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Cocktails with Cleopatra? Israeli scientists again 5,000-year-old brew with yeast from the old jugs of beer

Old jars are on display during a press conference in Jerusalem, Wednesday, May 22, 2019. Israeli researchers celebrated Wednesday a long-brewing project of making beer, and also with the help of yeast harvested from ancient clay vessels, some more than 5000 years old. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

That is an old brew.

If you’ve ever wondered what kind of drinks were consumed by our ancestors, Israeli scientists have made some progress in answering that question. On Wednesday, researchers announced that they had produced beer, and also with the help of yeast harvested from ancient clay vessels, some of which are more than 5000 years old.

Archaeologists and microbiologists of the Israel Antiquities Authority and four Israeli universities worked together to study yeast colonies discovered in microscopic pores in pottery fragments. The small shards were found on Egyptian, Philistine, and of Judea, archaeological sites in Israel, ranging from 3000 BC to the 4th century BC, according to a press release.

Now the researchers are touting concoctions made of so-called “resurrected” yeasts as a major step in the experimental archaeology, a field that wants to reconstruct the past in order to better understand the taste of the old world.

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Prof. His Maeir, Bar Ilan University, the possession of an old jug and a glass of beer during a press conference in Jerusalem, Wednesday, May 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Beer was a staple of the daily diet for the people of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.

The yeast samples were returned to the nearly two dozen ceramic vessels found at the excavations around the country, including a salvage dig in the centre of Tel Aviv, a Persian-era palace in the south of Jerusalem, and the ‘en Besor, a 5000 year old Egyptian brewery near Israel’s border with the Gaza strip.

“The greatest miracle of all is that the yeast colonies survived in the vessel for thousands of years–it is just waiting to be dug up and grown. This old yeast, so we have a beer let us know what old Philistine and Egyptian beer tasted like,” He said Hazan, the Hebrew University School of Dental Medicine, in a press statement.

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“By the way, the beer is also not bad. Apart from the gimmick of drinking beer from the time of King Pharaoh, this research is very important for the field of experimental archaeology–a field that wants to reconstruct the past. Our research provides new tools for investigating the old methods, and gives us the opportunity to taste the flavors of the past,” Hazan said.

Scientists working with a craft brewer out of Jerusalem to create a basic ale using yeast from the pots.

Craft brewer from Biratenu, the Jerusalem Beer Center, Shmuel Naky, right, pours beer during a press conference in Jerusalem, Wednesday, May 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Although the beer incorporates modern ingredients such as the hops, which were not available in the ancient Middle East, it is revived yeast that provides much of the flavor.

“We have tried to recreate some of the old flavours that the people in this area were the consumption of hundreds and thousands of years ago,” said Shmuel Naky, a craft brewer from the Jerusalem Beer Center, which helped produce the beer and mead, according to The Associated Press. Yeasts, he said, “have a very large influence on the taste.”

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Naky described the beer as “spicy and a little fruity, and it is very complex in the flavor,” all the attributes which the researchers said was produced by the old yeast.

Their next goal? They want to link the risen yeast with old beer recipes to better reproduce drinks from the ancient times.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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