Israeli researchers drink to old times with ancient-style beer

Jerusalem (AFP) –


Israeli researchers said Wednesday they had managed to extract yeast from ancient jars and produced a head-spinning concoction with it: beer similar to what the pharaohs would have imbibed.

Beer with a six-percent alcoholic strength and similar in taste to a wheat ale was presented to journalists, as was mead at 14-percent strength.

Researchers from Israel's Antiquities Authority as well as three Israeli universities gathered at a Jerusalem pub to announce their findings and called the project a first.

"I remember that when we first brought out the beer that we sat around the table and drank, we raised a cup to say l'chaim (a Hebrew toast meaning 'to life')," said Aren Maeir, an archaeologist with Bar-Ilan University.

"And I said either we'll be good or we'll all be dead in five minutes. We lived to tell the story."

Six yeasts were taken from the remains of jars found at archaeological sites, including a Philistine site in central Israel linked to the biblical story of Goliath.

Other sites were in the Negev desert -- the oldest one linked to ancient Egypt -- as well as Tel Aviv and in the Jerusalem area.

The yeasts' genomes were sequenced, and they were put in a liquid medium to grow before being used to brew beer and mead.

One yeast was found to be similar to that used in traditional beer in Zimbabwe, while another had similarities to that used in Ethiopian mead known as tej, said Ronen Hazan, a microbiologist at Hebrew University.

- 'Tasted great' -

Several different beers were made, while the one offered for tastings on Wednesday was brewed with a yeast that descended from one some 3,000 years old, the researchers said.

Yeast was also extracted that descended from some 5,000 years ago, according to the Antiquities Authority.

Modern beer-making methods were used to produce the tipple.

The researchers hope to create one using ancient recipes in the future -- and possibly produce it commercially for sale at some point.

In addition to Bar-Ilan and Hebrew University, researchers from Tel Aviv University were also involved in the project.

The aim was not only to raise a glass.

Hazan said the scientific importance to the work lay in its insight into how to reconstruct the past and the domestication of microorganisms like yeast.

But Yitzhak Paz of the Antiquities Authority admitted he took some extra pleasure from the work.

"It tasted great. Well I drink a lot of beer so I can judge," he said.

"When we started the whole project we understood that when we start to brew this material and we get the beer, it will be probably similar, maybe not identical, but similar to the flavour (from ancient times)."

Regardless, the researchers were buzzed from breaking new ground.

"Until now, researchers used ancient recipes, but modern materials," said Paz.

"This is the first time when we actually used ancient materials to create ancient beer."