Those Old Mesopotamians–The Party Animals of Antiquity

Hopefully you are reading this with a nice cold beer in front of you.  If not, throw away the sissy cocktail you mistakenly ordered and get a beer instead.  Got it?  Ok.  Let’s continue.

That magnificent, frothy, delicious glass of fermented starch that sits before you is the world’s oldest alcoholic beverage.  Beer has been around for so long that rules for its distribution are written in Hammurabi’s Code and there are actually brewing records in existence from 6,000 years ago written in Cuneiform by the Sumerians of. Ancient Mesopotamia.

Today beer stands as the world’s second most popular beverage after tea and we have those pioneering brew masters, the Sumerians of Mesopotamia, to thank.  In all likelihood they  discovered fermentation by accident.   A piece of bread probably became wet, later fermented and then some jackass decided on a dare to consume the potent blob.  This primitive beer, a crude,unfiltered, fermented liquid, was served in large jars with reed straws for filtering out barley, wheat husks, and insects and voile!  Instant ancient happy hour was born to help the Mesopotamians forget that they were, well, Mesopotamians.

Whether accidental on ingeniously intentional, the invention of beer far predates the invention of the wheel.  In fact, because ancient civilization discovered the euphoric, mood altering properties of beer, it has been suggested by some scholars that beer actually delayed the invention of the wheel by a few thousand years.   Still, you have to cut these ancient brewers  some slack.  You’d get a lot more accomplished too if you didn’t drink so much beer.

Beer was so important back then that these party animals of antiquity had a special deity Ninkasi the Goddess of Beer who was the chief brewer and goddess of all alcoholic beverages.  While there are no pictures of the Beer Goddess in existence, we know how important she was by the numerous written references to her and the many illustrations that have survived depicting beer drinking.   From translated texts of their civilization we gather that both the Mesopotamian prophets and their deities liked to get hammered on beer to trigger a state of ecstasy in which they would prophesy.

An ancient prayer to the goddess, “The Hymn to Ninkasi,” contains within it the details of how the Mesopotamians made their beer as well as reverence to this great goddess and chief brewer in the sky:

“Ninkasi, you are the one who soaks

the malt in a jar.

The waves rise, the waves fall.

You are the one who spreads the cooked

mash on large reed mats”

From ancient translated nuggets such as these, the Anchor Steam Brewing company out of San Francisco was able to recreate the Mesopotamian’s beer recipe in 1989 from the Hymn to Ninkasi.  They sold it as a limited edition brew labeled (what else?) “Ninkasi”  I wasn’t old enough to drink beer legally in 1989 so I don’t know how their recreation brew turned out.  Suffice to say, our beer recipes have come a long way from the days of baking bread with sweet wort and honey down by the Tigris and the Euphrates.

By now you should be about ready for another cold beer.  Just for fun, try quoting from the Hymn of Ninkasi directly to the bartender when he or she serves you.  Say:

“When you pour out the filtered beer

of the collector vat

It is like the onrush of

Tigris and Euphrates.”

Sure, the bartender is going to look at you funny.  Just tell them that I told you to say it.  Tell them to read BarTab Magazine.  Tell them to bone up on their history and to drink more beer!

“May Ninkasi live together with you!  Let her pour for you beer….

While I feel wonderful, I feel wonderful,

Drinking beer, in a blissful mood”


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