Winnipeg brewery recreates fourth-century Egyptian beer

Egyptian beer brewers Photo by David Lipnowski/Canadian Press/CBC

Want to drink like someone in 350 A.D.? Well, one Winnipeg brewery has recreated a beer based on the recipe of an Ancient Egyptian alchemist.

The beer was based on a recipe from Egypt during the era when it was part of the Roman Empire. While it is apparently “very, very sour” and cloudy,  the brewers told the CBC that it’s still “actually very drinkable.”

The beer was the brainchild of Matt Gibbs, the chair of the University of Winnipeg’s Department of Classics. He became interested in brewing a batch after talking with local brew masters about the history of hops.

Gibbs paired up with Tyler Birch and Brian Westcott, the co-owners of Barn Hammer Brewing Co. in Winnipeg, to brew up a batch of ancient beer produced using methods of the era.

The recipe Gibbs ended up going with was from The Barbarian’s Beverage: A History of Beer in Ancient Europe by Max Nelson of the University of Windsor. He chose it because it seemed the most practical to create and, unlike other recipes of the era, none of the ingredients were illegal to procure.

Once he had secured permission to translate the recipe, Gibbs, Birch, and Westcott got going on the actual brewing. Finding and translating the recipe proved to be the simplest part of the process. Brewing the beer in an authentic way was much more complicated.

The team had to first bake sourdough bread, made with barley flour milled by hand, for 18 hours to ensure the heat was low enough for the enzymes required to transform this bread into beer survived. Then, the bread was then submerged and fermented at the brewery for weeks until the murky mess turned into something consumable.

Finally, the three men were able to sample the beer — and they were pleasantly surprised by what they tasted.

“After tasting the bread they made, I thought we were going to have something really disgusting, but it turned out really well,” Birch told the CBC.

“I’m actually blown away by how good it is.”

While the beer proved drinkable, it didn’t taste like a contemporary pint. Instead, it reminded the brewers of a cider with hints of sweet fruit. Perhaps the biggest difference was that the beer is flat, ancient beers weren’t carbonated.

Currently, the beer is not available to the public, although Birch and Westcott are open to selling it if there appears to be a real interest.

For now, the beer is primarily being used to help research how ancient societies created and consumed the drink.

“There were things we learned in terms of taste and technology and in processing, but I think the most important one was taste,” said Gibbs.

“If you expect this to taste like a modern beer, you are not going to find that. The simple taste of that makes it quite clear how much the palate has changed over 2,000 years.”

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