Beer as a food: a short article on old beers and fermentation


Put yourself in the shoes of an ancient relative of yours. Something like a distant grandpa, or grandma, living some four thousands years ago.

If you were them, you’d find yourself at ease with walking in the woods, and gathering some fruits and herbs for yourself and your family. You’d walk for a whole afternoon, looking for a bunch of herbs of which you’d know the taste, and would walk back home when pleased with what you gathered.

We started reading this book to dive deeper into the history of beer, its properties, and to explore some new recipes to try out—not the ones we’re posting on Instagram (where we pair beer and food), but rather beer recipes. Strange ones. Recipes that would make a beer feel unexpected, and taste damn good.

Here’s what we found out so far. Here’s beer history, uses, and properties according to Buhner. Enjoy your reading.

Fig. 1 That’s the setting where most of Stephen Buhner’s book on Ancient Beers dwells.

2A little bit of beer history

Everyone agrees in saying that beer can be traced back through the millennia: there’s jars containing yeasts and malt, and cups that were filled with beer that can be dated around four thousands years ago. You could find them throughout the West, from Ancient Mesopotamia to Scotland, and look for the oldest beer we know of: the one found out in Egypt, dating back to 5’000 years ago.

Buhner, however, depicts a different scenario and tells us beers have been a friend of ours for the last 30’000 years.

Malt and hops are kind of a novelty in brewing. In ancient times fermented drinks were made with any type of herb and grain available . Heather was one of those most common herbs. And Mead, coming from honey, was one of the oldest honey beers ever known to mankind.

This is what a beer is at its core: a drink that comes from fermentation. Not necessarily that of malt. And through that lens, beers are a really, really old drink.

History meets Mythology

3Reading Buhner`s book, we’re learning that so many different cultures, from Native Americans to Celts, Picts and Tribal Africans, had their own stories about brewing and beers.

All these cultures have been amazed at the magic of fermentation: not knowing about a spontaneous yeast growing on Heather and not knowing yeasts or their role at all, they believed spirits would come to visit jars filled with sweet mixtures of herbs and water. Ancient people would sing for these spirits, to encourage them to “boil” the mixture and let fermentation begin.

Each culture agreed on labelling beer a drink of the gods. We like to think of our Golden Breeze as one of those: not because it’s magical, but because it’s made according to the traditional recipe.

From the tales of Odin spilling Mead out of his mouth, letting a couple drops fall to the human world, to the 100 Native American songs that are to be sung incessantly to let fermentation happen, each culture had its own rituals and stories that would link Mead, Heather and Beers to the Mythological worlds.


Properties and uses of beer

Unfiltered beer. That’s the key to ancient beers. Mead was made by boiling the bee hive, sometimes with bees in it. Beer wasn’t clear and transluscent, yeast and all, the drink was poured from jars into cups, and drank straight away. This made beer not only a drink, but a food: all those non-beer parts in the drink would provide vitamins, mineral, pharmaceutical components contained in the herbs, and proteins.

For people living on mostly vegetarian diets due to the scarcity of meat at the time, beer was a nutrient-rich drink.

Even if today we don’t look at beers as  foods, it feels good to know that unfiltered beers are not only more natural, but better.

Regarding the head feeling dizzy

5Too much beer can make your head fuzzy. We don’t encourage drinking alcoholic beverages for the sake of it. However, we like pairing beer and food, using beer as part of an experience that you can share with people. Hence, feeling our head lighter and our heart warmer is something we’ve all experienced, and you can bet ancient people knew that feeling too.

Our ancestors thought of drunkenness with respect: not something to be necessarily sought out, but something to enjoy. Something that would fit bards and poets, and let them sing truly inspired songs. They would gather and hear those stories, sipping ales and enjoying the company, thanking Gods and Goddesses for the gift of that strange entity that is the yeast.

Jars would run dry and new walks in the woods, gathering herbs for brewing, would be needed.

Our distant relatives would let those jars take care of themselves, storing them and using them the next year: dried yeasts in it would most likely make a new fermentation happen. Ancient people would call that magic, and sing so that the boiling sound of fermentation would be heard. Today we work things differently, but the poetry of the process remains.

I guess that’s all for this blog post.

The book still has got much to offer, maybe we should talk about it again, if old beers and their history and uses is something you’d like to know more about.

If you’re curious, check Buhner’s Website, or go to your favourite bookshop and look for his “Sacred and Healing Beers”.

Take that, read that while enjoying a light beer, something like a Pilsner or a Weiss.

Enjoy your weekemd and your beers,