8 Things I Learned About Ancient Beer

It’s more than just jugs and jars at the Museum of Man


Published:

 

Even non-drinkers of beer will be blown away by the new exhibit BEERology at the San Diego Museum of Man (open now through next summer). Beer, like money, has played a critical role in many societies throughout history (and in ancient Egypt, beer was money). Did you know that the oldest known recipe is actually a recipe for beer? Yup. A brewer from Mesopotamia put it down on rock.

BEERology was a major passion project for curator Rex Garniewicz, an archeologist and COO of the Museum, who showed me around on a recent visit. Garniewicz, incidentally, has been home-brewing for 20 years, and on this tour, it was clear how much he really walked the walk. For example, while putting together BEERology, he actually tried to make the Amazonian’s spit beer, which involved chewing up a raw cassava root laced with cyanide, spitting it out, then boiling it, adding yeast, and brewing. He and a friend chewed about 8 lbs. of the root; it only made 2-3 gallons of beer.

The exhibit itself displays tons of artifacts, and the plaques are written in a fun, magaziney, non-scholarly way. Popular and local companies got in on the action, too. A modern home-brewing kit was provided by Home Brew Mart. Lost Abbey donated barrels to be used as belly bars at regularly-scheduled tastings.

Some of the artifacts in the exhibit include ancient growlers (jugs from Peru, 100-800 AD) and a 500-year-old wooden beer cup (rare because wood doesn’t preserve well).

But the exhibit isn’t just old jugs and jars!

Because I love lists and listicles, here are 8 fun factoids you can drop at your next beery happy hour—then go see the exhibit for a refill:

 

1. Ancient brewers were mostly women. The men were out hunting.

2. The oldest beer that we have scientific evidence for dates back 9,000 years to China. Archeologists believe grains were first domesticated for beer, not bread.

3. People in the Amazon drank a beer that was 3-4% ABV. The men drank 4 gallons per day; the women, 1 gallon, and the kids, a half-gallon.

4. While building the Pyramid of Giza in Ancient Egypt, the laborers (that’s right! Not slaves!) were paid one gallon of beer per day.

5. An ancient human tibia demonstrates a high concentration of tetracycline—more tetracycline than a modern doc would prescribe. That tetracycline came from beer. Beer was medicine.

6. Ancient beer was not carbonated, but it was a little bubbly if you drank it fresh while it was fermenting. These days, carbonation has increased thanks to pressurizing in metal kegs and glass bottles.

7. In China, they used both millet and rice. Sake (“rice wine”) is actually rice beer, because it comes from a grain. We say “wine” because it can be up to 20 percent alcohol.

8. Beer is a great source of calories for agricultural societies. (People working and moving all day need the energy!)

More »Related Stories

Top Docs 2014: Meet some Local Heroes

San Diego doctors and medical researchers are busy trying to save the world

San Diego Thanksgiving Guide 2014

Where to dine out, order catering, buy pies, and turkey-trot your way through the holiday

South of the Border in Beer (and Bites)

Latino-owned breweries prove that Mexican beer is more than lager with a slice of lime

Subscribe to the Blog

 


Cityfiles

Local News Updates And Things To Do In San Diego

About This Blog

San Diego Magazine's editorial staff (Erin Chambers Smith + Erin Meanley + Kimberly Cunningham + a handful of smart, thoughtful contributors)  and web designer (Sanna Coates) blog everything from restaurants and bars to behind the scenes gossip to the best events happening this weekend. Looking for foodie and restaurant guru Troy Johnson? He's got his own blog here.

Recent Posts

Archives

Feed

Atom Feed Subscribe to the Cityfiles Feed »

Most Popular

  1. Secret San Diego
    Psst! You didn’t hear it from us, but this town has all kinds of "hidden gems" (yes, we said it). And we’re not talking ghost stories at the Hotel Del.
  2. FIRST LOOK: Bottega Americano
    With Bottega Americano opening this weekend, Downtown gets its first gourmet food hall
  3. FIRST LOOK: Fairweather
    Anthony Schmidt tackles "sunny" vacation drinks at Downtown's new patio bar
  4. INCOMING: Duke's
    Iconic Top of the Cove restaurant location gets new life
  5. Wake Up And Smell the Coffee
    As American coffee culture moves past the nonfat vanilla lattes toward a more elevated brew, San Diego is right on trend
  6. THE DEBATE: Minimum Wage and Tips
    San Diego restaurant owner explains what's so awful about raising minimum wage for tipped servers already making double the state minimum (and more).