The beer was full of bacteria, warm and slightly sour.
By contemporary standards, it would have been a spoiled batch here at Great Lakes Brewing Company, a craft beer maker based in Ohio, where machinery churns out bottle after bottle of dark porters and pale ales.
But lately, Great Lakes has been trying to imitate a bygone era. Enlisting the help of archaeologists at the University of Chicago, the company has been trying for more than year to replicate a 5,000-year-old Sumerian beer using only clay vessels and a wooden spoon.
“How can you be in this business and not want to know from where your forefathers came with their formulas and their technology?” said Pat Conway, a co-owner of the company.
As interest in artisan beer has expanded across the country, so have collaborations between scholars of ancient drink and independent brewers willing to help them resurrect lost recipes for some of the oldest ales ever made.
“It involves a huge amount of detective work and inference and pulling in information from other sources to try and figure it out,” said Gil Stein, the director of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, which is ensuring the historical accuracy of the project. “We recognize that to get at really understanding these different aspects of the past, you have to work with people who know things that we don’t.”
There is an unresolved argument in academic circles about whether the invention of beer was the primary reason that people in Mesopotamia, considered the birthplace of Western civilization about 10,000 years ago, first became agriculturalists.