbot

    Ranbot Champion (868) Nov 27, 2006 Pennsylvania

    Not true at all. People died all the time from water borne diseases then. Surface water sources are very variable in quality especially when public sanitation as we know it doesn't exist. Beer was more sanitary than water because the process included boiling the water.
  24. Crusader

    Crusader Aspirant (278) Feb 4, 2011 Sweden

    I think alot of people have taken the idea of lambics being the original form of beer a bit too far (or simply not thought it through). Storing beer for 1, 2 and three years and mixing beers of different vintages is not the origin of beer. More likely is a primary fermentation period of a few days (akin to alot of top fermentation brewing) without any secondary fermentation time (unlike most beer today), most likely leaving a higher residual extract compared with today's mainstream beers. Any developed sourness would have had to contend with the sweetness from that extract.

    As a reference point it would be interesting to know how sour the lambic base beer is after say 3-4 days (even knowing that it is strongly hopped with albeit old hops)?

    The question also becomes when humans figured out to use the yeast produced via the fermentation, for both beer and bread making?
    #24 Crusader, Aug 16, 2019 at 1:45 PM
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2019 at 1:53 PM
  25. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,936) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    Agree many assume that because it is old fashioned that it was how it was done back in the earlier days. (Indeed I once did myself.) But that reference was intended to clarify something else so hopefully I did not create confusion by using it.

    Re your desired reference point and projecting backwards towards it from having a 1 year old Lambic that was drawn form the keg and into the pitcher that poured my glass almost immediately after the guy returned from refilling his pitcher, I'd say not very sour at all.

    Here's a link to my review which was actually written in draft form in real time while solo and seated at the Brewery and focused only on that beer. (That was my second visit in a week and made primarily to sample beers on site.)

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  26. officerbill

    officerbill Disciple (300) Feb 9, 2019 New York

    Right on the money. The researchers admit
    which was used to pass down how to brew beer.

    A very good Wikipedia article on her (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ninkasi). I didn't realize that, since women baked the household bread, they also brewed the household beer.
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  27. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (4,093) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    Lactobacillus bacteria is used in producing sour beers and they can produce these sour flavors quickly:

    “Lactobacillus is a genus of bacteria, specifically Gram-positive lactic-acid-producing bacteria, often lumped together with Pediococcus when it comes to souring beer. Under the right conditions Lactobacillus can produce lactic acid quicker than its hardier cousin, and generally does not leave behind the diacetyl or exopoly-saccharides (“sickness”) that require cleanup by Brettanomyces. Lactobacillus is able to reproduce quickly with some species capable of doubling every 20–60 minutes (meaning that each cell at T=0 can result in offspring numbering millions or billions in just 24 hours!). Sounds pretty ideal: No unpleasant byproducts, grows quickly in a wide range of temperatures (depending on species), sours rapidly, and as an added benefit is a probiotic!”


  28. Ranbot

    Ranbot Champion (868) Nov 27, 2006 Pennsylvania

    And women who were really good at brewing supplemented family incomes with the first commercial alehouses.
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  29. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,936) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    Nice article thanks for posting. However those results may not generalize and so could be almost totally irrelevant to understanding what happened 5,000 yeas ago. Counterpoints to consider should follow later in the day. If not feel free to elbow juggle.
  30. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,936) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    Important concerns, but

    The modern water conditioning can give out water that is completely clean and then remineralized as needed.

    The ancient yeast didn’t have to be created for this particular beer.
  31. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (4,093) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    My purpose in making that post is to indicate there are 'unwanted' microorganisms that create off-flavors in a short time frame (vs. the Brett example you posted).

    Did the ancient Egyptian brews suffer from infections of Lactobacillus? That is anybody's guess.

    I can relate that I personally refuse to utilize Lactobacillus in my homebrewery out of concerns for potential cross-contamination with other batches of beer. Needless to say but the ancient Egyptian brewers did not have the same knowledge of microbiology as exists today.

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  32. ForagedBudLite

    ForagedBudLite Initiate (16) Aug 11, 2019 Michigan

    From what I've read about ancient wine, off-flavors were fairly common, and diluting wine and masking it with things like honey wasn't unusual. When you look at the everything but the kitchen sink ingredients list of some ancient ales, I can't help but wonder if some of the ingredients weren't added after the brewing process was over to essentially "backsweeten" the drink. And what's fun - if we assume these drinks were unpasteurized and had only been fermenting a few days - backsweetening could give you some pleasant carbonation very quickly.
  33. officerbill

    officerbill Disciple (300) Feb 9, 2019 New York

    But the ancient aliens who built the pyramids did
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  34. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (4,093) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    Yup, we could all speculate here.

  35. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,936) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    Have you seen any book by Patrick McGovern? If not I recommend you take a look. Some nice stuff about ancient wines and beers and more than one book.
  36. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,936) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    Thanks, butunderstood that point already as I have seen the curves I recommended before..

    Yes they did not have the same knowledge. Nor did they have the same opportunity to choose not to use lactobacillus, it came with the territory (unless airborne yeast and bacteria behave incredibly different than they did back in the day. And since the beer is brewed with the ancient yeast....

    Thanks for the info again BTW.
  37. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,936) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania


    BTW we can be pretty confident the ancient guys did have to cope with lactobacilli since some ancient Egyptian bakeries have been uncovered and even used again with the ancient yeast to bake bread in the facility. Some where there's actually a guy who used to sell on line for sourdough bread a starter cultured from the yeast, etc. Not surprisingly Sourdough bread requires there be companion bacteria to come out that way....
  38. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (4,093) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    Lactobacillus has been the 'bane' of brewers for millennia (unless you want to produce sour beer).

    I take all steps necessary to mitigate/eliminate Lactobacillus in my homebrewery. Of course I have the 'advantage' of specifically knowing about Lactobacillus and that greatly aids my efforts. I just bottled batch #438 a week ago and over 20+ years and 400+ batches so far Lactobacillus has not been a problem (I wonder if I just jinxed myself?).

  39. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,936) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    You are up to a lot of batches by now...:grin:

    I'm sure the lactobacillus has been a problem for some brewers for quite a while. But there are lots of reasons to suggest that for many in the ancient world it was not considered and off flavor, just as it is not considered "off" by Lambic brewers. By them and the fermentation it is controlled and adds a definite zip to the beer. Personally I find kettle sours just to simple and focused just on sourness than I prefer.

    As someone once said, "When life hand you a lot of lemons, make lemonade." :wink:
  40. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (4,093) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    That is indeed possible.

    It may not be 'possible' for the case of ancient (5,000 years ago) to determine whether their beers were sour (and still considered delicious) but for beers brewed hundreds of years ago (e.g., 17xx) there is the potential for gathering information via written accounts (e.g., diaries, books/novels, newspaper accounts, etc.). If some writer was describing a beer, and that beer was sour, they may have written an account such: Beer brand x from brewery y was brown in appearance and had a refreshing tartness which led me to consumed z pints of it that day.

    Have you ever read old writings such as I postulated above?

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