NINKASI Ancient Sumerian Ale
An extraordinary experimental beer, in extremely limited supply.
Brewed at the request of Harvard Design School Prof. Robert France, in conjunction with the international conference “Mesopotamian Marshes and Modern Development,” whose focus was practical approaches for sustaining restored ecological and cultural landscapes.
Production of this beer involved research into Sumerian beers made from barley bread, called “bappir.” A 30 pound batch of this bread was replicated at CBC with barley flour, pale malt, and honey, baked twice, then crumbled and mixed with hot water to form a mash. The sweet, unboiled wort was then run off into open fermenters, where we added chopped fresh dates and coriander, and pitched a wild sourdough yeast culture, purportedly over 1,000 years old, from an Egyptian bread bakery. After one week of this wild fermentation, the beer was cooled and kegged for presentation at Harvard University, and here at CBC. The resulting unhopped beer is cloudy, lightly carbonated, and has interesting notes of grain, dates, and wild yeast, with a pervasive wine-like character and significant tartness.
We hope you appreciate this glimpse deep into humanity’s past, at the dawn of both civilization and beer. Hail, Ninkasi!
The Ancient History of Beer: In the 1950’s, Robert Braidwood of the University of Chicago proposed a link between breadmaking and the domestication of grains nearly 10,000 years ago. In response, Jonathan Sauer of the University of Wisconsin suggested that perhaps these grains were used for beer rather than bread. It has also been postulated that beer was an accidental discovery. Stored barley seeds may have sprouted after becoming moist. With exposure to airborne yeast and more moisture, the sweeter barley sprouts could ferment, making the first beer.
We do know from ancient texts that the earliest beers are Sumerian, from ancient Mesopotamia. Beer appears to have been an important part of Sumerian culture: the word “beer” appears in many contexts relating to religion, medicine and myth. The code of Hammurabi from the 18th c BC details stiff penalties for owners of ancient “brewpubs” who overcharge customers or fail to inform authorities of criminals in their bar.
An ancient prayer, called the Hymn to Ninkasi, the goddess of brewing, fertility and the harvest, describes how bappir, Sumerian bread, is mixed with “aromatics” to ferment in a big vat. It is interesting to note that bappir is a bread stored for long periods of time and is eaten only during food shortages. Yet it is a primary ingredient in the brewing process that supplies the necessary starches for sugar production. This is an effective way of storing raw materials for the brewing of beer. So which came first, the bread or the beer?
Served in a 9oz. glass.
OG: 1.038 FG: 1.012 ABV: 3.4%