Archaeologists in Egypt have announced the discovery of a find that should be of particular interest to the beer geeks in the house—a huge mass production brewery that may very well have been the first of its kind in the world. At more than 5,000 years old, the mass production brewery East of the Temple of King Narmer in Abydos, Egypt is far larger and more organized than any other brewery known from the time, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.
The site of the brewery was actually initially discovered more than a century ago by British archaeologists, who were seemingly unable to divine its purpose. The site was then lost, until its rediscovery in 2018 by archaeologists from a joint Egyptian-American mission.
Speaking with Matthew Adams, archaeologist and research scholar at New York University, CBS News reports that the site contains at least eight individual brewery structures, each of which contains numerous installations for large scale pottery vats that effectively served as mash tuns for beer brewing. Kilning facilities also existed on site, suggesting that the Egyptians were preserving grain and possibly creating their own malt for beer. Total production at the site could have been more than 20,000 liters in each batch, which is a hell of a lot of beer for 3,100 B.C.
“That’s enough to give every person in a 40,000-seat sports stadium a pint,” said Adams to CBS. “This is Egypt’s, and perhaps the world’s, earliest example of truly industrial-scale beer production.”
Of course, as with most “ancient beer” stories, we have to keep in mind that the product being produced here would bear little similarity to what we think of as “beer” today. For one, it wouldn’t have been hopped—they weren’t used in beer until at least the 9th century A.D. Likewise, with no knowledge of yeast cultivation, these beers would have been allowed to ferment solely with the live yeast in the air, likely giving them a noticeable tang and fairly modest ABVs. Still, that is one impressively industrial brewing operation, illustrating the wealth of resources available to the Egyptian pharaohs. Adams and co. speculate that while some of that beer was of course consumed, much of it was used in large-scale offerings, sacrifices and funerary rites, with kings being buried with massive amounts of beer.
Makes you wonder if the grave robbers were ever motivated by thirst, right?