“The Taste Must Be Acquired”: 5,000 Year Old Beer


A friend of mine who considers himself a beer historian used to remark, “Gotta hand it to the Sumerians. They invented writing…and beer!” Arguably two of the most important items in human history, they can be given credit for one of the world’s favorite beverages along with the Egyptians and Babylonians. We can even go a step further and surmise that they needed writing (in the form of cuneiform) to keep track of their beer recipe!


But what did it taste like?


It was a far cry from the beautiful, crisp, translucent complexion we are used to today. The Sumerians may have worshipped a Goddess of Beer (her name was Ninkasi) but complex filtering was still a ways off. The beer itself was actually quite murky, with a brownish consistency. Based on accounts of the time, we can liken beer to a watery gruel.


Also from the hieroglyphics, we can get an idea of how important beer was to the ancients in their everyday life: there are stories from 2,200 BC telling of mothers waiting at home for their children to arrive from school with a snack of “bread and beer”. For adults, such beer was drank out of long reeds and could have been done communally around a large pot (think of a Hookah set-up). The buzz was probably more important than the flavor, as even in 500 BC, an account reads, “the taste must be acquired”.


However, they did get one thing right. More than 4,000 years ago, an inscription was found stating, “The mouth of a perfectly contented man is filled with beer”. Ain’t that the truth?


Greg Caggiano is an avid food/drink blogger and the founder of Eating New Jersey. He lectures at Brookdale Community College on various historical subjects including the history of liquor and the history of prohibition in New Jersey.

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