I’m really beginning to think that Mesopotamians were aliens, because they seem to have invented everything under the sun, and made it look like they knew what they were doing from the get-go. Beer is no exception.
It is so that 6,000 years ago, through the need to preserve grain, Sumerians stumbled upon a process that would produce the most wonderfully-tasting, intoxicating substance that did not require much more than neglecting the baked bread of the sweetest grain, with a dab of moisture. Beer was that substance, and it became so important to the ancient Mesopotamians, that it was the national fermented drink of Babylonia.
Beer was so important to the Sumerians, that they had a goddess dedicated solely to beer. This Sumerian goddess of beer was named Ninkasi. What is believed to be the oldest written recipe in the world, found on 4,000-year-old tablets, is for beer, and is written in the form of a hymn to Ninkasi, which you can read here. (What a cool name for a beer! Heineken, move over! Ninkasi Beer is here!)
Now, the coolness doesn’t stop there, because Ninkasi isn’t the only woman associated with beer in ancient Mesopotamia. You see, Sumerians preserved grain by way of baking, and beer was really nothing more than liquid bread, and since women were the bakers, well, naturally, the business of brewing beer became a woman’s specialty…you hear that, makers of Chick Beer?!?
As simple as “liquid bread” sounds, however, and this is where the possibility that Mesopotamians were aliens becomes more likely to me, Mesopotamian beer came in white, russet, light, dark and cloudy brews.
See what I mean?
Also, honey was used as a sweetener and various aromatics were used for flavoring. You can try these experimental recipes for Sumerian beer from Micah Joel’s blog here and here.
I should mention that the beer Mesopotamians drank was rather strong, and full of bits and pieces of bread and floaties and what-not, which would sink to the bottom of the liquid, making it kind of unpleasant to gulp down the way beer is consumed today. Leave it to the Sumerians, though, to come up with a solution to that problem. Mesopotamian art depicts a jar of beer that is usually shared between figures sipping the beer through long straws, and voila! No more floaties!
There were even laws pertaining to beer in Mesopotamia. Hammurabi took the time to include a law that covers beer in his code, and he wasn’t the only one. You can read a bit more about the specifics of beer laws in Mesopotamia here.
Now, how would you like a gallon of beer every month as part of your benefits package?
Sumerian tablets show that ration lists were kept to detail the distribution of beer to palace workers based on their rank. There were also social ranks that determined who received a quart of beer, and who received a gallon of beer.
Naturally, there was a cuneiform symbol for beer, and it appears three times on an early writing tablet that dates as far back as 3100 BC and records the distribution of beer rations for palace workers. The tablet is housed at the British Museum, and like all others it is fascinating.
The symbol for beer is simply an upright jar with a pointed base, and it kind of reminds me of an upside-down version of the modern-day symbol for sobriety, or Alcoholics Anonymous.
So, now that you’ve learned all this cool stuff about beer, I’m sure your future conversations about beer will not lack in sophistication or fascination. And if you’re not sure how to bring up the subject of the origin of beer in casual conversation, you can simply carry this cool key chain that is sure to turn heads and pique curiosities.