As far as beverages go, beer is an extremely old drink. Beer brewing is thought to have been in practice in ancient Mesopotamia prior to 4,000 B.C. Many references to brewing appear in literature from the region that survives from ancient times.
Brewing in Vats
Sumerian brewers in Mesopotamia worked using large vats that were constructed out of soil or clay. They blended their brew inside of these vats. They made beer out of a sprouted-barley bread called "bappir." They baked bappir twice to give it a hard texture. They then broke it down into many pieces and placed it into the vat. Brewers could store the bread for years at a time prior to using it for brewing. Surviving Mesopotamian documents and inscriptions reveal more about the ingredients used in brewing than the actual process. Since bread was a major component in beer brewing, a lot of discussion has arisen regarding which product appeared first.
Lots of Variety in Brewing
Brewing was big business in ancient Mesopotamia, with a substantial portion of cereal crops used for beer-making purposes. Brewers made many different varieties of beer. Sumerian clay tablets from the third millennium B.C. describe more than 20 varieties of the beverage, including dark beer, red-brown beer, fresh beer, pressed beer, light beer and strong beer. Brewers produced all these beers in different manners. Red-brown beer, for example, contained additional malt. Levels of bappir, the source of the malt, had a great effect on the beverage, not only in terms of darkness or lightness but also in terms of flavor.
Goddess of Beer
Brewing and beer in general had strongly positive associations in ancient Mesopotamia. Brewers were highly revered and were as a result often associated with gods. The art of brewing had its own goddess, too. Her name was Ninkasi and the Sumerians linked her to the process of fermentation. She was believed to have become a goddess by giving the world the brewing process. Sumerian clay tablets record a hymn to Ninkasi that also doubled as a handy beer recipe.
Beer and Good Cheer
The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, from about 1,800 B.C., referred to beer as being beneficial for drinkers' moods -- enhancing both joy and warmth. Mesopotamian cultures, notably the Babylonians, frequently consumed beer in social situations, often in taverns in the heart of towns and cities. They also drank it a lot at home.
Women as Brewers in Mesopotamia
Women had a big place in the world of Mesopotamian brewing, hence the goddess Ninkasi. Many women were employed in the brewing trade, both in making and selling the beverage. Female brewers were actually more common than male brewers. Brewing, along with sewing and weaving, was a traditional occupation for women in ancient Mesopotamian cultures.
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- The Technology of Mesopotamia; Graham Faiella
- Handbook to Life in Ancient Mesopotamia; Stephen Bertman
- Women in Ugarit and Israel; Hennie J. Marsman
- Alcohol in Popular Culture; Rachel Black
- Brewing Yeast and Fermentation; Christopher Boulton and David Quain
- A History of Beer and Brewing; Ian Spencer Hornsey
- Liquid Bread; Wulf Schiefenhovel and Helen Macbeth
- A History of the World in Six Glasses; Tom Standage
- Empires of Ancient Mesopotamia; Barbara A. Somervill
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