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How did the ancient Egyptians brew their raspberry-tasting beer?

 

 

If  you're trying to be thrifty, try brewing your own beer in the style of the ancient Egyptians. Their yeast cells have been preserved for thousands of years.

While looking for recipes to save money at the supermarket, I found a great resource for brewing your own recession-proof beer at home to save some money, it's the article in Natural History magazine, the May 1996 issue, page 24, that describes how archaeologists brewed beer in the style of the ancient Egyptians, and in the 1990s even had it on sale at Harrod's in London.

 

When archaeologists dug up King Tut's and other ancients' tombs in the 1920s and more recently, in the 1990s, they found starch granules in the ancient bread crumbs and beer dregs that revealed all the processes to which the bread was exposed during baking and brewing into beer.

 

All you have to do is back-engineer and reconstruct everything from scratch. So how do you brew your own beer the ancient Egyptian and Levantine way?

Instead of using your modern, cultured yeast, brew like an Egyptian and keep some yeasty residue from one brew to the next. The yeast sticks to the fabric of the brewing pots. Fermentation happens naturally from micro-flora.

 

All the former research showed barley and emmer wheat were grown in ancient Egypt. It was emmer wheat that the ancient Egyptians used to make beer at Tell el Amarna. Archaeologists saved the preserved emmer wheat on the temple kitchen floors. Here' are the steps you can imitate the process at home to make ancient-style beer.

1. To make beer you buy some organic unhulled barley in a health food store. Moisten barley. Keep it moist until it germinates, then heat the barley to stop the germination (the result is called malt).

 

2. Add water and yeast so the malt sugars ferment.

3. Blend cooked and uncooked malt with water and produce a refined liquid free of husk by straining and mashing. For more information, go to my resource which is Natural History magazine, the May 1996 issue, page 24.

 

Here's another ancient Egyptian way to brew beer. It's going to taste like raspberries.

 

Boil barley and emmer wheat in a pot of water until it's cooked and water is absorbed. Add cold water to make a brew. Fill the pot just before the rim.

Heat the mixture, adding more water and cooked malt. Add natural wild yeast and uncooked malt to the cooked malt. Health food stores have different types of natural yeast.

 

After adding the second batch of malt, cover, and allow the mixture to ferment.  Without adding any flavoring, the beer should be fruity and sweet and taste like raspberries. Try brewing your beer using the methods of a brewery so you don't get a batch of bacteria in the brew to make you sick.

 

In fact, you can take your method to a brewery and ask whether you can brew your first batch at a brewery so you don't make the mistake of letting it ferment at the wrong temperature and get yourself sick with a bunch of bacteria in the brew. Ancient Egyptian beer didn't have the bitter hops flavor.

 

Here are the steps the archaeologists used to make ancient Egyptian beer. This information is in the article on making beer the ancient Egyptian way, published in Natural History magazine in the May 1996 issue, page 24. The article focused on the year 2050 BCE, the time of the XI Dynasty. So here are the steps the archaeologists used to make the ancient beer in the way the ancients would have brewed it.

 

First you have to grow the emmer wheat. But today emmer wheat is cultivated in Turkey. So if you live in England where the archaeologists were located, first you go to a health food store that imports Turkish emmer wheat. What the archaeologists actually did was to bring emmer wheat to England, about 850 pounds of it. And they grew that wheat at the at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany in Cambridge.

 

That's all you need as far as raw material to brew beer the way the ancients made it, unless, of course, you must have water from ancient Egyptian wells. So that's what the scientists did.

 

They analyzed old Egyptian desert wells to get the correct type of liquor. They had to do it because the old Egyptian well water is free from phospates and modern agricultural chemicals. So they had to add some gypsum to harden the water.

 

You at home can simply used distilled water.  Gypsum is calcium carbonate. Add a calcium carbonate tablet found in any health food store. Then flavor your ancient Egyptian beer brew with tiny amounts of juniper and coriander spices, obtainable in many herbal or health food stores. Or grow your own herbs from seeds in little pots or in your garden.

 

A modern yeast strain was used. It would have taken years of DNA research to reveal the exact nature of the yeast used in Ancient Egypt.  The experts chose a fast-fermenting strain from the National Yeast Collection in Norwich, also in eastern England, that works at a high temperature, as temperatures would have been hot in ancient Egypt, but not as hot as today.

 

No ancient Egyptian ever made beer with hops. They used malt. They never sweetened their beer with fruit or honey. If you want to make ancient Egyptian beer, you put coriander into the brew because it grew wild in the Nile Valley. Coriander in ancient Egypt was put into bread and other baked products. You can add juniper. That also was used in bread and beer. So put a pinch of juniper and coriander into your beer kettle.

 

Now comes mashing time.  Emmer wheat, unlike modern cereals, has a thick hull or husk. Emmer wheat can take up to 14 hours to grind into a grist suitable for mashing. The grinding was done with a pestle and mortar using dampened grain. This was the method used in Ancient Egypt and is still in use currently in Turkey. Emmer wheat is close to modern brewing grain.

 

If you want to find out what ancient Egyptian wheat used in brewing beer was like, look at how emmer wheat is ground into bread flower in Turkey today. This could be a great project for someone studying nutritional anthropology.

 

When you mash the emmer wheat, it produces a sugary solution. The archaeologists trying to make Egyptian beer did conventional mashing and boiling in modern pans, and the three-day fermentation took place in a gallon jar. Ancient peoples baked bread after they learned to brew beer.

 

First Neolithic peoples let raw mixed flour stand out in the air where the dough reacted with wild yeast and pollen blowing in the wind. As the dough dropped into water and fermented, it turned to a type of beer.

 

Then when people added more raw mixed flour to the beer and baked it, they produced a light, leavened bread. Since Nile water was muddy, beer was used instead of water in ceremonies and as the meal-time beverage of choice for ancient Egyptian workers. 

In 1996, archaeologists from the University of Cambridge found no flavorings in the beer, only spices. 

 

The ancient Egyptians seemed to have used barley to make malt. Egyptians of four thousand years ago used emmer wheat instead of hops. They heated the mixture, and then added yeast and uncooked malt to the cooked malt. After adding the second batch of malt, the brew was allowed to ferment.  

 

Drink the new beer a few days after fermentation. Ancient pharaohs got to wait a few more days for the beer to get stronger. Tutankhamun Ale was brewed at 6 per cent alcohol by volume/4.8 per cent by weight. One thousand bottles were once produced and sold only in London’s top department store, Harrods, which is owned by an Egyptian, Mohamad Al Fayed. 

 

The ancient-style beer was opaque and gold-colored. It tasted like spiced, mulled fruit. Different strains of yeast give off a variety of tastes and aromas. "Brewing blended cooked and uncooked malt with water; the mixture was strained free of husk before inoculation with yeast," according to "Investigation of Ancient Egyptian Baking and Brewing Methods by Correlative Microscopy" Science July 1996, v273, n5274, p488, by Samuel, Delwen.

 

My references for this recipe were the articles titled, "King Tut's Tipple" Discover Jan.1997, v18, n1, p13, by Shanti Menon, and "Investigation of Ancient Egyptian Baking and Brewing Methods by Correlative Microscopy" Science, July 1996, v273, n5274, p488, by Samuel, Delwen. For more information, see the publications of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3ER, UK.