June 26, 2013

Come to Cleveland and Let's Toast to Ninkasi, the Sumerian Goddess of Beer!

(Photo) Impression of a Sumerian cylinder seal from the Early Dynastic IIIa period (ca. 2600 BCE; Woolley 1934, pl. 200, no. 102 [BM 121545]). Persons drinking beer are depicted in the upper row. The habit of drinking beer together from a large vessel using long stalks went out of fashion after the decline of Sumerian culture in the 2nd millennium BCE.

Want a rare opportunity to taste an authentic style 5,000-year-old Sumerian beer made by using only clay vessels and a wooden spoon? Then come to Cleveland, Ohio on July 13 and we'll have a beer together and toast to Ninkasi, the Sumerian goddess of beer!

In a joint project with the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, the Great Lakes Brewing Co. will feature a special presentation on the "Sumerian Beer Project” on July 13. The goal of the project was to create the first known beer recipe referenced in the Hymn to Ninkasi.

According to the brewery, they used only rudimentary tools created by the Oriental Institute and have experimented with different ingredients and methods taken from cuneiform texts of the Hymn to Ninkasi. Rather than using modern stainless steel tanks, the Oriental Institute gave the Great Lakes Brewing Co. ceramic vessels modeled after artifacts excavated in Iraq during the 1930s. Nate Gibbon, a brewer at Great Lakes, said he had stood over a ceramic vat, cooking outside on a patch of grass. The fire that heated the vat was fueled by manure! The batch, spiced with cardamom and coriander, fermented for two days, but it was ultimately too sour for the modern tongue, Mr. Gibbon said. Next time, he will sweeten it with honey or dates.

Obtaining a yeast sample from the Middle East proved to be difficult. The brewers originally enlisted an archaeologist to collect yeast samples during his travels, but he was unable to get the sample past customs. They decided to experiment with initiating fermentation using the bappir (barley bread) as their yeast source. The brewery malted its own barley on the roof of the brew house after asking a Cleveland baker to help make a brick-like “beer bread” for use as a source of active yeast.

Great Lakes Brewing has no plan to sell the beer to the public, as it is part of an archaeological research project. However, it will be offering a public tasting of the final brew alongside an identical recipe made with more current brewing techniques at the World Beer Festival, Saturday, July 13 in Cleveland, Ohio. Hope to see you there! 

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