The roots of beer plunge into the mistiest depths of history—at least as early as 3500 B.C., and possibly even thousands of years earlier as the very first organized farming of grains took place. The famous Code of Hammurabi (around 2000 B.C.) sentenced brewers guilty of diluting their beer to a fatally scalding dunk in their own vats. Remember that next time your friends deem your homebrew remotely drinkable—it could be much worse.
These days, archaeologists and brewers have been recreating historical brews using potsherds, scanning electron microscopes, and all manner of brewers’ records from clay tablets to tattered parchment. Ancient flavorings ranged from dates to honey, heather, saffron, and even muscat grapes. Ancient humans had a deep love of beer and flavored it with gusto, and the recreations can be improbably tasty. Some Egyptian Pharaohs were even buried with tiny diorama breweries to ensure a steady “stash” in the afterlife.
Have you tried any beers using ancient recipes? Tell us below.
And read on for details on the latest historical brewhouse re-enactment: Birra Etrusca from perennial experimenters Dogfish Head, along with Italy’s Birra Del Borgo and Baladin, and Univ. of Pennsylvania molecular archaeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern.
Birra Etrusca Bronze
Dogfish Head (Milton, DE)
Liberally inspired by drinking vessels found in 2,800 year-old Etruscan tombs, this pleasantly herbal, tangy, copper-hued brew was made with hazelnut flower, pomegranate, three kinds of wild honey, myrrh, and gentian root, plus a bronze plate in the kettles to simulate the chemistry of ancient brewing tanks. Fellow breweries and Italian recipe collaborators Baladin and Birra del Borgo used wood and terracotta aging vessels, respectively. Think of it as a liquid history lesson underlining beer’s deliciously ancient roots.