Written By: Chiara Atoyebi
Seal contract, Cuneiform tablet no. 28. A 5,000 year old Sumerian tablet documenting beer and oil activities. Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Today is National Beer Lover’s Day, and it’s only appropriate that we delve into the origins of what is considered America’s favorite drink, as well as the women who contributed to its creation. The history of beer and brewing dates back thousands of years. Ancient Sumeria, now modern-day Iraq, was one of the earliest civilizations to brew beer, where it played a significant cultural and religious role. At the center of Sumerian beer culture stood Ninkasi, the water goddess, who was also the goddess of beer, fertility, and creation.
Ninkasi was so beloved that many years later the “Hymn to Ninkasi” was created in her honor and is said to hold the keys to ancient beer making.
In ancient Mesopotamia, it was not uncommon for women to be involved in the beer making as an extension of their domestic labor, and in advance of intimate festivities.
The beverage, which was largely consumed by the upper classes of society was made with two ingredients, barley and emmer (a species of wheat), and was produced in glass jars.
Historians have yet to discover the exact process of ancient beer making, but they speculate that it involved heating, drying, mashing, layering barley, and diluting the alcohol potency with water. The home brews of that time would have been flavored with ingredients like olive oil, bog myrtle, cheese, meadowsweet, mugwort, carrot, and poppy during beer fermentation. Beer was used not only to tap workers in Babylonia and Mesopotamia but was considered a source of nutrition.
Cuniform Tablet Courtesy of Public Domain
Beer was also a major part of the Babylonian, Assyrian, Egyptian, Hebrew, Chinese, and Inca cultures.
According to the website Beer History, different grains were used in different cultures:
a) Africa used millet, sorghum and cassava.
b) North America used persimmon although agave was used in Mexico.
c) South America used corn although sweet potatoes were used in Brazil.
d) Japan used rice to make sake.
e) China used rice, and wheat
f) Other Asian cultures also used sorghum.
g) Russians used rye to make quass or kvass.
h) Egyptians used barley
The majority of these neolithic findings were made when observing the pottery remains of tasia Brewczynski has been making beer and beer-inspired art since 2018 and opened her shop in 2020. Brewczynski advocates for gender equity, representation, and pathways for marginalized groups within the beer industry. “The mere existence of marginalized folks is an affront to the cis [hetero] white male dominant status quo in our industry,” she says. “Images of non-men enjoying beer are as revolutionary as they are joyful — and so is my own presence in beer,” she said in her Beer is for Everyone interview. excavations, where researchers found residue of mold within the pots. These pots may have been used for burial and ritual ceremonies, with some being buried with the body. Early hunter-gatherer civilizations dating back 9000 years likely discovered beer through the natural process of fermentation, utilizing what was available through their foraging efforts.
While beer may have begun as an extension of housework performed by women, as centuries progressed, beer became more associated with the beverage. Today, there are a few women artists who aim to reclaim beer’s original heritage by reminding people of its origins.
Sabrina Grimes, aka the Boozy Craft Corner
Sabrina Grimes, aka the Boozy Craft Corner, makes beer-centered art in hopes of bringing equity and inclusion to the brewery world where women can feel accepted and drinking beer is normalized. A large part of her work is inspired by her belief that the art industry should actively encourage a more diverse range of artists and artwork.
Stasia Brew by Stasia Brewczynski
Stasia Brewczynski has been making beer and beer-inspired art since 2018 and opened her shop in 2020. Brewczynski advocates for gender equity, representation, and pathways for marginalized groups within the beer industry. “The mere existence of marginalized folks is an affront to the cis [hetero] white male dominant status quo in our industry,” she says. “Images of non-men enjoying beer are as revolutionary as they are joyful — and so is my own presence in beer,” she said in her Beer is for Everyone interview.
You can follow these artists here:
Boozy Craft Corner by Sabrina Grimes on Instagram at @BoozyCraftCorner.
Stasia Brew by Stasia Brewczynski on Instagram at @StasiaBrew.