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Beer Science

Ancient Egyptian Brewer's Tomb Found 66

Rambo Tribble writes "Reminding us of beer's pivotal role in the civilization of humankind, the BBC comments on the discovery of an Ancient Egyptian tomb, belonging to the distinguished 'head of beer production' in the Pharaoh's court. From the article: 'Experts say the tomb's wall paintings are well preserved and depict daily life as well as religious rituals. Antiquities Minister Mohamed Ibrahim told the Egyptian al-Ahram newspaper that security had been tightened around the tomb until excavation works are complete.'"
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Ancient Egyptian Brewer's Tomb Found

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  • Tetracycline ale. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by EmperorOfCanada ( 1332175 ) on Sunday January 05, 2014 @01:21PM (#45871389)
    Some Egyptian beer used a yeast that produced huge quantities of tetracycline; enough that it changed the colour of their bones. I wonder if any of the text will refer to the beer's medicinal properties.
  • Any yeast found ? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by perpenso ( 1613749 ) on Sunday January 05, 2014 @01:26PM (#45871421)
    Any yeast found? It would be interesting if his brew could be resurrected.
    • by gcore ( 748374 )
      If there is a way, Dogfish Head will surely brew it. But they will probably brew it anyway ;)
    • by tomhath ( 637240 )
      The tetracycline is produced by Streptomyces bacteria that contaminates the beer, rather than the yeast. It can be done, but brewing your own antibiotics just doesn't seem like a good idea to me.
      • It almost definitely isn't. I remember transforming plasmids with parts for tetracycline resistance into bacteria in highschool and I can't imagine that this would be allowed if tetracycline were something that one would want to use as an antibiotic for humans.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Tetracycline family antibiotics are actually very popular for use in humans. Like any antibiotic though resistance is a concern as is making sure the antibiotic in question is effective on the pathogen casuing problems. Tetracyclines tend to be bacteriostatic antibiotics rather than bacteriocidal (so they require use with a functioning immune system to have maximum benefit) which along with their side effect profile makes their use a bit more targeted in practice generally than some other antibiotics.
    • Re:Any yeast found ? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 05, 2014 @01:53PM (#45871643)

      Probably not. The most likely sources of yeast would have been either spontaneous yeasting, letting natural occurring yeast "contaminate" the wort or by using residue from earlier brews. The yeast as such was not contained because it was unknown that this biological substance was required.
      It probably is far more likely that this will shed some light on the common ingredients, which seeds were used for the malt, which additives were included (herbs, fruits, nuts) and what (if any) gruit was common. The yeast strains are most likely a reflection of what occurred naturally in that ecosystem. To find out what that could have been like, a paleo ecological study could shed some light on that.

      An archaeologist and beer fanatic (which seems to be a pleonasm)

      • Re:Any yeast found ? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Ellis D. Tripp ( 755736 ) on Sunday January 05, 2014 @04:54PM (#45872945) Homepage

        Have you seen the TV show "Brew Masters?". They did an episode where an expedition was mounted to Egypt, to examine some hieroglyphs at a tomb and capture wild yeast. It was then used to brew "Ta Henket", a limited release one-time brew by Dogfish Head brewery in DE.

        The hieroglyphs showed what appeared to be loaves of bread involved in the brewing of beer. One theory is that the ancient brewers put loaves of bread into the wort, inadvertently pitching yeast in the process. The modern brewers attempted to recreate this by baking simple loaves of bread using emmer, a local grain of the time period, then adding the crumbled loaves to the fermenter.

        • One theory is that the ancient brewers put loaves of bread into the wort, inadvertently pitching yeast in the process.

          I would venture to say it wasn't "inadvertent".

          They may have not understood the microscopic level, but by this time humans would have been brewing beer for likely thousands of years already. They knew what would happen and what they expected.

          We tend to forget there was likely many many thousands of years of pre-history during which brewing, baking, building, tool making would have been very

          • by Ellis D. Tripp ( 755736 ) on Sunday January 05, 2014 @09:59PM (#45874979) Homepage

            I agree. They knew that the bread was a necessary part of the process, so it was added.

            They had no idea that the only part of the bread that was needed was a microscopic one-celled organism that also caused the bread to rise in the first place.

            Would likely be explained as the "spirit of the bread" causing the brew to become beer, or similar pre-scientific explanation.

            • And long before then they figured out that the bread also needed to get exposed to stuff to get the yeast, even if they had no idea of the specifics of it.

              But they'd have been doing it for thousands of years by that point.

              Bread and beer pretty much formed a lot of the foundations of civilization.

            • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

              Probably not baked bread (heat kills yeast) but either bread dough, or later, a small reserve from the brew itself -- much how sourdough uses a bit of the previous batch.

    • by dasunt ( 249686 )

      I wouldn't be surprised if it was a wild yeast, or closely related.

      There's something called "wild fermentation", and it's used even today to make old fashioned foods like homemade sauerkraut. When it does is rely on wild fungi that's already on the raw food. You can even make wine with that technique.

      It's also a common technique to use a bit of a good fermentation to "seed" the next batch.

      If the Egyptians (and this is wild speculation on my part) were consuming a fermented porridge, or even making sou

      • Re:Any yeast found ? (Score:5, Informative)

        by dasunt ( 249686 ) on Sunday January 05, 2014 @05:17PM (#45873087)

        Just to add - it's also interesting to note that wild fermentation is an important way to preserve food and remove toxic organisms from it. Even the most common, non-alcoholic fermentation (lacto-fermentation), it tends to change the environment of the brew that toxic organisms can't survive. There's actually a history of what was called "small beer" in the west, which was a brew just alcoholic enough to kill off many pathogens. It was safer to drink than water in many areas.

        Now consider this in the land of Egypt, where a large population living around one major water source (a river) without modern sewage treatment. It's probably safer to drink a fermented drink than the water directly.

        • Small beer was sterile at first, because like normal beer, the wort and water were boiled.. then the yeast and alcohol kept down other pathogens.

      • Never heard of wine made that way, but Belgian Lambic beers use that technique.

        They tend to be somewhat acidic, some have a cidery taste.

        • by dasunt ( 249686 )

          You can make what's called "country wine" very easily with that technique.

          For the curious, try googling "wild fermentation" and "wine".

  • I love it when things like this are uncovered. Beer making is such an old craft. It'd be interesting to see how that tasted. Anyone have an original recipe?

  • by kaoshin ( 110328 ) on Sunday January 05, 2014 @01:48PM (#45871595)
    The ration for an pyramid labourer included a measure of beer although supervisors got to have jugs. The only reason the Giza pyramids were built is because everyone was totally blitzed. Interestingly enough, beer is often seen in modern pyramid structures. []
  • by Werrismys ( 764601 ) on Sunday January 05, 2014 @05:21PM (#45873129)
    "beer's pivotal role in the civilization of humankind" I'll drink to that. Kippis.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    As the article implies, this tomb was discovered by Japanese archeologists.

    At Kyoto University, where I study, archeological students have whipped up a similar brew using ancient Egyptian recipes found in a tomb like this one.

    They have bottled it under the label "Ruby Nile" and sell it at the school store, cafeterias and campus cafes.


  • The article doesn't say if the tomb's owner was still in there.

    If not, he's probably shuffling around looking for his keys.

When you are working hard, get up and retch every so often.