Oktoberfest, on October 12, is a day of festivity for beer drinkers around the globe. The festival was first celebrated in Bavaria in 1810, on the occasion of a royal wedding, during which many liters of the bubbly alcoholic beverage were consumed
To this day, the Bavarian festival, Oktoberfest, which has already spread to many other locations around the world, is celebrated at the same site where the historic wedding was held.
However, the custom of drinking beer began thousands of years prior to that event and also thousands of miles away. Prof. Aren Maeir, of Bar-Ilan University’s Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology, who became acquainted with ancient beer through his research, writes about the popular drink that garners special recognition this month.
Beer and other alcoholic beverages have played a key role in human nutrition and culture, from antiquity through contemporary times, in a variety of places around the world. The combination of caloric value, a liquid that is safer than water to drink (because alcohol kills microorganisms) and psychoactive properties have made wine, beer, and mead (honey wine) and other alcoholic beverages very popular. There is evidence of ancient beer production some 13,000 years ago, at the end of the prehistoric era that has been unearthed in the Raqefet (Cyclamen) Cave on Mount Carmel in Israel’s north. From the archaeological finds and the scriptures, we know that beer was quite important and even constituted a major nutrient in ancient Egypt. Even in the biblical Land of Israel, liquor, which is actually beer, was very popular.
In recent years, fascinating archaeological evidence of ancient beer has been found in the Land of Israel. In addition to beer production facilities, and storage and serving utensils, a team of researchers from several institutions in Israel (Bar-Ilan University, the Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University and the Israel Antiquities Authority), were able to locate various beer-related pottery, from different sites and periods, and isolate the yeast originally used to produce the beer! Thus the discovery was made of Egyptian beer from about 5,000 years ago, as well as Philistine beer from a biblical Philistine beer jug. What was the taste of the Philistine beverages? Using the yeast that was uncovered, the researchers were able to recreate ancient beers and found that these beers were very tasty – so much so that they are now considering producing them commercially. So maybe, at one of the next Oktoberfest celebrations, it will be possible to drink Philistine beer just as the biblical Samson and Goliath once did.