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JimBraum

Brewing an ancient Mesopotamian ale?

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Hi everyone, I'm beginning to write/research an article

on homebrewing an ancient Mesopotamian ale (that I have affectionately called

"Siduri's Advice"; based on the advice the Babylonian ale-wife Siduri gives

to Gilgamesh in the Epic of Gilgamesh to ("Fill your belly <with beer>.

Day and night make merry").  And I will documenting this experimental ale on http://SidurisAdvice.com/ale.html

(page still under construction). I will be malting, crushing and using a large

amount of my own 2-row barley (the same type as used in ancient Mesopotamia) to

make a brewing bread (Bappir) that I will add to the brew (as discussed in the

Hymn to Ninsaki) and will be using liquified dates rather than sugar for

bottling (again the same as the Mesopotamians). 

I plan, at least initially to make some compromises for practical

reasons: 1) using Mr. Beer fermenter rather than a clay fermenter, 2) using Mr.

Beer's yeast rather than adding wild yeast found on grapes (although I will

crush and add some sterilized grapes to make a more authentic ancient ale) and

3) using the lowest hop HME extract. 

Number 3 is a big sacrifice on the authenticity front, as the Mesopotamians

did not use hops, but without the antimicrobial hops, at least in this first

experiment, I am worried the beer will spoil, and I don't know which "aromatic herbs" are being refered to in the Hymn to Ninsaki, so I am fine to start this experiment with hops, but plan to research Gruit ale based herbs that were present in Mesopotamia 5000 years ago in the next batch.

My questions for all you experienced Mr. Beer brewers are:

Has anyone previously tried to re-create an ancient Mesopotamian ale using Mr. Beer

equipment? 

Which is the lowest hop HME at MrBeer.com? (so I can be as close as

possible to no hops, while still having a viable storable beer)

Does anyone have any other suggestions as to how to make

this a more authentic Mesopotamian ale?

 

Best,

Jim

Co-Director

The Siduri's Advice Archival Initiative

http://SidurisAdvice.com

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I have not heard of anyone trying to recreate an ancient Mesopotamian ale using Mr Beer equipment. You can be the first!! Of the current extracts my guess as to the least hopped would be the American Light. You might want to ask Diane B or Samuel G. They both work for Mr Beer and could give you more accurate information.

Good luck.

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@docpd: Thanks for the tip, American light sounds like the way to go for a first round experiment. For the second round I plan to start experimenting with Mesopotamian herbs that might be able to act as a bittering and preservative. The hymn to Ninkasi just says sweet aromatics, so this could cover a range of potential herbs, and I will need to do some serious research for round 2.

@The_Professor: Yes, fantastic, that certainly counts in my book, I am very glad you posted, I have been reading through your fascinating experimental ales, including your "no hop" ale. While bappir barley bread may not have been an ingredient in ancient Egyptian beers, the Mesopotamian Hymn to Ninkasi (essentially a recipe for making Sumerian ale) is very specific that bappir is indeed an ingredient in Mesopotamian ale:

"You are the one who handles the dough [and] with a big shovel, Mixing in a pit, the bappir with sweet aromatics, Ninkasi, you are the one who handles the dough [and] with a big shovel, Mixing in a pit, the bappir with [date] - honey, You are the one who bakes the bappir in the big oven, Puts in order the piles of hulled grains, Ninkasi, you are the one who bakes the bappir in the big oven, Puts in order the piles of hulled grains"(Hymn to Ninkasi)

In any case, it would be great if I could tap your broad range of experience with ancient gruit herbs and ask if you have any recommendations for authentic historical herbs that I could use in my future Mesopotamian ales that might meet the description of "sweet aromatics"?

Also, how much Saffron did you add?

Best,

Jim

Co-Director

The Siduri's Advice Archival Initiative

http://SidurisAdvice.com

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I don't think they had carbonated beer, did they?

Also after you mash grain, you don't have any starches left, only sugars. How do you make a bread with no starch? I am not being difficult, but these are the first things that sprang into my mind as I read your post. The Professor is the only person I know of that has made ancient beer, and he did not use bread I don't think. I always thought the bread thing was a mis-understanding on our part. Is it possible that this Bappir bread is not a bread like we know of?

Also why use HME at all, I thought you were going to use the bread, but if you need some malt extract, why not use unhopped malt? You can get LME or DME without hops at any LHBS.

I relish to hear more of your adventure, and wish you luck. You'll probably end up with something that resembles beer.  :")

Monty

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@ Monsteroyd, thank you for researching the recipes, I will follow up on your leads, do the necessary background research and post the results to this thread.  Regarding putative carbonation in Mesoptamian ales, this is actually one of my research interests.

While Mesopotamians brewed a wide variety of beers, one recipe in particular was so highly reveared that it became the basis for a hymn to Ninkasi, one of the Mesopotamian goddesses of beer (alongside Siris and Siduri).  My hypothesis is that the reason that this particular Mesopotamian beer became highly prized that it was, at least mildly, carbonated.  Multiple indirect elements in the hymn to Ninkasi hint at this, including: (1) Ninkasi's name, which means the "Lady who fills the Mouth", (2) the fact that grape-based yeasts and date syrup were added to the gakkul vats, (3) the gakkul vat "makes a pleasant sound" which may suggest the hissing sound of CO2 escaping from a lidded almost airtight container, (4) representations of Mesopotamian beer containers all highlight what looked like a fitted lid suggesting at least some degree of pressurized environment may have been possible for Mesopotamian ales, (5) after being filtered into a lamsare vat, the sound of the beer being poured "is like the onrush of the Tigris and Euphrates".  While I of course acknowledge that these elements are by no means conclusive, I propose that combined they provide evidence for at least one highly prized Mesopotamian ale being mildly carbonated.

You can see the images for the Mesopotamian containers and their lids at:

http://www.sidurisadvice.com/carbonation.html

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I am somewhat confused. At the beginning of the article Dr. Damerow says:

"It has been mentioned already that the sign GAR is commonly interpreted as a term “ninda” designating “bread.” This interpretation of the sign together with certain indications that “bappir” was cooked or baked led scholars to assume that “bappir” was just a special kind of bread, so that the term is commonly translated as “beer bread.” This designation as “beer bread” is, however, at least misleading. The Old Sumerian ingredient “bappir” was never counted as one would expect if it had been, in fact, a kind of bread. It was registered instead using capacity measures just as the coarsely-ground barley in the earlier proto-cuneiform documents which was now substituted by “bappir.”"

Ok, now I'm intrigued, if bappir wasn't some special kind of beer bread, what was it?

Next Damerow says:

"In spite of these difficulties in determining the ingredients of Old Sumerian beer it is obvious that it was quite different from our modern beer. Like any ancient beer it differs from modern beer in that the addition of hops did not yet form part of the brewing technology. There is, however, another peculiarity of Old Sumerian beer. A characteristic feature, not only of beer brewed in the Late Uruk period but of Sumerian beer in general, may have been that the wort which was prepared for fermentation contained—in addition to malt and water—considerable amounts of an ingredient which had not been subjected to a germination process. This ingredient may originally have simply been crushed barley. From the Old Sumerian period onwards “bappir” and possibly even further ingredients with designations somehow related to “GAR” seemed to be ingredients of beer prepared from barley or other grains involving no malting process at all."

And then details the Hymn to Ninkasi...

"Ninkasi, you are the one who handles dough (and) ... with a big shovel,

Mixing, in a pit, the bappir with sweet aromatics.

Ninkasi, you are the one who bakes the bappir in the big oven,

Puts in order the piles of hulled grain.

Ninkasi, you are the one who waters the earth-covered malt (“munu”),

The noble dogs guard (it even) from the potentates.

Ninkasi, you are the one who soaks the malt (“sun2”) in a jar,

The waves rise, the waves fall.

Ninkasi, you are the one who spreads the cooked mash (“titab”) on large reed mats,

Coolness overcomes ...

Ninkasi, you are the one who holds with both hands the great sweetwort (“dida”),

Brewing (it) with honey (and) wine.

Ninkasi, [...]

[You ...] the sweetwort (“dida”) to the vessel.

The fermenting vat, which makes a pleasant sound,

You place appropriately on (top of) a large collector vat (“lahtan”).

Ninkasi, you are the one who pours out the filtered beer of the collector vat,

It is (like) the onrush of the Tigris and the Euphrates."

So, can we conclude that bappir was crushed unmalted barley, made into dough, mixed with sweet aromatics, baked in a big oven, then cooked into a mash with malted barley and fermented into beer? And if so, how is bappir NOT essentially a special kind of beer bread?

Perhaps I missed something...

Jim

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Here is the part where I don't tell you what you should make of that paper.

What I read at the beginning is an attempt to convey what makes up the Sumerian terms about beer making and how the terms may or may not be understood well. The further use of the terms should, of course, carry the weight of the caveats mentioned.

What else could bappir be? Crystal grain with spices and aromatics? Does "baking in a big oven" refer to baking bread in an oven or kilning barley (malted or unmalted)? Or was this some way to introduce yeast into the wort? Baking bread fully would kill the yeast. And was yeast the only fermentation agent or were things like lactobacillus  or brett involved?

Since it remains a mystery, the fun is deciding what you make of it.

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"Ninkasi, you are the one who bakes the bappir in the big oven" (The Hymn to Ninkasi)

Ok, I'm really going out on a bit of a limb here, but I have been trying to figure out why the bappir was baked in a oven and what's it's purpose was? I mean, why did the Mesopotamian's need to bake it? There is no need to bake bread before making a beer, why was this step so important that it was included in the Hymn to Ninkasi?

Then it hit me, burnt bappir could have provided the bittering agent that would balance out the sickly sweet malt! Of course, they must have baked it until it was at least partially burnt! That is why the Mesopotamians needed no hops in their beer, the burn bappir did the bittering job! Combined with the sourness of the lactobacillus (almost guaranteed in a semi-natural fermentation), this burnt bitter bappir, sweet aromatics and malt... my mouth started to water! I couldn't wait to start brewing my first batch of "Siduri's Advice" ancient ale. But would burnt bappir really do the job? I decided to do a blind taste test. I created a burnt bappir analog (BBA) using burnt toast (see Figure 1A - Figures online at: sidurisadvice.com/bappir.html), dissolved this BBA in 1/4 cup of water (boiled in microwave for 30 seconds on high), then started adding it to 2oz amounts of Corona light (Figure 1B).

Results.

First I tasted the Corona with no additions, it tasted extremely mild, mainly of carbonation, not my type of drink typically but it is quite refreshing with a slice of lime on a hot day, but then again, so is a glass of water :)

Next I tasted 2 oz of the Corona with 2 teaspoons of "carrier" (chilled distilled water) and could taste no difference.

Next I mixed in 1/2 teaspoon of BBA into 2 oz of Corona, but could not really taste a difference.

Next I mixed in 2 teaspoons of BBA into 2 oz of Corona, now there was a significant difference, the Corona now had a slight smoky nutty taste, it now tasted significantly better to me! I made two 2 oz samples, one with just Corona and 2 teaspoons of distilled water and one with the Corona plus 2 teaspoons of BBA and gave it to a taster who was unaware of the experiment and agreed to try the two beers blinded. He reported that the Corona plus carrier tasted like "a cheap can of Coors light" and the Corona plus BBA "tasted like a high quality nut brown ale"!!!

Conclusions.

My conclusions from this simple experiment are that BBA, essentially made from burnt toast, can successfully increase the bitterness and, at least for some palates, improve light low hop low bitterness beers like Corona light, and that this experiment provides evidence in support of the hypothesis that the ancient Mesopotamians used burnt bappir as a bittering agent to improve the taste of their beer.

The experiment continues...

Jim

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Page 15 of "On Beer And Brewing Techniques In Ancient Mesopotamia":

The malt...seems to have been treated in two ways: it was either kept in earthen containers and sacks or baked with aromatic matters or the like into perhaps bread-shaped lumps or cakes which were called bappir...The baking was done in a special kiln...

Malt made in the shape of flat bread with an added "aromatic" mixture does not sound like burnt toast to me. :)

 

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It would be rude of me to just make comments about your efforts without offering any of my own for comment.

This would be months away while I malt and otherwise prepare barley...

Per the Damerow publication on your site; the ingredients for "Dark Beer" and the grains mentioned in the "Hymn to Ninkasi" are similar. Again per that paper; bappir is an ingredient of other beers that are not dark. Another odd phrase in that paper is "the one who waters the earth covered malt" which is written "malt set on the ground" elsewhere. Wet earth covered barley (preferably in some sort of container) would get you sour malt.

I would assume:

Bappir - malt mixed with some yeast cake to which sweet aromatics (humulus lupulus-hallertau) are mixed in.

Some sour malt, some dried malt, some crystal malt.

Amounts would be based on "You are the one who...puts in order the piles of...grain" (measure and divide), "...you are the one who holds with both hands the great sweetwort", along with the cross between an elephant and a rhino.

 

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Hi Professor, I completely agree that burning toast does not well match bread with sweet aromatics, so I decided to do an expanded more appropriate taste test (see Experiment 2 below).  I am excited that you are doing an ancient ale! You clearly have much more brewing experience that I and it would be fantastic if you would consider posting updates on your progress?

Anyway, here is the text version of Experiment 2...

Following my first "eureka" moment when I realized that the bappir the Mesopotamians cooked may have been, at least partially, burnt, I performed a simple preliminary taste test using burnt toast and Corona light.  The original experiment is here:

http://sidurisadvice.com/bappir.html

Long story short, the burnt toast did indeed seem to improve the taste of Corona light, but this was just a preliminary result and needed to be reproduced with real bappir, a more appropriate test beer and a larger tasting group.  I managed to persuade three individuals (Adrian, Joy and Jessica) with varied palates to participate in a blind tasting, and combined with yours truly, we now had a decent sample group to more definitely address the burnt bappir hypothesis, namely, that the Mesopotamians burnt bappir, and it is this burnt element that balances out the sweetness and improves the taste of their beer long before hops were discovered.  I have not yet seen this "burnt bappir" hypothesis described anywhere online to date, so I am both excited and a bit concerned. Excited that I may have been the first to put this theory forwards, and a bit concerned that if no-one else previously proposed it, perhaps there was a good reason for the burnt bappir hypothesis not being the case, and I was simply unaware of it.  I started doing more reading on bappir to see if further evidence supported or opposed the burnt bappir hypothesis.  First of all multiple sources seem to be very specific that bappir was "twice baked". Scholars have previously interpreted this "twice baked" as meaning bake some bread, then bake it again to dry it out so it will be preserved for a long time, presumably as a food stuff?  This argument actually doesn't make much sense when we actually look at the lists of foods the Mesopotamians actually stored.  According to Peter Damerow in "Sumerian Beer: The Origins of Brewing Technology in Ancient Mesopotamia", ref:

http://sidurisadvice.com/Damerow.html

we learn that bappir was NOT included in the Mesopotamians stored edible foods, suggesting that bappir was not eaten.  This makes no sense if bappir was being "twice-baked" to preserve for later eating, as originally proposed, but make perfect sense if "twice-baked" refers to burning bread specifically for beer, not to be eaten. It may even mean the Mesopotamians would use their old leftover barley bread to bake again into burnt bappir, with the burnt bappir providing a much needed bittering agent to balance the sweetness of the malted barley. I collected all of the necessary regents (see Figure 1A); note that Figures are online at:

http://sidurisadvice.com/midas.html

Specifically, reagents I would need to perform this expanded second experiment included a four-pack of Midas Touch (the closest commercially produced beer to the no-hops Mesopotamian original we seek), some organic 2-row barley, some organic cinnamon (to provide the "sweet aromatics" referred to in the hymn, and also historically appropriate) and a mortar and pestle (which I had to buy for this experiment as I have never had the need to crush my own barley seeds before)

I toasted 1 cup of barley seeds for 15 min at 400C in the oven to make them easier to crush (Figure 1B), then I crushed the seeds in the morter and sieved out about 1/2 cup of barley flour from 1 cup of barley seeds. Next, I mixed this half cup of barley flour with 2 oz of water and a HUGE quantity of cinnamon, probably just over two tablespoons. I really wanted to incorporate a "sweet aromatic" and cinnamon was both used by the Mesopotamians and has a very sweet aroma, probably one of the sweetest aroma spices, thus it is an obvious choice. I then split the barley paste into two biscuit shapes and baked for 400C for 1 hour, and then (when impatience got the better of me as the bappir cakes were still not looking burnt) and whacked the oven up to 550C until it started to smoke (which took less than 10 minutes) and then removed the resulting slightly burnt bappir (Figure 1D).  Next, I crushed the bappir and noted that not all of the bappir had burnt, especially not the stuff in the middle of the cake, so I mixed one of the biscuits with a small amount of water and then crumbled over aluminum foil (to maximize the exposed surface area) and then broilled (oven grilled) it on high.  The bappir went completely black, but I felt it could be more burnt. The bappir started to slightly smoke, just a hint of it, but I felt it could be more burnt. The bappir started to smoke like crazy, I hesitated for just a moment, could it be more burnt? Unfortunately I had hesitated for a moment too long, the bappir caught on fire! Time froze for a moment as I stared at the burning barley crumbs in my oven, had I let my quest to taste an authentic ancient ale go too far? No, I think not! A small oven fire is a small price to pay to get one step closer to tasting the beer of our ancestors, the ancient ale that inspired those roaming hunter gathers to settle down, farm barley and make beer, the beer that was worshiped as a god, THAT is the beer I want to taste and I will not rest until the original amber nectar of the gods has passed my lips.  One small oven fire will not stop me... I smothered the burnt bappir with kitchen towels to put out the fire and after apologizing profusely to the patient taste testers in the living room for filling the house with Barley smoke, and promising to replace the damaged kitchen towels, I ploughed on... for science.

The bappir was perfect, it could NOT get any more burnt without catching fire again, so I decided that now was the time to mash it up with 1/2 a cup of water, microwave it for 45 seconds, stir it, let it still and infuse its flavors into the water for a few minutes, sieve it into a new cup and then put the result in the fridge to cool in time for the upcoming taste test. For each taste test I asked the tasters to drink the beer blinded, then to comment and score the result out of 10.  I included some control beers to calibrate the scale of each participant before moving on to the real bappir-test.

Taste test results.

The first "mystery" beer was Corona light, a control beer to see who likes this sort of watery mild beer.

I commented that it was "very mild" and gave it a 4/10.

Adrian said it was "fruity and light" and gave it a 6/10.

Joy said it was "flat, but nice light flavor" and gave it a 7/10.

Finally, Jessica nailed the beer with her comment that it was "like Corona" and gave it a 7.5/10.

So, it looks like everyone prefers Corona light to me... oh well... I don't mind having esoteric taste :)

The second "mystery beer" was Sierra Nevada pale ale, a very drinkable beer that I often turn to.

I commented that it was a "solid drinkable beer" and gave it 6/10 (a high score for super critical me).

Adrian said it was "fruity and IPA-like" and gave it 7.5/10.

Joy said it "tastes like my fav hoppy beer; sweet, light and fizzy" and gave it 10/10!

Finally Jessica nailed it again saying it was "like Sierra Nevada" and gave it a 8/10.

So, I am definitely the most critical in this group.

The third "mystery beer" was Midas Touch. Let's see how the main commercially available ancient ale stacks up to this tasting group with WITHOUT the burnt bappir...

I felt that it was "unbalanced and too malty and sweet" and gave it a 4/10.

Adrian said it was "sweet" and gave it a 3.5/10.

Joy it had an "unpleasant aftertaste, flat and tastes like an old Coors light, but it has potential" and gave it a 3/10.

Finally, Jessica was entirely unimpressed and called it a "honey water banana bog" and gave it 3/10.

So, across the board it looks like everyone felt that Midas Touch is an unbalanced overly sweet beer; a perfect situation to test the burnt bappir hypothesis!  I was excited :)

The final "mystery beer" was Midas Touch that had had a tablespoon of the bappir water extract mixed in...

I felt that the bappir was definitely taking this beer in the right direction and commented that I "liked the cinnamon note" and gave the beer a 5.5/10, my second highest score of the night, only half a point below Sierra Nevada, which is one of my favorite beers.  However, I felt even with the bappir their was still a missing element stopping this beer from achieving true greatness.  Possibly what this type of ancient ale needs to take it to a "divine" taste, a beer worthy of worship, is the sourness from the natural lacto-bacteria, this sweet and sour beer might be exactly what is needed for "Siduri's Advice" ancient ale.  I will need to look into how to carefully supplement with lactobacillus in order to get the perfect amount of sourness.

Adrian commented it was like "cake in a beer" and gave it 8/10, a huge increase from his previous 3.5 for Midas Touch without bappir.

Joy commented it was "fizzy with very nice flavors" and increased her score from the original 3 to a 6/10, another huge increase.

Finally, Jessica somewhat cryptically commented "bitter bog boasts better beauty", and while I am not entirely sure what that means, she nevertheless increased her score from a 3 to a 4.5/10, so she too liked the bappir addition.

So, across the board, it looks like everyone much preferred the Midas Touch when it included burnt bappir with the sweet aromatic (cinnamon).

In conclusion, this second experiment supports the hypothesis that burnt bappir can improve the flavor of unbalanced sweet ale, such as Midas Touch, and supports the hypothesis that  Mesopotamians added burnt bappir to their beer in order to balance and improve the flavor.  However, I have come to realize that even with burnt bappir the beer is still missing something, and I think that missing element is a balancing sourness from the lacto-bateria that would almost certainly be a part of a semi-natural fermentation.  I will need to take this quest for the ultimate ancient Mesopotamian ale to the next level and actually start my own ancient ales brewing...

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