Seizing the Day with a Sumerian Brew

Seizing the Day with a Sumerian Brew June 18, 2013

I now have a new summer goal: to sample beer based on a Sumerian hymn to the Goddess of Beer,  Ninkasi.

Great Lakes Brewing Company, a craft brewer based in Ohio, is working with the University of Chicago to perfect beer based on that ancient song. They’re using clay urns, a granola-like grain recipe, and a manure-fueled fire to heat the brewing vats.

I was sad that the company has no plans to market the brew. Even if it’s more sour than modern palates are accustomed to, it would make me happy to drink a brew that tasted something like my spiritual ancestors used to drink.

So far, there are no dates given for the beer’s debut. The New York times references the beer’s being showcased at events in Cleveland and Chicago by summer’s end.  And notes that it’s on display during brewery tours.

The Hymn to Ninkasi gives no doubt about the Sumerian fondness for beer and respect for a well-brewed batch. Reading it, a skilled home brewer might well be able to tease out a recipe. Or at least modify a current recipe with a bit of honey and dates.

Some sources give Siduri as the Goddess of Beer, but I think of her more as a Goddess of Tavern Keepers. It was Siduri who gave the hero Gilgamesh instructions on finding the plant which would convey immortality. And, who tried to talk him out of his funk when he came back to her tavern by the sea having lost the plant to a wily snake who ate it while he took a nap.

The Gods have limited mankind’s earthly time, She said. So the best thing to do is live in the moment, enjoy your time here. Eat, drink, be merry. Play with your children, love your wife. Carpe diem.

I once had a chat with a Bible scholar who was an Old Testament specialist. The woman who introduced us at her after-movie salon knew I was interested in “Near Eastern mythology,” and probably thought she’d made a happy match of two like-minded souls. Oh, how wrong she was.

Because where I saw an exhortation to enjoy fully the joys of our earthly incarnation and live in the moment, he saw hopelessness. There was no promise of the life eternal that his God gives, he pointed out. Just the empty, shallow life of this world, then nothing.

I could have engaged him on that difference in our world views. But really, what was the point?

I excused myself. I got another beer. And lifted it to Siduri, and the pleasures of good food, good drink, good conversation. And set off to find them.

Just like, later this summer, I hope to find that authentic Sumerian brew. I’d planned to take a trip to Chicago anyway—with Siduri and Ninkasi’s help, perhaps I can roll a beer tasting into my journey.

I know just the offering to prepare.

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