How An Ancient Song Hid The World’s Oldest Beer Recipe

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Beer is the third most popular drink in the world, as well as one of the oldest drinks ever made, and during the last 13 millennia, it has changed from a gruel-like nutritious robust drink to a largely industrial process and is on its way back to its roots as a healthier alcohol-free beer.

Whilst it was known that beer is as old as many early civilizations such as the ancient Egyptians, the Sumerians and the Mesopotamians, the fact that evidence of brewing can be found 13,000 years ago is telling of how much beer has played a role in human history.

However, one interesting historical quirk was that the world’s oldest beer recipe was discovered whilst translating an early Sumerian song that had been written onto a tablet.

Goddess Of Beer

In ancient Mesopotamia, one of the world’s oldest civilisations and spanned the entirety of modern Iraq as well as parts of Iran, Kuwait, Turkey and Syria, there were many gods that represented the different parts of everyday life.

This included a goddess of beer by the name of Ninkasi, who whilst not one of the major gods of the Sumerians was commonly worshipped by ordinary people and the state alike, with official references to her in written records in the Great City of Ur.

Whilst not associated with a particular part of the brewing process, given that women typically were the ones who brewed beer up until the Industrial Revolution, she reflected the positives and negatives of beer.

This was during a time when, thanks to inadequate sanitation, beer was often safer to drink than water because the fermentation process killed the bacteria in the water used to brew it.

Arguably the most famous reference to her was in a translated tablet known as the Hymn to Ninkasi, one of the earliest songs and earliest written documents ever found, and one that hides within it one of the first-ever beer recipes.

In a culture which had a very limited reading tradition, hymns and songs with repeated, catchy tunes and simple lyrics were easy to remember, recite and pass on.

The connection between a religious hymn and beer is interesting to a modern observer, but in 

Mesopotamia, beer was treated as almost an elixir of life. It was dense in nutrients thanks to the grains included, was used as the base for medicines and was also used in religious rituals.

Temples in Mesopotamian cities also had brewers, as beer was often left to the gods for them to drink, and Ninkasi herself was depicted as the chief brewer of the gods as well as the beer itself.

Similar works of writing from around this time such as the Epic of Gilgamesh, and two myths of Lugalbanda reference drinking and Ninkasi, highlighting the importance of beer in Mesopotamian culture.

Once the tablet was fully translated, craft beer companies sought to recreate the recipe, and the legacy of Ninkasi lives on in beers that are alcohol-free, low in calories and focus more on nutrition and great taste.

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