From the HBD Archive
From: hsfmsh!hsfdjs!suurb@sfsun.West.Sun.COM (Dave Suurballe)
Subject: Sumerian beer
Date: 1990-03-13 18:42:44 GMT

Yesterday RobertN. mentioned an article in the Sacramento Bee.

I know a lot about the beer in the article. It's Anchor's "Ninkasi", from
a Sumerian recipe. They brewed it for last year's Microbrewers Conference
here in the Bay Area. It's made from a mash of barley malt, date syrup,
and some kind of flat Sumerian bread. Anchor hired an entire bakery for
a day to make the bread, bake it, then cut it up into strips and bake them
again. They threw this into the mash tun with the other stuff. They feel
now that they should have used less malt and more bread, but at the time
they were afraid that the bread wouldn't work out too good, so they
hedged their bets with the malt.

I'm motivated to write this, because RobertN. reports that the beer was
consumed quickly because it had no preserving hops. This is only half
true. The beer was consumed quickly because it was not boiled, and
therefore not made sterile before pitching, and therefore even less
sterile at bottling.

I have the highest admiration for Anchor for undertaking this huge project.
They only made one batch, but it took months to get the recipe figured out,
and obviously they didn't do it alone. They had a lot of help from other
researchers of the ancient world. I don't remember off-hand who they are
or where they study, but I have this information at home.

Anchor likes to make "retrospective" beer styles that nobody else is
brewing, and I think it's wonderful that they make the investments
and take the risks that other breweries are afraid to make or cannot
afford to make. In almost every case, other brewers have followed their
lead and started brewing beers in the same style. Anchor's
"Steam Beer" is the best known; it's an old West Coast style of beer, a
warm-weather lager. And by warm-weather, I mean brewed warm. Their
current series of christmas beers are wassails, traditional spiced ales, and
after they took this lead, a bunch of other microbreweries followed and
now make spiced ales. Anchor's "Liberty Ale" was introduced in 1976; it's
an IPA, and there weren't any IPAs anywhere in this country. Now a lot
of people brew them; hops are very popular now. Anchor's "Wheat Beer"
was the first commercial wheat beer that I know of in this country, and
their "Old Foghorn" barley wine was the first of that style, too. What
have I left out? "Porter". This isn't so unique, except that it hasn't
always been such a popular style, but they've been brewing it forever.

Anchor's product line is varied and substantial, and each beer represents
an interesting tradition.

I seem to have gotten off the track here. I was writing about "Ninkasi",
the Sumerian beer. I think it's really fascinating that they didn't boil it.
It's hard to imagine a modern brewer not boiling; it's such an important
part of the process, for lots of reasons, as we all know. However, the
Sumerians didn't boil it, so Anchor didn't either. Cool, huh?

"Ninkasi" is the name of the Sumerian goddess of brewing.

Anchor had six different labels designed and printed for the Sumerian beer.
The labels show various aspects of the process. Right now I can only remember
two. One shows what I think is a malting floor where two people are
sprinkling the grains, and there are two guard dogs fiercly guarding.
The other shows two people seated with a large earthen jug between them.
They are sipping liquid through reed straws inserted into the jug.
(I suspect that the beer was fermented in and consumed from the same vessel,
and that there were solids floating on the surface, and the straws poked
through the gunk into the fermented liquid below.)

They spent an incredible amount of money on this project. Can you imagine
producing six different labels for one batch of beer?

On an unrelated subject, the local brewing club is "The San Andreas Malts"
named after the infamous San Andreas Fault, and the Hail to the Ale
competition was won by Chuck Artigues from the Malts.


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