What would Jesus drink? Israeli brewers create beer from ancient yeasts

Gabriella Swerling
Archaeologists and microbiologists teamed up to study yeast colonies found in microscopic pores in ancient pottery fragments - AP

It is a question which has plagued theologians, Jews and Christians for centuries: What kind of beer did people drink during the time of Jesus drink and, more importantly, what did it taste like?

Finally, their prayers have been answered, after scientists in Israel made history by brewing beer using extracts of ancient yeast.

Microbiologists extracted microscopic yeast specimens from millenia-old jugs and succeeded in brewing beer from the resurrected extract cells.

The scientists then drank their product and concluded that beer from Old Testament times would have tasted something akin to a mixture of honey wine and modern ale.

Microbiologists in Israel, as well as scholars from the Israel Antiquities Authority and Hebrew University, extracted the ancient yeast specimens from the nanopores of beer jugs dating from the fifth and eighth century BC, and as far back as 3000 BC.

They then cleaned and sequenced the full genome of every yeast specimen, before handing it over to Israeli brewers as well as a local beer expert for brewing.

According to the scientists the yeast was similar to that used in traditional African brews, like Ethiopian honey wine, and to modern beer yeast, The Tablet reported. Associated Press said the beer was "champagne bubbly and dry, with a hint of green apple."

A panel of tasters, including certified tasters from the International Beer Judge Certification Program, said that the beer was high quality and safe for consumption.

In a joint statement the researchers said that beer was an important part of people’s daily lives in antiquity.

“Great powers were attributed to beer in the ancient world, particularly for religious worship and healing properties,” the statement read. Dr Ronen Hazan, from the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Dental Medicine, said that the experiment enabled them to taste the flavours of the past.

“By the way, the beer isn’t bad,” he added. “Aside from the gimmick of drinking beer from the time of King Pharaoh, this research is extremely important to the field of experimental archaeology - a field that seeks to reconstruct the past.”