Turn back the sands of time to the age of Egyptian pharaohs when generations of men built tombs and temples that became wonders of the world. And the names of Nefertiti and Tutankhamun by words for beauty. Priceless treasures assured their immortality. But the ancient Egyptians left as another more ordinary but no less valued legacy. For they have created beer.
For more recent beer history you can check our Beer 101 taste test, Learn how to make beer, types of beer and its history
The Liquid Gold
The story of the pharaoh’s liquid gold lies deep within Egypt’s monuments. Etched into the chambers that held mummified kings and courtiers are hieroglyphs of their servants. They’re carrying out their everyday duties including brewing. Beer was part of the staple diet of the ancient Egyptians. So important that written on papyrus is a description of a whole army that feels sick. They run out of beer and they had to drink water.
Our quest is to discover how exactly the ancient Egyptians made beer. The taste and potency of that drink sustained a civilization 3000 years ago. We tend to recreate the drink of the pharaohs.
Archeologists found models of servants sealed in the tombs. Ancient Egyptians believed they would accompany the pharaohs to a supernatural realm serving them exactly as they did on earth. Bakers making bread. Brewers making beer. What’s missing from these home brewing kits for the life hereafter are the ingredients and the recipe for beer. For that information, 20th-century brewers have had to follow the Nile much farther south.
The Ancient city of King Akhenaten
In remote villages, families live today much as their ancestors did. In mud bricked houses they use the tools and raw materials of their forefathers. Families descended from one of the most sophisticated cultures in history live at the sustenance level. There’s little health care, limited supplies of running water, and sporadic electricity. Illiteracy is common so stories of their ancestors have passed through generations by word of mouth.
Some 3500 years ago this arid desert was transformed into a thriving new city by king Akhenaten. He set up his court with his wife Nefertiti and their children. Including his son Tutankamun. By now dust of ages covering the city is slowly being cleared up by the Egyptian exploration society.
Archeologists are concentrating on Nefertiti’s Sun Temple and the bakeries and breweries which supplied it.
After 17 years Akhenaten’s reign has ended. No one knows how he died. There was an attempt to systematically erase all traces of him from the history of pharaohs. Its statues were defaced, his temples destroyed and his city abandoned.
About the beer recipe
Finding residues in ancient pots is a helpful way of trying to figure out the beer recipe. We can also find clues about beer thousands of years ago by washing the soil. Light organic fragments of grain, fruit, or vegetables left by the inhabitants float on the surface. They are separated and dried. Ready for examining under a microscope.
The quest for the beer of the pharaohs had led archeologists to be able to tell us more about the ingredients used. The main ingredients were obviously water and grains. The ancient Egyptians had two different kinds of grains. One is barley which brewers are using today and is the main brewing grain. The other is emmer wheat. Very similar to common wheat but also different.
We’ve seen little houses of individual families and they had their mortar where they pounded the emmer wheat to shred away the chaff. In almost every house there was a corn stone where they ground the grain into flour.
The water used to brew the beer will have to have the same chemical balance as the water drawn near wells in ancient Egypt. There were using two separate processes in beer brewing. That is something we didn’t know before. Two batches of grains were being treated in different ways and then mixed together to make beer.
Calcium has to be added to water to match the water profile from Egypt. The residues have yielded their secrets and Nefertiti’s beer is being brewed again. This has been a journey of exploration. Not knowing at each stage what is going to happen. The experiment has been a success and academic research for the earliest beer could lead to a new commercial brew. Cheers.