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Ancient Egyptian beer using bread?

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Gadjobrinus

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My son is doing a pretty cool research project on ancient Egypt and his prof himself years ago did some work on ancient brewing methods. He has several terra cotta pieces, the larger pot for fermentation and 4 smaller holders which I believed is where they baked bread to be later quartered and ground and tossed into water along with aromatics (e.g., pistachios, rose petals, coriander, cumin, honey, dates).

I've seen some recipes using modern materials and methods to get close to what they think it looked, smelled, tasted like; and others trying to do the best they can to emulate ancient materials and practices - some variant of Hymn of Ninkasi - to get a drinkable beer.

I'm suggesting the latter approach. We have barley malt, though I'm not certain they actually knew anything about malting then. I've seen some suggest the baking was itself a sort of enzymatic saccharification, akin to kilning crystals today.

I can get whole emmer grain at Whole Paycheck.

One guide I'm looking at does no boil; cold-steeps some of the bill, and hot soaks the other portion, mixing them back together and allowing everything, w/ dates and honey, for example, to ferment out together. It is then filtered off. It is flat.

Anyone try this?
 

Robert65

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An in depth, enlightening, and often surprising resource on traditional brewing and yeast wrangling methods around the world, ancient and modern, is Lars Marius Garshol's blog, the name of which I can't immediately recall. He has had a number of posts related to Egyptian practices. Search that out.
 

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My son is doing a pretty cool research project on ancient Egypt and his prof himself years ago did some work on ancient brewing methods. He has several terra cotta pieces, the larger pot for fermentation and 4 smaller holders which I believed is where they baked bread to be later quartered and ground and tossed into water along with aromatics (e.g., pistachios, rose petals, coriander, cumin, honey, dates).

I've seen some recipes using modern materials and methods to get close to what they think it looked, smelled, tasted like; and others trying to do the best they can to emulate ancient materials and practices - some variant of Hymn of Ninkasi - to get a drinkable beer.

I'm suggesting the latter approach. We have barley malt, though I'm not certain they actually knew anything about malting then. I've seen some suggest the baking was itself a sort of enzymatic saccharification, akin to kilning crystals today.

I can get whole emmer grain at Whole Paycheck.

One guide I'm looking at does no boil; cold-steeps some of the bill, and hot soaks the other portion, mixing them back together and allowing everything, w/ dates and honey, for example, to ferment out together. It is then filtered off. It is flat.

Anyone try this?
I did something similar as an archeology experiment in college and it ended up tasting like puke. We just stone ground grain and put it into water heated by hot stones in a wood vessel and left it to open ferment.

However, using dates would probably help since they are covered in yeast (we didn't).

Didn't someone do this early in the craft beer revolution (dogfish head?). Maybe they have a recipe somewhere.

I also read somewhere that baking the unmalted grain into bread would be important for making it more fermentable (as well as significantly change the flavors I would think)
 
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Gadjobrinus

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Great, thanks guys. One confusion I'm coming across is that some brewers seem to rely on the "Hymn to Ninkasi" as a sort of loose methods blueprint, but wrongly attribute the goddess to Egyptian culture. She's Sumerian, where they drank it more like a porridge, whereas as I understand it, the Egyptian's beer was closer to our idea.

Interestingly, on Larsblog (thanks again Robert), he has a fascinating break down of keptinis - beer bread, gaining maillard's from baking the mash then lautering as per seen in Baltics as well (my wife's Estonian - theirs is much like Finnish sahti, but it's called koduõlu). Oddly enough, it seems this Lithuanian beer may correspond in many ways to what they did in making "bread beer" in Egypt.

I know there won't be any hops her; no boiling; dates, honey, and some spice aromatics or bittering component. Will ferment in the terra cotta and bake the mash in these little cups. Should be cool. Thanks again.
 

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Great, thanks guys. One confusion I'm coming across is that some brewers seem to rely on the "Hymn to Ninkasi" as a sort of loose methods blueprint, but wrongly attribute the goddess to Egyptian culture. She's Sumerian, where they drank it more like a porridge, whereas as I understand it, the Egyptian's beer was closer to our idea.

Interestingly, on Larsblog (thanks again Robert), he has a fascinating break down of keptinis - beer bread, gaining maillard's from baking the mash then lautering as per seen in Baltics as well (my wife's Estonian - theirs is much like Finnish sahti, but it's called koduõlu). Oddly enough, it seems this Lithuanian beer may correspond in many ways to what they did in making "bread beer" in Egypt.

I know there won't be any hops her; no boiling; dates, honey, and some spice aromatics or bittering component. Will ferment in the terra cotta and bake the mash in these little cups. Should be cool. Thanks again.
Keptines is basically a normal beer where the entire mash is turned into a type of crystal malt sludge.

It's then sparged and boiled with hops as any normal beer is.

It's a great and unique tasting beer! Did this once and shall do it again. :)
 

TheMadKing

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Great, thanks guys. One confusion I'm coming across is that some brewers seem to rely on the "Hymn to Ninkasi" as a sort of loose methods blueprint, but wrongly attribute the goddess to Egyptian culture. She's Sumerian, where they drank it more like a porridge, whereas as I understand it, the Egyptian's beer was closer to our idea.

Interestingly, on Larsblog (thanks again Robert), he has a fascinating break down of keptinis - beer bread, gaining maillard's from baking the mash then lautering as per seen in Baltics as well (my wife's Estonian - theirs is much like Finnish sahti, but it's called koduõlu). Oddly enough, it seems this Lithuanian beer may correspond in many ways to what they did in making "bread beer" in Egypt.

I know there won't be any hops her; no boiling; dates, honey, and some spice aromatics or bittering component. Will ferment in the terra cotta and bake the mash in these little cups. Should be cool. Thanks again.
Now that you mention it, I seem to remember there being a rather unpleasant tasting drink made in russia from break soaked in water... googling... Kvass - that might get you close to a traditional recipe given that this technique is probably quite ancient
 
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Gadjobrinus

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Now that you mention it, I seem to remember there being a rather unpleasant tasting drink made in russia from break soaked in water... googling... Kvass - that might get you close to a traditional recipe given that this technique is probably quite ancient
Ugh.....unpleasant is polite, MadKing. I had Kvass for the first and last time after a trip to Chicago and brought it back....!

God, I hope not! The blog describes it as an unboiled, raw beer - "hot water" is poured on top of the broken mash, lautered over their traditional lautering system. Cool water is blended in, and pitched.

It's obviously impossible to know what the Egyptians did. I'm pulling from several sources. Reality check?

(no ratios yet)

unmalted emmer
Pale MO
Mash, bake to develop melanoidins to a red hue
crumble into fermentor, something like a terra cotta shipping vessel; add in honey and mashed dates
cold water on top

porridge. Ferment with bread yeast, as they likely used the same "white stuff" they knew leavened bread, but didn't know what it was. Dates, everything, goes into fermentor.

Let it finish. Sieve. Drink cool, and flat.

???
 

TheMadKing

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Ugh.....unpleasant is polite, MadKing. I had Kvass for the first and last time after a trip to Chicago and brought it back....!

God, I hope not! The blog describes it as an unboiled, raw beer - "hot water" is poured on top of the broken mash, lautered over their traditional lautering system. Cool water is blended in, and pitched.

It's obviously impossible to know what the Egyptians did. I'm pulling from several sources. Reality check?

(no ratios yet)

unmalted emmer
Pale MO
Mash, bake to develop melanoidins to a red hue
crumble into fermentor, something like a terra cotta shipping vessel; add in honey and mashed dates
cold water on top

porridge. Ferment with bread yeast, as they likely used the same "white stuff" they knew leavened bread, but didn't know what it was. Dates, everything, goes into fermentor.

Let it finish. Sieve. Drink cool, and flat.

???
You might want something in there to cut the sweetness, like herbs of some sort. In Northern Europe it would have been mug wort, yarrow, Heather, juniper, something like that. But I don't know what an equivalent would be in Egypt.
 
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Gadjobrinus

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You might want something in there to cut the sweetness, like herbs of some sort. In Northern Europe it would have been mug wort, yarrow, Heather, juniper, something like that. But I don't know what an equivalent would be in Egypt.
Thanks, that's really helpful. My wife's "people" use juniper, as spruce boughs are what's lain in logs when making their version of Sahti (the koduõlu" I mention above. Estonian is a ridiculous language....13 cases!), and they love it. My wife is also a huge fan of Fraoch. I want to like the use of herbs other than hops - just for the coolness factor of drinking medieval practices, for one (I can't drink beer anymore, really - sucks). Just never caught on with me.

I've actually seen yarrow in a recipe somewhere, and the reasoning behind it. Apparently yarrow was very common in Egypt. I think there's an ornamental called "Egyptian Yarrow" but I don't know if it's edible. Much appreciated, will look into it.

One thing that did occur to me is that I've seen this notion of mash-bread crumbed into the pot, and fermentation takes place as a porridge, with tannins, etc. Not the most pleasant bitterness I can imagine, but it did make me curious to see what this would be like, a deliberate fermentation on husks for some deliberate bittering and acridity.
 
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Gadjobrinus

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Sounds like it will be sour. Sourness works fine for balancing sweetness.

I had a commercial kvass Slightly Insane from Wise Man Brewing in NC. It was really good.
I thought it would end up sour as well, though tbh that was when I thought to just go totally wild. There's a lot of evidence they used a maintained store of yeast for both bread and beer, so I think we'll pitch good old baker's and see what happens. Probably grand nastiness.:D

BTW Mad, you did it for an arch. class, this is an intro anthro. class. First semester college...:)
 

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They wouldn't have been able to separate the yeast from bacteria.
This is quite untrue. Throughout history and even today, bacteria free cultures of yeasts are harvested from nature and built up for use in baking and brewing every day. They may be dried and revived, or grown up new for each use. Innumerable methods for doing this exist, the common thread being providing an environment that selectively favors a given type of organism (this of course is the principle of all fermentation of food and drink.) One thing that can't be done practically is maintaining them actively without risk of infection; the presence of symbiotic, protective, bacteria is what makes sourdough nearly immortal in a wet state. As Lars has detailed, the Egyptians, Greeks, and other ancient cultures regularly employed pure yeast cultures free of bacteria in baking and brewing. Kveik is in a sense the last of its kind in brewing, but in many parts of the world "sweet" spontaneous starters for bread are still a commonplace.
 
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Gadjobrinus

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They wouldn't have been able to separate the yeast from bacteria.
Yeah, lol, just after I typed it I thought, "you dumba$$, ever hear of your sourdough?" I was hoping no one would catch my idiocy, if you want the truth....

So yep, pretty sure Safale wasn't part of the New Kingdom.:confused:
 
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Gadjobrinus

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are we sure egyptians didn't sprout it? all the grain would have to do is get wet a bit....
From what I understand, there's plenty of evidence they knew about malting and used malted barley. So far, I've only seen material talking about unmalted emmer. It would be fun to do trials with variants on this.
 
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Gadjobrinus

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This is quite untrue. Throughout history and even today, bacteria free cultures of yeasts are harvested from nature and built up for use in baking and brewing every day. They may be dried and revived, or grown up new for each use. Innumerable methods for doing this exist, the common thread being providing an environment that selectively favors a given type of organism (this of course is the principle of all fermentation of food and drink.) One thing that can't be done practically is maintaining them actively without risk of infection; the presence of symbiotic, protective, bacteria is what makes sourdough nearly immortal in a wet state. As Lars has detailed, the Egyptians, Greeks, and other ancient cultures regularly employed pure yeast cultures free of bacteria in baking and brewing. Kveik is in a sense the last of its kind in brewing, but in many parts of the world "sweet" spontaneous starters for bread are still a commonplace.
I'm interested in this. I am an experienced french alpine cheesemaker, and use this kind of selection for my bacterias and yeasts. It takes about 20 generations of micro-vats to get from a "mother" to a starter with my desired profile, but I do agree with the idea of "build the environment, and they will come." This goes for both my "SLABs" (starter lactic acid bacterias), and all cave flora. I just wouldn't have thought they'd have knowledge of this, though I also admit with lots of time, it wouldn't matter if they knew or not, they tweaked this and that and got what they wanted, and kept with it.

Great point for some research, thanks, guys.
 

Robert65

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I'm interested in this. I am an experienced french alpine cheesemaker, and use this kind of selection for my bacterias and yeasts. It takes about 20 generations of micro-vats to get from a "mother" to a starter with my desired profile, but I do agree with the idea of "build the environment, and they will come." This goes for both my "SLABs" (starter lactic acid bacterias), and all cave flora. I just wouldn't have thought they'd have knowledge of this, though I also admit with lots of time, it wouldn't matter if they knew or not, they tweaked this and that and got what they wanted, and kept with it.

Great point for some research, thanks, guys.
Yes, these are the sorts of practices that just emerge over time.
 

bracconiere

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This is quite untrue. Throughout history and even today, bacteria free cultures of yeasts are harvested from nature and built up for use in baking and brewing every day. They may be dried and revived, or grown up new for each use. Innumerable methods for doing this exist, the common thread being providing an environment that selectively favors a given type of organism (this of course is the principle of all fermentation of food and drink.) One thing that can't be done practically is maintaining them actively without risk of infection; the presence of symbiotic, protective, bacteria is what makes sourdough nearly immortal in a wet state. As Lars has detailed, the Egyptians, Greeks, and other ancient cultures regularly employed pure yeast cultures free of bacteria in baking and brewing. Kveik is in a sense the last of its kind in brewing, but in many parts of the world "sweet" spontaneous starters for bread are still a commonplace.
every time i tried to sterilize my fermenter i get sour beer, when i just pasteurize, never sour.....so +1 to protective bacteria!
 

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This is quite untrue.
Since Lars is the expert...
Have a read:
http://www.garshol.priv.no/blog/306.html
His research shows that it was quite common for all historical beer to develop acidity, which means cultures were mixed. This is even after the use of hops became widespread.
Therefore logically it's safe to assume unhopped historical beer would definitely be sour.

Even modern kveik cultures mostly contain bacteria despite our vastly greater understanding of microbiology.
http://www.garshol.priv.no/download/farmhouse/kveik.html

If you have any sources to support your claim, I'd love to read them.
 

TheMadKing

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Sounds like it will be sour. Sourness works fine for balancing sweetness.

I had a commercial kvass Slightly Insane from Wise Man Brewing in NC. It was really good.
Possibly, but he is planning to innoculate with bread yeast, which can result in a clean fermentation. I agree that if it is sour then nothing else is needed
 

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Since Lars is the expert...
Have a read:
http://www.garshol.priv.no/blog/306.html
His research shows that it was quite common for all historical beer to develop acidity, which means cultures were mixed. This is even after the use of hops became widespread.
Therefore logically it's safe to assume unhopped historical beer would definitely be sour.

Even modern kveik cultures mostly contain bacteria despite our vastly greater understanding of microbiology.
http://www.garshol.priv.no/download/farmhouse/kveik.html

If you have any sources to support your claim, I'd love to read them.
The distinction is between "clean" or "sweet," and "sour." Some admixture of bacteria is inevitable. Modern yeast breads always experience some bacterial fermentation (from bacteria native to the flour) yet the character is not dominant (but you'd probably miss it if it wasn't there.) It isn't necessary to have a "pure" culture in the sense of a modern, single cell, yeast culture to have something radically different from sourdough or sour beer; almost all bread, beer, wine etc. has always had some minuscule lactic character. All of our modern brewing yeasts originally came from the wild and were selected over time. Modern bread yeasts derive from excess harvested yeast sold to bakers by brewers. So we see that modern science and laboratories were not needed to select and maintain "clean" cultures. And as for non-sour bread starters, the general practices follow two main strategies. One is to source yeast from the skins of fruits which are used to inoculate flour paste. The other is to make a paste in the same way as for sourdough starters and culture the native organisms, but first amend the water by boiling with hops or other bacteriostatic botanicals, or otherwise adjusting its composition to suppress bacterial growth in favor of yeast. These preparations, if maintained and fed like sourdoughs, would not be resistant to infection, so must be made as one-off recipes.
 

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@Robert65
I'm having trouble sorting out what point(s) you're trying to make.
Just that despite the inability to isolate a pure culture as we do today, beer and bread were not always sour in the past, as is often assumed. Sour products had their place as they do now, but mild, clean breads and beers have always been prized, and methods to produce them were always common. So discussion of ancient breads and beers should not start from an assumption that they would have been, to some degree at least, sour. That's all.
 

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I never said all historical beer was sour. In my opinion there's too little evidence to make any kind of blanket statements about that.

I'm talking about this specific beer, which I believe has a high likelihood of souring at some point in time if it contains unpasteurized ingredients and no hops.
 

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I think time is the key here. As I understand it, like most "folk" beers today, the bulk of ancient beer was prepared daily and consumed relatively early in fermentation, when alcohol content was low and souring would not have proceeded very far. But if kept, it would surely sour. And I suspect that the Egyptians would have regarded it the same way we do when that happens to our milk. The best "evidence" for this may be the archaeological evidence for constant, daily beer (and bread) production in Egyptian households, palaces, work sites, and so on. It seems to have been imperative to have a constant, fresh supply.
 

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Thinking of Egyptian temperatures, I assume that the beverage was most likely at least a bit sour, already early on during the fermentation process.
 
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Gadjobrinus

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I think time is the key here. As I understand it, like most "folk" beers today, the bulk of ancient beer was prepared daily and consumed relatively early in fermentation, when alcohol content was low and souring would not have proceeded very far. But if kept, it would surely sour. And I suspect that the Egyptians would have regarded it the same way we do when that happens to our milk. The best "evidence" for this may be the archaeological evidence for constant, daily beer (and bread) production in Egyptian households, palaces, work sites, and so on. It seems to have been imperative to have a constant, fresh supply.
This is my exact understanding as well. Unlike now, a raw, fresh product drunk as a refresher daily, and I seem to recall a fermentation of a couple days and out was not atypical. I'd have to look. But the one constant I'm finding is what Robert is saying.
 

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I have seen a recipe for Ethiopian tej mead that starts with a bread beer called tella.
 

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consumed relatively early in fermentation, when alcohol content was low and souring would not have proceeded very far.
I agree:
HYPOTHETICALLY, IF the ancients pitched only minimal sour mixed culture and then consumed the beer the same day, it possibly wouldn't be sour -- mainly because it would be so sweet.

However:
Acidity is beneficial in mixed fermentations because it prevents growth of a variety of pathogenic and foul tasting bacteria, especially before the yeast can produce enough alcohol to kill sensitive microbes.
In other words, acid has a strong preservative effect and it's easy to introduce quickly.
Why wouldn't they have used this to their advantage??

For example they could have added some of yesterday's remaining sour beer at the end of the mash both to help it cool faster and to drop the pH to prevent spoilage.

You cannot arrive at any kind of definitive conclusion about sourness just because they seem to have brewed so frequently.
 

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True. What we need are first hand descriptions at the very least. I'm sure a beer loving culture left poetic descriptions of beer in praise of it. But even then, taste descriptors are culturally calibrated. Perhaps the best we can do is compare the many folk beers, toddies, chicha, etc., that still exist. Not that I have a lot of experience here, but most of the descriptions I've heard from travelers are of mildly sweetish beverages (perhaps as you suggest because of a lot of unfermented sugars.) Some acidity could be, as you point out, potentially beneficial. Certainly acidity is a feature of any beer we make today. But that isn't the same as outright sourness, and with cultured beer yeasts, the yeast itself is capable of rapidly dropping pH to a level that inhibits infection without the immediate aid of bacteria. It seems to me that the additional benefit of mixed fermentation (like hopping) accrues mainly to beers that are intended for longer keeping, which don't seem to have existed before the middle ages at least. That doesn't mean that the same organisms at play in mixed fermentation weren't present, but they may not have had a chance to make a significant contribution to the character of the beer. (In building a sourdough culture, the yeasts always seem to outpace the bacteria in the early days.) I still imagine that the ancient beers tasted more like an unfermented cereal soup (maybe with just a sparkle on the tongue) than like any fermented beverage we might recognize. But that's just my imagination.
 

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I'm not a historian but I do know sour beer and wild fermentation.

To replicate historical Egyptian beer based on what you've said:
The culture should be mixed yeast/bacteria and phenolic.
The beer should be only partially fermented and sweet.
Single malt.
The beer will be served will be warm and uncarbonated, the same day it's brewed.

I've read many thoughts that most historical beer would also be smoky.

Why anyone would want to try to replicate this, I don't know.
I'm sure a beer loving culture left poetic descriptions of beer in praise of it.
I'd love to read some of your beer poetry :)
 

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From a poem of the XIX Dynasty, in praise of the products available at the city of Per-Ramses in the Delta; tr. in Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts..., Princeton, 1969:

"The ale of 'Great of Victories' is sweet; the beer of Kode from the harbor, and wine of the vineyards. The ointment of the Segbeyen waters is sweet, and the garlands of the garden."

Notes:

1) "Great of Victories" is an epithetic name for the city of Per-Ramses.

2) Kode is on the north Phoenician coast.

Thoughts:

All in all, this seems to me to suggest that a) beer was called "sweet" in a sense that could be applied to wine, perfume, and garlands of flowers, and b) that there was in fact imported (from Kode via the harbor) beer, necessarily of some age, that was also called sweet in this same sense.

That's all I've got to add tonight. I need a beer.
 

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In my experience, wild cultures tend to only attenuate around 50%, even with today's highly modified malts and low degree of caramelization.

It's not surprising ancient beer was sweet, even though there was probably a significant acidic component.
 

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I've brewed Chris Colby's Ancient Sumerian beer recipe that was based on the old Hymn to Ninkasi. I used wild yeast. It turned out really well, and very clean, even with wild yeast. Sour yes. It was partially boiled, partially not. I always said "tastes like sour fruity bacon". It really did. It won a gold medal in competition in the weird Specialty Category 23 (at the time). If you're a BYO online member you can pick up the full recipe details at the following link, otherwise I'll share a few details with you anyway, if memory serves:

https://byo.com/recipe/really-old-style-ancient-sumerian-beer/

1) It all started with a date wine, which served as the yeast starter. The dates and maybe my own body were the source of the wild yeast. Essentially I had several pounds of dates in a gallon or so of water in a 5-gallon bucket... I washed my hands and arms as best as I could, then reached in and crushed up all the dates in the water with my hands until it formed a nice date-water slurry. Then I simply let that sit for several days, covered, until it was foaming like mad from all the wild yeast.

2) Meanwhile, I ground several pounds of malt and torrified wheat to flour in my blender, including some smoked malt, then baked "bappir" bread out of this smoked barley flour. Honey and water were added to the flour to form a stiff dough consistency (and maybe some more dates)? This was formed into a round flat (2-2.5 inch thick?) bread shape and baked in the oven until crisp, then sliced and toasted for even more toasty goodness. Keep in mind there was zero leavening in this bread, it was really just baked and toasted flour paste. A bit like hard-tack maybe if you know what that is.

3) A few days later then, it was the real "brew day". A mash was made of the crushed bappir bread along with some fresh "normal" modern crushed malt. This was all mashed together pretty much like the standard modern method, except that there was bread in it. It was even sparged and boiled using modern techniques. As to the exact temperatures... who cares! The Sumerians' results probably varied, so just take a guess! To be fair I think I aimed for about 156 F. This resulted in a fairly standard light bodied beery beverage later on. So anyway, after running off and boiling like "normal", then cooling, this wort was added to the date-wine yeast starter, and allowed to ferment like normal. I think some more honey was also added at this point as well. No hops. No herbs.

During fermentation, there was a lot of sulfur produced. However this was short lived, maybe a week or two, but then was gone, leaving just a clean, sour, smoky beer. It was NOT a sweet beer, it all fully attenuated. I bottled it up and carbonated it in modern fashion. It turned out clear as well, no haze.

I don't think I will brew this again. The beer while clean and tasty, and won a gold medal, was not a favorite of mine. If I ever brew it again, I will not use any smoked malt. It took me a few years to realize that I in fact hate smoked malt. Personal preference. If forced, I would limit the amount of smoked malt to no more than say 7-8% of the total "grist" for a very mild effect.

So that's some experience from somebody who's actually meddled with the ancient Sumerian recipe (not Egyptian, sorry). Hope you all gain something from it, or were at least entertained. Cheers all. :)
 

Antie B

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Hi everyone...I’m brand new to all of this but has anyone remembered that the Egyptians could have used Spelt grain as it was predominate all over that area?
 
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