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The World's Oldest Known Recipe

In the annals of human history, amid the ancient landscapes of Mesopotamia, a civilization left behind a tantalizing glimpse into the origins of one of humanity's oldest and most beloved concoctions—beer. The Sumerians, credited with numerous advancements, bestowed upon us the world's oldest known recipe for brewing beer, immortalized in a 3900-year-old poem known as the "Hymn to Ninkasi."


Picture ancient Sumeria, around 1750 BCE, where the deliberate production of beer, or ale, marked a groundbreaking achievement. This feat is attributed to the Sumerians, and the evidence lies within the poetic verses dedicated to Ninkasi, the goddess of brewing and beer. The "Hymn to Ninkasi," crafted in 1800 B.C. by an anonymous poet enamored with her divine powers, not only delves into the significance of beer in Sumerian mythology but also unveils the oldest known beer recipe.

Ninkasi, the tutelary goddess of beer and alcohol in ancient Sumerian mythology, symbolized the vital role of women in the brewing and preparation of beverages. Her divine presence echoed the societal and civilized virtues associated with beer consumption in Mesopotamia.

A modern stylized depiction of Ninkasi, the ancient Sumerian tutelary goddess of beer.

The Hymn to Ninkasi, translated from two clay tablets by Miguel Civil, a Professor of Sumerology at the University of Chicago, sheds light on the early beer-making process. These ancient brews, possibly concocted with barley extracted from bread, were brought back to life centuries later by Fritz Maytag, the founder of the Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco.

As the brewers recreated Ninkasi's elixir, they transported themselves back in time, sipping 'Ninkasi Beer' from large jugs with drinking straws—a ritual practiced four millennia ago. The resurrected beer boasted an alcohol concentration of 3.5%, akin to modern brews, with a 'dry taste lacking in bitterness,' reminiscent of hard apple cider. In the absence of hops and crafted for immediate consumption, the 'Sumerian' beer may not have endured well over time, but the experience was savored by all involved in this historical reconstruction.

The Hymn to Ninkasi stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of beer, weaving together mythology, history, and the art of brewing. It opens a window into the past, allowing us to savor the flavors of an ancient brew and appreciate the cultural significance that beer held in the cradle of civilization.


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