Celebrate International Beer Day and the woman who achieved goddess status when she discovered the frothy beverage — by accident.
The world loves beer. So much so that it’s celebrated on International Beer Day the first Friday of every August. Whether it’s grocery store classics Budweiser or Coors, a locally brewed craft beer, or one of the many Belgium creations that will knock you off your feet with their alcohol percentages, beer is a global treasure. It’s been that way for centuries (when water wasn’t safe to drink, humanity guzzled beer). More often than not, in modern times beer is stereotypically considered a man’s drink — 44% of women surveyed by AB InBev said as much. And 54% of male drinkers in the United States told Gallup they prefer beer over other alcoholic beverages; only 23% of women said the same. There’s a funny thing, though, about beer history: this frothy beverage that’s become synonymous with masculinity (thanks, advertising) was created by a woman in ancient Mesopotamia — by accident. Her gift, which was enjoyed by both men and women in the cradle of civilization, was so revered that they made her a deity: Ninkasi the Goddess of Beer.
Remembering Ninkasi the Goddess of Beer on International Beer Day
Around 5300 BCE, the woman who became known as Ninkasi the Goddess of Beer harvested grain by hand and stored it in jars. As chance would have it, it rained and the jars filled with water. To dry the grain out, it was placed outside, covered and then put back into the jars a few days later, where wind-borne yeast found its way inside, creating the thick, bubbly foam that creates a beer mustache. Thanks to Mother Nature and Ninkasi, the art of brewing beer through malting and fermentation was born. It even contributed to a change in lifestyle, according to the National Women’s History Museum, as it helped usher out the hunter-gatherer lifestyle — who would want to pack up and leave when you can settle down, farm and drink beer?
An Ancient Beer Recipe Is Found and Re-created
Fast-forward to around 1800 BCE in Sumeria, now Iraq, and the oldest recipe for beer was written on two clay tablets, aptly named the “Hymn to Ninkasi.” The hymn, which is older than when it was first recorded, praises Ninkasi’s skills while also providing enough detail on how to brew her ancient Sumerian beer that Fritz Maytag, founder of the Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco, started the Sumerian Beer Project in 1989 to re-create it.
Maytag presented the beverage to brewers at the 1991 American Association of Micro Brewers and they “were able to taste ‘Ninkasi Beer,’ sipping it from large jugs with drinking straws as they did four millennia ago,” Miguel Civil, former Professor of Sumerology at the University of Chicago and a translator of the Sumerian tablets, wrote. He noted that the beer had an alcohol concentration of 3.5%, with a “dry taste lacking in bitterness” that is “similar to apple cider.”
Unfortunately, you can’t bottle Sumerian beer, as it was made for immediate consumption and doesn’t keep well, but if you’re feeling adventurous, seek out a Sumerian beer tasting. Can’t find one for International Beer Day? Beg and/or bribe your local brewery to get on it, quickly. Just make sure to honor Ninkasi the Goddess of Beer, as well as all the other female brewers who came after her in all parts of the world, before you take a sip of any beer on International Beer Day. Brewing beer was, after all, strictly women’s work for centuries — mankind, you’re welcome.