Recipe inspired by Hymn to Ninkasi

Around 12000 years ago humankind started to domesticate wild plants. By around 10000 years ago barley (Hordeum vulgare), emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccum) and einkorn wheat (Triticum monococcum) were cultivated in the fertile crescent. Dates, grapes, honey and spices were available.

Yeast is not mentioned, but we know that honey, dates and raisins harbour wild yeast. Fermentation would be spontaneous. It is possible that this beer was drunk when still fermenting and while still sweet. It is said that the beer was drunk through straws, and many depictions of drinking involve the use of straws. indicating that it was possibly still fermenting on the grains in the wort. The straw would enable the drinker to suck the liquid from the middle of the jar, leaving the sediment and floating debris behind. However, the Hymn tells us that the drink is filtered, so maybe not all beers needed the straw.

23 litres – 5 gallons25 litres


Blend the ground spices.
30gms Coriander seed
10gms Cardamom pods
10gms Cumin seed

300gms Dates
1.2kgs Barley Flour

Mix and knead with water to make round flat breads. Cook in the oven Gas 4 for 40 mins. Cool and turn over. Cook again at Gas 5 for 30 mins. You should have a good crust with soft inner.



4.6kg crushed wheat malt
Heat liquor to 52 degrees. Crumble in the Bappir and add 4.6 kgs crushed wheat malt.
Hold at 52 degrees for 20 mins.
Raise to 65 degrees for 40 mins
Raise to 78 degrees for 5 mins

I have used stepped infusion to better convert the bappir. There is no indication the mash was gradually heated, but it will give the best result. If you don’t have stepped temperature technology, a traditional 60 min infusion at 65 degrees will be fine.

Cool and run off into fermenter adding 1kg honey, 1kg chopped dates and 1kg chopped raisins boiled for 10 minutes in a small amount of water It is easier to process the dates and raisins in a blender but add a little water to keep everything moving.  

Ferment with an ale yeast.

Rack into your chosen final container.

The original beverage would have been racked and filtered/strained into a clay jar. Presumable it would be drunk warm and not carbonated. If it was strong it would have kept for some time and may have dropped bright. This example was not filtered but racked off the considerable sediment into a unitank then chilled and carbonated. The photograph shows the beer two days after racking with a heavy yeast presence. The aroma is bready, from the yeast, with a gentle sweetish fruit and spice sensation. Body is rich and velvety but also winey, rounded and faintly sweet.

O.G was 1060. Final gravity was 1007.9. ABV 6.7%. 

We call this beverage beer because of the grain element. It is safe to assume the barley in the Bappir contributed marginally to the sugar content of the fermentation and if used alone would have produced a fairly weak beer of around 2% abv. Honey makes mead. Grapes – raisins and dates make wine. Honey, dates and raisins provide considerable concentrations of sugar and therefore a decent amount of alcohol. A strong drink of 10% abv was definitely achievable. This early beer is a sophisticated combination of what we now know as beer, wine and mead. Given the difficulties in translation and the lack of a defined method, this reconstruction is highly speculative. It does, however, give an insight into the quality of beer that the Sumerians made. The early civilisations of the fertile crescent were highly sophisticated, making different types of beer, such as golden beer, dark beer, sweet dark beer, red beer, strained beer, ordinary beer, good beer. Currently we have no way of knowing what they tasted like or how the colours were achieved.

Sumerian Beer
Sumerian Beer