From Ancient Egypt to Roman Britain, brewers are reviving beers from the past


Beer, one of the oldest and most beloved beverages in human history, has a fascinating story that stretches back millennia. In recent years, a group of intrepid researchers and brewers, known as beer archaeologists, have embarked on a journey to recreate ancient brews from civilizations like Egypt, Greece, and Rome using ancient methods and ingredients. These efforts have provided a unique glimpse into the past and shed light on the brewing techniques of our ancestors.

Travis Rupp, also known as The Beer Archaeologist, is one such pioneer in the field. Combining his expertise in Classics and Anthropology with his brewing experience, Rupp has recreated a line of archaic rebrews, earning him recognition in the brewing community. These ancient recipes offer a tangible connection to history, allowing us to taste and experience the flavors enjoyed by ancient civilizations.

One of the key revelations from these rebrews is the simplicity of ancient beer-making methods. Unlike modern brewing techniques, which often involve complex processes and ingredients, ancient brewers relied on basic principles such as sprouting grains, heating them in water to create sugars, and fermenting the mixture with yeast. While the basics remain the same, ancient brewers experimented with various flavorings and ingredients, creating a diverse range of brews.

One notable difference between ancient and modern brewing is the use of hops. While hops have been a staple in beer-making for centuries, their first documented use dates back to 9th Century monks in France. Before the introduction of hops, ancient brewers used a variety of herbs, spices, and fruits to flavor their brews. This bold approach to flavoring has inspired modern-day brewers to explore new possibilities in beer-making.

Rupp’s Ales of Antiquity series at Avery Brewing is a testament to the diversity of ancient brewing traditions. From Nestor’s Cup, a Mycenaean-era recipe dating back to 1600-1100 BCE, to a 900-year-old South American corn beer called chicha, each brew offers a unique glimpse into the past. Rupp’s latest creations, based on Homer’s descriptions of kykeon, are still in the process of aging, but promise to be a fascinating addition to the collection.

Michaela Charles, another brewer who has delved into ancient beer-making, was tasked with recreating an Egyptian beer from the time of the Pharaohs. Drawing on archaeological evidence and historical texts, Charles was able to recreate the brewing process using ancient techniques and ingredients. The result was a smooth and flavorful beer that transported drinkers back in time.

In addition to offering a taste of history, these rebrews have challenged the notion that ancient brewing was primitive or unsophisticated. In fact, many of the techniques and ingredients used by ancient brewers demonstrate a level of ingenuity and sophistication that rivals modern brewing methods. As Tasha Marks, a food historian involved in a rebrewing project at the British Museum, noted, the Egyptian method of brewing makes a fool of modern brewers.

Patrick McGovern, also known as the “Indiana Jones of Ancient Ales,” has been instrumental in uncovering ancient brewing traditions. Through his research and collaboration with breweries like Dogfish Head, McGovern has recreated ancient brews like Midas Touch, a blend of barley beer, honey mead, and grape wine inspired by an ancient Turkish tomb.

Other brewers, like Jane Peyton and Ilkley Brewery, have taken inspiration from ancient brewing traditions to create their own unique brews. Peyton’s medieval gruit ale, Doctor’s Orders, is flavored with botanicals believed to have medicinal properties, while Rupp is experimenting with brewing beer using brackish water, a practice that may have been common in Roman-occupied Britain.

Overall, the resurgence of interest in ancient brewing techniques has sparked a renaissance in the beer world. By exploring our brewing heritage and embracing ancient methods and ingredients, brewers are pushing the boundaries of what beer can be. Whether it’s recreating a 5,000-year-old Babylonian beer or experimenting with ancient grains and flavorings, the future of beer is as rich and diverse as its past.


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