Recreating Lost Ancient Beer Styles

Mankind has been brewing for a long time. Ever since our ancestors settled into towns and cities. Beer back then looked very different than it does today. It wasn’t nearly as bubbly. It was cloudy and it was very nutritious, and a lot less alcoholic. Even drinking beer was different. Drinking was a communal activity that involved placing beer in large bowls and drinking through long reed straws.

Today we are going to look at modern brewers who are trying to revive these ancient beers. And if you have time you can check our new article 5 Top Strange Beer Concepts.

Beer from the Ancient Egypt

A hand holding a glass of beer by the top.

First, we are going to ancient Egypt to an area that had a really rich brewing tradition. Based on current research ancient Egyptians appeared to have distinguished between different beers by their alcoholic strength, color, and dominant flavor. The most favored beer style in ancient Egypt apparently was blood red in color.

The Egyptian brews would start in their bakery. They would bake loaves of bread using a course ground flour. The baking of the bread to start the brewing process is somewhat equivalent to the modern malting process. They would stick those loaves into the crocks of water with flavoring agents and wait for the magic of wild yeast to start working.

One of the best attempts to recapture the ancient Egyptian brewing tradition was done by historians at Dartmouth along with the help of Portsmouth brewing. They began with a simple and bready grain bill using heirloom wheat varieties along with a bit of barley. then they added some chocolate roasted heirloom barley to give it a little bit more flavor. In color, they ended up with a very enzyme-rich malt. In the boil, they added some adjuncts for the flavor that would have been consistent with brewing techniques at the time.

Bowls of different Egyptian spices.

The recipe included

  • 4 lbs mashed dates
  • 3.7 lbs honey for added sugar and alcohol content
  • 2 lbs ginger root
  • 12 oz Mandrake root

After the boil, the beer was treated like any other. It was pitched with ale yeast. The beer tasted, unlike our modern brews. In part because our modern palates have become so accustomed to the presence of hops. The brew has a minimal but fresh and appetizing bouquet. Visually the color is deep reddish amber to almost light mahogany. The overall impression of the brew is a very clean tasting refreshing dry medium-bodied beer.

Celtic Beer Styles

A hand made Celtic wooden beer mug.

Brewing techniques and flavoring agents were pretty common throughout the ancient Middle East. As civilization expanded new techniques were used as beer brewing spread throughout the world. Researches at Stuttgart Germany have been trying to revive ancient Celtic beer styles that were popular in the area some 2000 years ago.

Early Celtic rulers of a community in Germany like to party. They would stage elaborate feasts in a ceremonial center. The business side was located in the nearby brewery capable of churning out large quantities of beer with a dark smokey and slightly sour taste. Six specially constructed tiches previously excavated a 2500 years old Celtic settlement was used to make high-quality barley malt.

Thousands of charred barley grains unearthed thin the ditches about a decade ago came from a large malt-making enterprise. At the Celtic site, barley was soaked in the specially constructed ditches until it sprouted. The grains were then dried by lighting fires at the end of ditches giving the malt a smokey taste and a darkened color. Lactic acid bacteria stimulated by the slow drying of the soaked grains added sourness to the brew.

Unlike modern beer that is flavored with flowers of the hop plant, this brew contains spices and herbs. Beer makers are known to use additives by medieval times. But excavations at the Celtic site have yielded a few seeds that have been used as flavoring.

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