Beer was a drink offered to adults and childrenand the gods
A beer strainer being used like astraw, straight from the beer jar! Beer, called hqt by the ancients and zythusby the Greeks, was a very important Egyptian drink. It was a drink for adultsand children alike. It was the staple drink of the poor (wages were sometimespaid in beer), it was a drink of the rich and wealthy, and a drink offered tothe gods and placed in the tombs of the dead.
Beer in the morning, beer in theafternoon and beer at night. A little wine thrown in for good measure. Andafter a hard day of cutting stones for the pharaoh, time and energy left for abit of hanky-panky.
Workmen at the pyramids of the GizaPlateau were given beer, thrice daily - five kinds of beer and four kinds ofwine were found by archaeologists "poking through dumps, examiningskeletons, probing texts and studying remains of beer jars, and wine vats"at Giza.
In 1990, the Egyptian ExplorationSociety approached Scottish and Newcastle Breweries for help. This was thebeginning of a partnership which, over the past five years, has considerablyincreased the understanding of the brewing process as it was at the time ofTutankhamen.
Beer was depicted on the walls ofthe tombs, as were scenes of the ancient Egyptian brewery. It was probably verysimilar to the way beer is still produced in Sudan today. Traditionally, beerwas regarded as a female activity as it was an off-shoot of bread making - thebasis of the beer were loaves of specially made bread.
Most likely, the beer was not veryintoxicating, nutritious, sweet, without bubbles, and thick (the beer had to bestrained with wooden syphons, used as a straw, because it was filled withimpurities). Though the later Greek accounts suggest that the beer, instead,was as intoxicating as the strongest wine, and it is clear that the worshipersof Bast, Sekhmet and Hathor got drunk on beer as part of their worship of thesegoddesses, because of their aspect of the Eye of Ra. Tenenit was anotherancient Egyptian goddess of beer.
Broadly speaking, the establishedview of ancient Egyptian brewing, drawn from tomb scenes, is as follows. Beerloaves were made from a richly yeasted dough. Malt may or may not have beenused. This dough was lightly baked and the resulting bread was crumbled andstrained through a sieve with water. Ingredients like dates or extra yeastmight have been added. The dissolved mixture was fermented in large vats andthen the liquid was decanted into jars which were sealed for storage ortransport.
There is a lot missing, but animportant question is what did the beer taste like? Thanks to the work done bythe Egyptian Exploration Society and the Scottish and Newcastle Breweries, theancient beer was probably "strongly influenced by the addition of fruit orspices as flavouring." The word 'bnr' bnrsweet-tasting unknown fooddeterminative causes some problem - it is usually translated as 'date', but itmay have referred to a different (or to any other) sweet-tasting food theEgyptians used in their beer. Although the dregs from ancient beer jars do showwhat ingredients were used, further work is needed before the exact flavour ofthe different beers can be established. In hieroglyphs, the determinative of thebeer jug (jar determinative) were used in words associated with beer - shortfor 'beer', 'tribute', 'to be drunk', 'food and drink' and 'butler'. Theimportance of beer in ancient Egyptcan not be overlooked.
Model of People Making Beer 9February 1996, the Herald-Sun reported that 'Tutankhamon Ale' will be based onsediment from jars found in a brewery housed in the Sun Temple of Nefertiti,and the team involved has gathered enough of the correct raw materials toproduce "just 1000 bottles of the ale".
"We are about to unveil agreat Tutankhamen secret," said Jim Merrington, commercial director atNewcastle Breweries, "The liquid gold of the pharaohs. It's a reallyamazing inheritance they have left us, the origins of beer itself."
The beer was reported to have analcoholic content of between 5 and 6 percent and was to be produced in April,1996. They were sold at Harrods for £50 per bottle, the proceeds going towardsfurther research into Egyptian beer making.
Want to try brewing your ownAncient Egyptian inspired beer? Have a look at The Egyptian Beer Experiment forsome recipes!
Although the word for beer waswritten with the hieroglyphs hqtjar determinative - hqt with the determinativefor a beer jar - another way of writing the word is hnqt due to 'defectivewriting' by the ancient Egyptians, mentioned in Die Defektivschreibungen in denPyramidentexten, Lingua Aegyptia 2 by Jochem Kahl:
After defining what is understoodhere as a defective writing and how to recognize them, the author lists the evidencein the P.T. for unwritten consonants, either in initial, middle of finalposition... the defectively written consonant must belong to the group of i, w,a, m, n, r, and then only in certain word forms... Two factors of importancefor defective writing are calligraphy, such as with hnqt, "beer" andlack of room. At the end the author remarks that the hieroglyphic writings arestrongly influenced by the pronunciation.