Beer and Time Machine
As children, many of us dreamed of creating a time machine. We couldn’t wait to look into the future. After growing up, we began to remember the past – it seemed to us that then everything was better, more interesting and even tasty. Scientists and archaeologists have helped us to create such a time machine. Discoveries of archaeologists allowed us to see, feel and even taste the past. How old do you think our favorite drink is? You are right – thousands of years! It is this ancient beer that the biologists at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Professor Ronen Hazan, Dr. Michael Klutstein and the Israeli brewer Itai Gutman decided to recreate.
As we know, the first beer was born in the Middle East, and many proofs of it have been found there. Therefore, it was decided to start the search on the territories of Israel. At this stage, Professor Aren M. Maier, an archaeologist from Bar-Ilan University, managed the project. Clay jars and crocks with remains of dried beer from various archaeological sites were collected. The scientists extracted six strains of yeast from 21 shards of beer vessels excavated from four ancient sites in the Holy Land. Once populated by Philistines, Egyptians or Jews, these sites include the biblical Tell el-Safi/Gat (circa 850 B.C.), the Bronze Age En-Vesor in the Negev and the Egyptian brewery found on Ha-Masger Street in Tel Aviv (both circa 3100 B.C.) and the Ramat Rachel in Jerusalem (circa 8-4 B.C.). After DNA sequencing and other high-tech medical imaging and identification techniques, six isolated strains of viable yeast were successfully recovered.
Archaeologists and biologists have found and regenerated ancient yeasts. All of them were different from each other, because in those distant times each place brewed its own special beer. Its initiator, Israeli brewer Itai Gutman, completed the project. He brewed several batch of beer from the same recipe with different yeasts. The beers turned out different tastes – a lot depends on the yeast in brewing. This project was completed in 2019. For the first time ever, beer was brewed not from recipes from ancient manuscripts, but from real ingredients that have come down to us from the depths of time!
At all times, beer was created for people, and it should fulfill its mission – to bring us happiness, not to stay in test tubes. The researchers who created beer from ancient yeasts understood this as well, which is why they contacted our brewery with a suggestion to brew beer using three-thousand-year-old yeasts on an industrial scale.
The first time I heard about this project, I was extremely excited – it was like a touch of eternity. I had experienced something similar when I tasted a beer brewed with 150-year-old Carlsberg yeast. Now I myself, as part of our team, had to create this beer!
Then the daily routine began. Originally, the recipe said Antique Beer, and then the name was changed. No one knew what antique beer should be. It was clear that it should not have a strong aroma of hops – in those early days they were not yet familiar with them, but according to the law, this “drink” cannot be called Beer without hops. So it was decided to add some neutral-flavored hops. It was not supposed to be strong – because then beer was drunk everywhere and … even during work, and you cannot drink a lot of strong beer in our hot climate. Moreover, one more small detail – at the dawn of civilization women were engaged in home cooking and brewing beer. We had no problem with that – the project was managed by our brew master, a charming woman named Anat Meir.
For the project, yeast was chosen from samples found at Tel Tzfit, by another name, Gath. This was a major city in the lowlands of Judea mentioned in the Bible. The yeast found had been in dormant for 3,000 years (!) and had been “awakened” specifically for making our beer! They were the ones that were propagated in our brewery’s laboratory.
The first brew went well, and I watched the fermentation with my heart. Every morning I checked the beer, but the yeast was in no hurry and “worked” very slowly. What is a day or two compared to a few thousand years of sleeping! Finally, the beer was ready. It tasted quite good. However it was not good enough – because a drink that people have been enjoying for thousands of years must, by definition, taste very good. Therefore, I changed the recipe for the new beer and improved its taste. Marketing experts decided to give the beer the name המשתה, which translates as Feast. After all, beer has always been an integral attribute of all feasts.
The beer is not strong, only 4.7% alcohol with an aroma of malt and pleasant light wine notes. There is no strength in the taste – it is very easy to drink. The first part of the project is over and now we must to brew it in our mini brewery Shikma. Moreover, the guys did not let us down – the beer turned out exactly as we developed it in the pilot laboratory.
Researchers from the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Universities of Tel Aviv, Hebrew and Bar Ilan, brewer Itai Gutman, and the Israeli Carlsberg team took part in the project. Moreover we, all together, made it happen! Now each of you can taste beer brewed from 3,000-year-old yeast!
P.S. An article on how ancient yeast was recovered, published in the American Society for Microbiology.