If we look at the cradle of craft beer, we learn about the anthropology of the regions that made it possible for the beer to be born. This is at the origin of civilization itself. More importantly, after thousands of years in the birthplace of craft beer, the Middle East remains at a cultural and historical intersection. There are palpable cultural restraints and religious beliefs influencing everything from craft beer to modern-day borders.
In reality, it’s impossible to pinpoint precisely when and where a human being consumed the first craft beer. Still, anthropologists and archeologists agree – Mesopotamia or today’s the Middle East, was the place, and sometime between 5000 and 4,000 BCE was the time.
In modern-day Iran, Godin Tepe Sumeria is known as the site of the first chemically confirmed barley beverage, which researchers in the 5th millennium BCE discovered. The Sumerian god Ninkasi, the god of brewing, and the Egyptian goddess Tenenit, the god of beer, were worshipped by cultures throughout the Middle East by 4,000 BCE. Many thousands of years ago, hieroglyphics depicted people drinking beer together.
After planting the seeds for modern agriculture, the Sumerians helped supply beer to the first major civilizations, including the Babylonians. The latter built the first largest cities and were familiarized with the intoxicating effects of beer. It is more likely that the Sumerians and Babylonians contributed to the development of brewing and beer consumption. This is more likely due to craft beer’s modern taste and pleasure.
As Babylonians began to view beer as a sign of wealth and a gift from the gods by 3,000 BCE, they crafted over 20 different types of beer. As part of the ancient Babylonian code of laws, a daily beer ration was even prescribed to its citizens, in Babylon, who used straws to drink their barley drink of the gods, which was thick, porridge-like, and unfiltered by any means.
We are pleased to report that women were the original brew masters throughout Mesopotamia, brewing right in their homes to prepare meals, welcome guests, and celebrate holidays. They were called priestesses of Ninkasi by the Sumerians, and even the laws governed by the Code of Hammurabi conjugated “tavern-keeper” in the feminine under Babylonian rule.
The Egyptians and Tenenit, the goddess of beer, developed beer’s taste and process step-by-step as early as 1,500 BCE. Ancient Egyptians, excellent artisans, used craft beer as part of complicated societal rituals. Also, they frequently used beer to compensate laborers who worked on the Giza plateau, who gave three beers per day. Ancient tombs on the Nile were found with beer accompanying Pharaohs into the afterlife.
In the history of humanity, alcohol was discovered by archeology and anthropology as hunter-gatherers evolved into cultivating land dwellers who farmed animals and produced food. Humanity suppressed its survival mode instincts so that it could contemplate and experiment with resources like grains and water. In a simple but profound way, a curious human who had never been worried about being eaten by a predator or where to get their next meal put grain in water and watched as it fermented into alcohol over days. We can see that humans began to enjoy life as soon as they had reliable food sources and enough resources to construct permanent homes. This, in turn, led to the creation of craft beer.