How to Make Ancient Mesopotamian Beer: See the 4,000-Year-Old Brewing Method Put to the Test

The philoso­pher Giambat­tista Vico had quite a few ideas, but we remem­ber him for one above all: Verum esse ipsum fac­tum, often short­ened to the prin­ci­ple of verum fac­tum. It means, in essence, that we under­stand what we make. In accor­dance with verum fac­tum, then, if you want to under­stand, say, ancient Mesopotami­an beer, you should make some ancient Mesopotami­an beer your­self. Such is the path tak­en in the video above by Max Miller, host of the Youtube series Tast­ing His­to­ry.

We pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured Tast­ing His­to­ry here on Open Cul­ture for its humor­ous and as-faith­ful-as-pos­si­ble re-cre­ations of dish­es from the past, includ­ing peri­ods as recent as the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry and as dis­tant as the dawn of civ­i­liza­tion. No mat­ter the era, human­i­ty has always been eat­ing and drink­ing — and, just as soon as the nec­es­sary tech­nol­o­gy became avail­able, get­ting drunk. That we were doing it 4,000 years ago is evi­denced by the recipe Miller fol­lows in his quest to re-cre­ate Mesopotami­an beer, for which even the research proves to be no sim­ple mat­ter.

In fact, he begins with not a recipe at all, but a hymn to Ninkasi, the Sumer­ian god­dess of beer. But this holy text con­sti­tutes only a start­ing point: Miller goes on to con­sult not just oth­er infor­ma­tion pre­served on archae­o­log­i­cal arti­facts, but at least one expert in the field. The result­ing beer-mak­ing pro­ce­dure isn’t with­out its ambi­gu­i­ty, but you can cer­tain­ly try it at home. You can try it at home if you’ve got about a week to do so, that is; even ancient beer need­ed to fer­ment. (If you’re any­thing like Miller, you’ll use the wait­ing time to research more about Mesopotami­an soci­ety and the sig­nif­i­cant place of beer with­in it.)

How does the final prod­uct taste? Miller describes it as not car­bon­at­ed but “effer­ves­cent,” with a “nut­ti­ness” to its fla­vor: “I’m get­ting, like, a lit­tle bit of a car­damom.” (Mod­erns who pre­fer a sweet­er beer will want to add date syrup.) Per­haps it would go well with a Baby­lon­ian lamb stew, or one of the oth­er ancient dish­es Miller has re-cre­at­ed on Tast­ing His­to­ry. Such a meal would pro­vide a fine occa­sion to test the prin­ci­ple of verum fac­tum — or an even fin­er way to test the Sumer­ian proverb “He who does not know beer, does not know what is good.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Dis­cov­er the Old­est Beer Recipe in His­to­ry From Ancient Sume­ria, 1800 B.C.

Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Pro­fes­sor Cooks 4000-Year-Old Recipes from Ancient Mesopotamia, and Lets You See How They Turned Out

Watch a 4000-Year Old Baby­lon­ian Recipe for Stew, Found on a Cuneiform Tablet, Get Cooked by Researchers from Yale & Har­vard

5,000-Year-Old Chi­nese Beer Recipe Gets Recre­at­ed by Stan­ford Stu­dents

Beer Archae­ol­o­gy: Yes, It’s a Thing

Tast­ing His­to­ry: A Hit YouTube Series Shows How to Cook the Foods of Ancient Greece & Rome, Medieval Europe, and Oth­er Places & Peri­ods

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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