While wine is the alcoholic beverage of choice in the Hebrew Bible, beer too was known to the ancient Near East. Archaeologists have, for instance, found beer vessels from biblical times used by the Philistines—the Israelites’ enemies living on the Mediterranean coast. Melanie Lidman describes the entrepreneurs and scientists selling yeast from these containers to those who wish to recreate the ancient brews:
An interdisciplinary team of researchers, archaeologists, and brewmasters in Israel first isolated 5,000-year-old yeast in 2019. . . . But now, the fruits of that discovery are about to become available for hobby brewers and sourdough aficionados everywhere.
Using organic residue analysis, scientists were able to identify organic molecules that had survived in the matrix of the ceramics over the years, including the yeast microorganism. For a few vessels, the scientists sequenced the full microbiome inside of the vessel, discovering ancient bacteria and viruses in addition to the yeast microorganism, [the microbiologist] Ronen Hazan said. He said a PCR yeast test, similar to the PCR coronavirus test, can also quickly and cheaply determine the presence of yeast inside a vessel.
Beer was a basic commodity in the ancient world and was consumed by rich, poor, adults, and children, as well as used in religious ritual, according to [the archaeologist Yitzḥak] Paz. Ancient beer was not the clear amber substance we recognize today, but would have been filled with sediment, and produced from a variety of grains, including millet, corn, sorghum, and wheat. The vessels that provided the yeast organisms had filtered spouts, like a watering can, to keep the sediment out of the drinker’s glass.
A Times of Israel reporter who tried one of the first iterations of beer brewed with the ancient yeast in 2019 said at the time it was “slightly sweet, with a subtle tang, . . . and tasted [of] banana and other fruits.”