BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

Cheers! Scholars Brew Ancient Beer with Millennia-Old Ingredients

Bible and archaeology news

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An ancient beer jug from the Philistine site of Tell es-Safi/Gath. Photo: Yaniv Berman, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

What did ancient beer taste like? Modern brewers such as Dogfish Head Brewery and the Great Lakes Brewing Company have crafted beers inspired by ancient recipes, but a paper recently published in the microbiology journal mBio describes researchers actually using ancient ingredients to recreate ancient beers.

Scholars from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), Tel Aviv University, and Bar-Ilan University isolated, extracted, and sequenced yeast cells from ancient beer and mead jugs unearthed in excavations around Israel. The vessel fragments came from En-Besor in the Negev desert and a dig at HaMasger Street in Tel Aviv, two Early Bronze Age IB (c. 3100 B.C.E.) sites where there was an Egyptian presence; from an Iron Age IIA (c. 850 B.C.E.) context at the Philistine site of Tell es-Safi/Gath; and from an early Persian period (fifth-century B.C.E.) layer at Ramat Rachel, a site situated between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. In all, the researchers were able to experiment with six yeast strains extracted from 21 vessels.

“These jars date back to the reign of Egyptian pharaoh Narmer, to the Aramean king Hazael, and to the prophet Nehemiah, who, according to the Bible, governed Judea under Persian rule,” explained an IAA press release.

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The excavation at HaMasger street in Tel Aviv. Photo: Yoli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority.

In recreating the brews using the ancient ingredients, the researchers followed a common standard recipe for beer production, and the results were assessed according to the Beer Judge Certification Program.


The free eBook Life in the Ancient World guides you through craft centers in ancient Jerusalem, family structure across Israel and articles on ancient practices—from dining to makeup—across the Mediterranean world.

“[P]henotypic and genomic characterization of these yeast strains, including genomic DNA sequencing, showed that they are similar to yeast found in modern traditional beers and are able to ferment and produce drinkable beer similar to modern beverages,” the researchers wrote in their mBio paper.

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The researchers sampling the ancient brew produced in the lab. Photo: Yaniv Berman, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

“The greatest wonder here is that the yeast colonies survived within the vessel for thousands of years—just waiting to be excavated and grown. This ancient yeast allowed us to create beer that lets us know what ancient Philistine and Egyptian beer tasted like,” said Hebrew University scholar Ronen Hazan, one of the paper co-authors. “By the way, the beer isn’t bad. Aside from the gimmick of drinking beer from the time of Pharaoh, this research is extremely important to the field of experimental archaeology—a field that seeks to reconstruct the past. Our research offers new tools to examine ancient methods, and enables us to taste the flavors of the past.”


The free eBook Life in the Ancient World guides you through craft centers in ancient Jerusalem, family structure across Israel and articles on ancient practices—from dining to makeup—across the Mediterranean world.

Related reading in Bible History Daily

Ancient Egyptian Beer Vessels Unearthed in Tel Aviv, Israel

Brewing Bronze Age Beer

The Genesis of Brewing

Brewmaster’s Tomb

BAR Test Kitchen: Eat Like the Ancients

Biblical Bread: Baking Like the Ancient Israelites

Fruit in the Bible

The 10 Strangest Foods in the Bible


1 Responses

  1. Dennis B. Swaney says:

    So, how did it compare to modern craft beers?

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1 Responses

  1. Dennis B. Swaney says:

    So, how did it compare to modern craft beers?

Write a Reply or Comment

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