Can It Be The Beer Goliath Drank?
submitted by Lynn Levies
Israeli scientists archaeologists, microbiologists, chemists, and brewers have been
working for years to isolate yeast cells from ancient jugs and brewing pots and turning
these ancient strains into potent potables such as Goliath might have drank. Now their
efforts have been rewarded. Sort of.
The scientists were able to isolate six strains of the intoxicating single-celled fungus from
21 pieces of pottery from the biblical Tell es-Safi/Gath site west of Jerusalem (ca. 850
BCE), Jerusalem’s Ramat Rachel (ca. 8th to 4th century BCE), and the Bronze Age En-
Besor site in the western Negev and an Egyptian brewery found on Tel Aviv’s Ha-Masger
Street (both ca. 3100 BCE).
While the Israeli team was able to successfully isolate and brew with yeast strains from
the 5,000-year-old En-Besor and Ha-Masger sites, the beer that was served on recently
was made with yeast from Gath, an ancient Philistine city. It’s easy to fall into the trap of
waxing poetic about the beer — “Behold: The same liquor Goliath drank!” — but that’s
not what it was. What the invited guests tasted was not what beer tasted like thousands
of years ago.
This was a 21st century brew — just one made with 8th century BCE yeast.
While an ancient beer would have been made with similar grains to today’s brews, the
Egyptians and Philistines would have likely flavored theirs with things like cinnamon,
cardamom and herbs, rather than the hops used in modern ales and lagers, according to
archaeologist Yitzhak Paz from the Israel Antiquities Authority, who contributed to the
project. For an added boost of sugar for the yeast to feed on, ancient brewers would
have also likely added dates and pomegranates to their wort, he said.
As it happens, an American brewery, Dogfish Head, makes something of an equal-but-
opposite beer. Its Midas Touch uses an ancient recipe, but modern yeast, to mimic a
2,700-year-old beer, the residue of which was found in the tomb of King Midas who ruled
Phrygia in the 8th century BCE.)
But that’s not how the brewmaster Itai Gutman made the Philistine beer. Save for the
yeast, the ingredients and methods used were wholly modern This is no trivial matter.
The yeast plays a huge role in the flavor of a beer. Three identical mixtures of malted
grains, hops and water fermented with three different types of yeast will yield three
dramatically different beverages. Indeed, the Philistine beer doesn’t fall neatly into the
standard categories that we use today: ales, lagers, stouts, etc.
Genetically, the yeast used in this beer is more closely related to the yeasts used in wine
production today than in brewing, according to Ronen Hazan, one of the leaders of the
study. According to the researchers behind the project, there were compounds found in
their Philistine beer that don’t exist anywhere else.
The flavor is slightly sweet, with a subtle tang.
Though the Philistine beer was a modern-style beer brewed with ancient yeast, the mead
that Biratenu’s Brewery made for this project with 3,000-year-old yeast was more or less
what honey wine from three millennia ago would have tasted like. And if that’s the case,
our ancestors were mighty lucky.
Mead consists of three ingredients: honey, yeast and water. To make the mead,
Biratenu's used yeast from the Ramat Rachel site in Jerusalem and local honey that was
pasteurized to ensure that no errant modern yeast or bacteria made its way into the final
product. As such the mead is genetically similar to the types of yeast currently used in
Ethiopia to produce another honey-based alcohol known as Tej.
As Charlie Papazian notes in his definitive tome, The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, “For
more than five thousands years, Virgil, Plato, Plutarch, Zeus, Venus, Jupiter, Odysseus,
Circe, the Argonaut, Beowulf, Aphrodite, Bacchus, Odin, Valhalla, the Sanskrit Rig-Veda,
Thor, King Arthur, Queen Elizabeth I, the French, Greeks, Mayans, Africans, English,
Irish, Swedes, Poles, Hungarians, Germans, present-day homebrewers, and even the
Australian Aborigines all likened part of their enjoyment of life to mead
source: Judah Ari Gross, The Times of Isreal
beernexus.com - SPECIAL REPORT
Ancient Beer & Mead
|Note - we do not verify authorship of submissions.