Drink Like an Egyptian

Taste Ancient Egyptian Beer

Drink of Gods, Priests and Workers

The Ancient Egyptians drank beer:

*daily! Beer was the staple drink of ancient Egyptian workers and craftsmen – wine was for rich people. Low alcohol beer (like the Israeli brand Nesher Beer) replaced water lost through sweat and provided calories. The sugar and complex carbohydrates provided food energy and it was an important source of minerals, amino acids and vitamins.

* building pyramids. Beer and bread were the staple wage of workers on government projects.

* celebrating. Lists of gifts brought to parties in Ancient Egypt included pots of beer.

* when abroad. An Egyptian expedition at the site of Ein Besor in the northern Negev at the start of the 3rd millennium BCE brought a special vat for making Egyptian beer to Canaan with them – although they came to Canaan to trade in wine.

* when celebrating certain religious festivals. Getting drunk was considered a way of entering religious ecstasy.

* in the afterworld. A standard prayer asks for “bread and beer, beef and fowl, ointment and clothing, everything good and pure to the soul of so-and-so.”

Egyptian gods and goddesses also received regular supplies of beer as offerings – especially Hathor, goddess of love, who was also called “Mistress of Drunkenness.”

Why does ancient Egyptian beer taste different from modern beer?

Ancient Modern
Mostly home made, but temples and building projects had large breweries Factory produced
Lower alcohol content 3-4% 5%
Wild yeast? Commercially produced yeast
Sugar derived from grain – dates were sometimes added Added grape or corn sugar
No hops – tastes sweeter, more like wine Added hops
Contained chaff – had to be filtered before drinking Clear

Making Ancient Egyptian Beer at Home

For Tel Aviv University Scientists’ Night on September 22nd, 2011, Nir Orlev and Yaniv Agmon, MA students at the Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, made beer according to the Ancient Egyptian method (with input from Deborah Sweeney). They served over 1,300 samples to visitors, 90% of whom were enthusiastic, and explained the ancient Egyptian process of beer-making.

No ancient Egyptian recipes for beer have been preserved. The process was reconstructed by Dr. Delwen Samuel, now working at Kings’ College, London. She examined Ancient Egyptian beer residues on ancient pottery and analysed the chemical changes produced in beer making.
She suggests that the Egyptians used malted emmer (emmer which had already sprouted), ground it and mixed it with cool water; this was added to an equal quantity of emmer wheat, which was ground and boiled with water. The mixture was sieved to remove brain and chaff, and allowed to ferment.

In Israel, barley is sold already malted, so it was not necessary to leave it to sprout.

Ingredients (for approx. 2 litres of beer)

1kg malt

3 litres tap water

60 g ale yeast

450 millimetres date honey

Procedure

1. Grind the malt.

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2.Put half of it into a cloth.

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3. Boil the malt in a cloth in hot water for an hour

4At the same time, soak the other half of the malt in lukewarm water to extract the enzymes from it.

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4. After an hour, the water in which the malt was boiled becomes dark brown with starch. Strain the two liquids and mix them. Boil the mixture and add date honey as a sweetener. Cool the container with the liquid in a water bath.

65. Once the temperature of the liquid has decreased to 35°, pour into fermenting vessel and add yeast.

76. Let the liquid ferment for 12 hours whilst the vessel is open.

7. Seal fermenting vessel and leave for four days.

8. After fours days, strain and bottle. Wait another two to three days before drinking.

9. Drink and enjoy!

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P.S. You’ll have a strong smell of beer in your house for at least a week. We recommend consulting your family or housemates before starting this project.

Further reading

Samuel, D. Beer. In: Redford, D. B. (ed.). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. Oxford: 171-172.

Samuel, D. Rediscovering Ancient Egyptian Beer. Brewer’s Guardian 124/12: 27-31.

Geller, J. R. From Prehistory to History: Beer in Ancient Egypt. In: Friedman, R. and Adams, B. (eds.). The Followers of Horus: Studies Dedicated to Michael Allen Hoffman 1944-1990. Oxford: 19-26.