“My sister, your grain - its beer is tasty, my comfort.”
Song of Songs, Sumeria, 2100 BC
Let’s move away from the ‘Old Days’ of the 1980s and take a look at the REALLY old days…let’s go back almost 5,000 years, shall we?
Our vision of beer and its brewing comes to us through a modern prism. We picture the huge and always consistent scientifically-based breweries of Anheuser-Busch and Coors Brewing Company. But humans have brewed beer for thousands of years, using it as an important source of nutrition and survival…and the brewers have almost always been women.
When the tomb of lady Pu-Bai, Queen of the Mesopotamian city of Ur in 2600 BC, was explored, it contained a long, thin straw delicately fashioned from lapis lazuli and gold. Beer brewing back then left a preservative cap of grain and herbs on the surface and needed to be pierced by a thin tube in order to be enjoyed. Lady Pu-Bai’s official seal portrays her drinking beer from a clay vessel through just such a straw.
Today there are places these eons-old customs continue almost unchanged. In some Stone Age societies of the Amazon jungle women of the village chew on grains, mixing their saliva with them and spitting the resulting mix into a vessel to start the brewing process. This is a “mash” I’m not really keen on tasting at the moment, but it was exactly the same process in recent Japanese history—using rice as the grain—when village women were responsible for making sake.
Even now, in African villages of Tanzania, contemporary women brew beer in their homes and share it with other women who drink from a common vessel. And, 4,600 years after Lady Pu-Bai, these 21st Century women drink beer through…that’s right…beer-drinking straws.