It's Spooky Season! Check out our Fall Mushroom Glass! 🍄

5 Beers of the Ancient Era

Last updated:

Have you ever sipped a nice cold beer and wondered: Where the hell does this thing come from?

Recently I have had the chance to drink a Kolmbacher beer with my friends, which, together with its keg, has made the long journey from Kolmbach, Germany, all the way to Sarasota, Florida, to be cherished along with a bowl of pretzels. After we took about ten attempts to open the keg, the frothing goodness finally flourished towards us and our mugs in its natural form. So, where does it come from? As with many things in life, we don’t really know, but we have a good idea.

Beer probably made its first primeval appearance somewhere during the rise of agriculture in Mesopotamia, when farmers, sick of working, accidentally created a dizzying drink out of bread and started partying.

In the Middle Ages, beer was a better alternative to water, which was often polluted and gross, but whether they also bathed in it has yet to be determined. In order to keep beer-baths and parties in check, Germany created a purity law in 1516 to make sure its hops only get the finest treatment (and who cared about humans!!)

I wasn’t kidding…. Photo credit: going-medieval.com

But who was the first to create beer? Well, there are several contestants. The first fermented beverages likely were made 12,000 years ago with the rise of agriculture. But there were several forms of beer that were already infecting human common sense and mutating across the world before we settled for the type that we can order at a bar. Here are some ancient beers to get drunk over.

Picture of a clay family making beer. What else is new? Photo credit: history.howstuffworks.com

1. KUI

First appeared in Ancient China

Six crazy people… eh… six crazy hangover methods for that drunk day in Old China. Photo credit: BottlesXO

The Chinese first experimented with beer as a non-barley thingie made from rice and honey 9,000 years ago, but we can’t give them credit for this because it doesn’t include wheat. . . I mean, what the hell is wheatless beer?

Incidentally, the Chinese knew this would happen, so make way, beer of today (well, rice beer. But close enough). About 4,000 years ago, the Chinese (one or two of them) came up with the idea to mix fermented wheat, spelt, millet and rice together and call it kui. So indeed, they did come up with a beer after all. Even Caesar liked it, drinking all the way over in Rome, but he didn’t want you to know that, and you’ll know why in a bit.

Recently a student was able to reproduce kui for more modern drunks – take a look at this site to see how he brewed it: https://news.stanford.edu/2017/02/06/recreate-5000-year-old-chinese-beer-recipe/ .

Happy drinking!

2. NINKASI

First appeared in Ancient Sumeria 

While beer parties appeared to have happened much earlier, the Sumerians were the first to forget to destroy all evidence. 

Archaeologists found 3,500-year-old ceramic vessels containing beer residue from long ago DJ parties and campfires. The Sumerians decided campfire singing wasn’t enough, so they published one of the first pop songs in history, “Hymn to Ninkasi”, around 1800 BC, an ode to the Sumerian goddess of beer, which included the first-ever recipe of beer, which priestesses used to make the holy drink (mark: holy).

Sumerians thought, not only is it a drink made by the gods, from the gods, and for the gods, but it beat the gross water out of those peed-in rivers and lakes. 

Also, beer was, as they defended it vehemently, a byproduct of agriculture and godlike intervention, not self-interest… So, times haven’t really changed… Or maybe they did.

Ninkasi made “Pop Goddess” a thing before Beyonce did. Photo Source: MesopotamianGods.com

3. HEQET

First appeared in Ancient Egypt

How the deities kicked back at the end of the day. Page source: www.ancientpages.com

The Ancient Egyptians didn’t just like their beer, they dedicated a whole goddess and drunk following after it. 

Whether they copied the Sumerians has yet to be determined. Beer along with instructions on how to make the holiness may have slowly traveled over to them through the Hymn of Ninkasi, which may have led to them also wanting those campfire parties. Of course, the Egyptians also had to apply the reason for this to agriculture… er… godlike intervention. Tenenit was the Egyptian goddess of beer at first and helped get people drunk since 2000 BCE, and even the fertility goddess Hathor somehow has a role in it in childbirth, an act not recommendable today (getting drunk in labor is a no-no, guys). The Egyptian workers loved it, and it made pyramid-working a bit less strenuous.

Tch, what a long day. Let’s get this beer funnel going. Page source: Threader App

Heqet the frog goddess succeeded Tenenit when it became obvious some things were against the rules. So, next time you pass a frog, offer them a beer or something close. You never know.

The favorite type of beer, you ask? It was called Heqet (or Hecht), of course—a honey-flavored brew—perfect for those tipsy sunset paper boats trips down the Nile, whether you’re human, frog, or crocodile.

Check it out — Ta Henket! Page source: thedogsofbeer.wordpress.com

Curious as to what it tasted like? Dogfish Head has an ancient ale line and recently added Egypt to theirs — Ta Henket is a variation of the ancient beer, modified for our modern spoiled taste buds: https://www.dogfish.com/brewery/beer/ta-henket.

Advertisement

4. BRUTOS

First appeared in Thrace (via Ancient Greece) Beer traveled on its own (by paper boat) over to Ancient Greece from Egypt, but the Grecians found its yumminess barbaric – and stuck to wine. The Thracians, however, kinda got used to it.

This type of beer was modified to be made from rye, so it’s a very different beer than what you’d beer-funnel today. Brytos or brutos remained the only word for beer in Ancient Greece and was so abhorred that it left Greek household speech, and created plenty of soap-washed mouths, by the late fourth century BC. It was kind of like the word fuck for the religious. So, as the Grecians kept sipping their wine, the beer silently went on over to the Romans. Carpe Cervisia — seize the beer!

Two beer steins acculturating to Ancient Greece. Photo Credit: Greek Boston

5. OL

FIRST FOUND IN OLD GERMANY (GERMANIA) Pale ale lovers: did you think the word ale came from Middle English or Irish? I did.

Then I researched this and found out that the Teutons first made up that word. Ol (sometimes also spelled alu) is the old German word for ‘ale’ (!!), brewed as early as 800 BCE as an alternative to constant battle (not really, but it was known as a supplement to their diet) and found in plenty of beer jugs and drunken burial places in Kasendorf, a village in the lushly forested, drunk part of Bavaria.

Of course, Ol was still a bit different from what we know — it didn’t yet contain hops. It was originally bittered with gruit, a mixture of herbs and spices boiled before fermentation. Gruit ales had a much more ‘herbal taste’, and were much stronger than modern ales — gruit causes narcotic, aphrodisiacal, and psychotropic effects — so, causing much popularity and reproduction among the brewers. Hops, on the other hand, lowers libido, but it is a bit healthier.

Get your gruit on! Vermouth’s beery cousin is ready to party. Photo source: brewpublic.com

Those curious about how those gruit ales work… er, taste… are in luck. Some breweries still make them today. Just be prepared: it does not taste like the beers you know. It’s like vermouth is to wine.

The Kulmbacher Monchshof Kloster, a monastery in Kulmbach, Germany, made the first modern beer as we know it today, called Schwarzbier, and is still making it. Trip to Kulmbach, anyone?

Kulmbach even has a beer week. Yay! Photo source: Fotocommunity

We can’t forget that Deutschland created the Reinheitsgebot (Purity Law) for beer in 1516, which allows any beer made in Germany to be cleaner than tap water. Also, it is in some places called liquid bread — or ‘Beer’s first amendment’ or ‘Beer’s right to vote’ — whatever you want to call it. The Purity Law makes sure that any diarrhea you have the next day is not due to hops. This is also very helpful when justifying hangovers: I thought it was food!

Well, it is…