Most of us have had a beer so good that drinking it was “like a religious experience.” But when was the last time you were served a bowl of murky grog at church? Early people from Mesopotamia to Mesoamerica celebrated everything with beer—from their daily prayers and good harvests to human sacrifice and their gods.
Often the recipes for these beverages were transmitted through visions of tribal deities.
Ancient beers from around the world were usually low in alcohol, sour, chunky or slimy—eeew! They were made of any fermentable materials at hand. If you are one to harp on about adjuncts and German purity, you’d better fasten your seat belt. Dan Shelton, co-founder of the Shelton Brothers specialty beer importation company says, “Fact is that all of the ancient beers would have been spontaneously fermented, they would therefore have been very low alcohol, and they would have been progressively more sour and redolent with all sorts of flavors—certainly foul and off-putting at the time.”
Who could have made this stuff up, you’re wondering? Well, the gods did. Often the recipes for these beverages were transmitted through visions of tribal deities. They required specific ingredients and equipment bestowed with magical properties. Mythology and sacred poems accompanied the brew. Righteous consumption demanded special drinking vessels and adherence to ceremonial customs.
“In a world so lacking in modern comforts like ibuprofen and dental care,” reckons Santa Fe brewer Cullen Dwyer, “a food that required no chewing and let you forget your aches, pains and cares must have won a big double thumbs-up.” It’s true. Beer was medicine. And it was also a staple food, a religious sacrament, social lubricant and aphrodisiac.