Brewing beer has been around for a long, long time. In fact, since the ancient days of Egypt. Yes, we’re serious! Even before Egyptians were brewing beer, there were the Sumerians. One of the oldest written documents pertaining to beer-making can be traced back at least six thousand years BC to the ancient civilization of Sumeria. This hymn, entitled “Hymn to Ninkasi” reads:
Ninkasi, you are the one who pours out the filtered beer of the collector vat
It is [like] the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates.
Even more exciting, is that women and female brewers have a long history in the story of beer. You may not think that brewing beer was originally the responsibility of women, but women played a huge role in beer brewing history.
So put on your reading glasses, and let’s dive into the early history of brewing beer and how women played a large part (can I get an ‘Amen!’). In this post we review the ancient Egyptian days.
Brewing Beer: The Beginning
Beer is the oldest recorded recipe in the world. The ancient Egyptians documented the first brewing process on papyrus scrolls around 5,000 B.C. using things like pomegranates, dates and other native herbs. Beer historian Alan Eames cultivated his reputation as “the Indiana Jones of beer” by crawling into Egyptian tombs to read hieroglyphics about beer. His favorite and most surprising message was that beer is the most feminine of beverages. He would explain that in almost all ancient societies, beer was considered a gift from a goddess. Alan Eames also noted that women began the brewing process by chewing grains and spitting them into a pot to form a fermentable mass. (Source) You read that right: female saliva was essentially one of the first unofficial ingredients of beer. Egyptians were the first to begin making beer commercially, when royalty caught on to this beautiful product. Beer was served in gold goblets, used for medical purposes and as a necessity to be included in burial provisions for the journey to the hereafter. (Source)
Here’s a few more beer facts from Egyptian days:
- 1600 BC Egyptian texts contain 100 medical prescriptions calling for beer. If only that were still the case today, amirite?
- If an Egyptian gentleman offered a lady a sip of his beer they were betrothed.
- Early brewers used herbals like balsam, hay, dandelion, mint, and wormwood seeds, horehound juice, and even crab claws & oyster shells for flavorings.
- Egyptian gods were often given offerings of beer, especially Tenerit, the Egyptian goddess of beer.
- Egyptian hieroglyphics show women both brewing and drinking beer.
- Women would brew beer as a way to earn extra cash and bartered goods. Clearly, female brewers have been around for a lot longer than just the past decade or so.
Brewing beer has been around for centuries and continues to evolve even today. One thing that has remained consistent is the place that women have in the beer industry – it’s safe to say “female brewing” is not a brand new concept.
It’s time to raise a glass to lady brewers, past, present and future. Cheers!
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