The ancient Greeks may be known for indulging in wine, but that wasn’t the only tipple they enjoyed, new research suggests.
Two recently-discovered Bronze Age breweries suggest that beer-making was very much alive in Greece 4,000 years ago.
Researchers believe that these prehistoric people enjoyed getting merry with alcoholic drinks for feasts all year-round and not just when the grapes were ripe.
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Archaeologists from Aristotle University of Thessaloniki found remains of several buildings that could have been used for making beer.
Some were found at Archondiko in northern Greece others at Agrissa, which is on the eastern side of Greece, writes Live Science.
It appears there were two large fires at both sites which caused people at the time to move out, leaving behind burnt artefacts.
One of the most significant finds from both sites were sprouted cereal grains.
The ones in Archondiko dated to 2100 to 2000 BC while the ones in Agrissa were between 2100 to 1700 BC.
‘I’m 95 percent sure that they were making some form of beer,’ said Tania Valamoti an associate professor of archaeology at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, in Greece.
‘Not the beer we know today, but some form of beer.’
‘It is an unexpected find for Greece, because until now all evidence pointed to wine’, she said.
Making wine is quite straightforward and grape juice mixed with grape skins would have been enough for alcoholic fermentation to take place.
Beer, however, requires the starch from the grain to be changed to sugars which the yeast can ferment with.
The brewer must also spout the grains (known as malting) before roasting the mixture and coarsely mixing it with lukewarm water to convert all the starch into sugars.
It would have required more sophisticated equipment and understanding.
‘At Archondiko, the two-chamber structure seems to have been carefully constructed to maintain low temperatures in the rear chamber, possibly even below 100°C’, Dr Valamoti wrote in her paper published in Vegetation History and Archaeobotany.
The discovery opens up ‘a series of new questions about the recipes followed in this process and their origins’, Dr Valamoti wrote.
Ethnographic research has suggested alcohol was extremely important in the development of early societies.
‘Alcohol has been considered, among other things, the trigger that led to cereal cultivation and domestication, as a response to a need for providing alcohol for feasting among hunter-gatherers’, Dr Valamoti wrote.
‘Textual evidence from historic periods in Greece clearly shows that beer was con-sidered an alcoholic drink of foreign people, and barley wine a drink consumed by the Egyptians, Thracians, Phrygians and Armenians, in most cases drunk with the aid of a straw as reported by Archilochus and Xenophon’.
Although this may be the oldest example of beer in Greece, it is not the oldest in the world.
It is believed the primitive cultures of Mesopotania could have been brewing malted barley scraps as far back as 10,000BC but there are no records of it.
The earliest proof of an alcoholic beverage dates back to Northern China 9,000 years ago.
This ancient beer was made using hawthorn fruit, Chinese wild grapes, rice and honey, and is the oldest known fermented beverage in history – older even than wine.
Eventually beer made its way from the Middle East to Europe where an abundance of barley crops provided lots of raw ingredient for brewers.
It was in the Middle Ages that malted barley became the main source of fermentable sugar and beer became the beverage we are familiar with today.
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