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How Beer Saved the World: The Mystery of Antibiotic Beer Revisited

Back in 2011, the Discovery Channel aired the beer documentary How Beer Saved the World (transcript here), a film that took a look at the origins of beer and also built a case for (spoiler alert) how beer saved the world.

The film fired off one fascinating beer fact after another like how beer was responsible for the start of the agricultural revolution in 9,000 B.C., or how beer built the pyramids of ancient Egypt, saved millions of lives in the Middle Ages, and how beer was to thank for inventions like the wheel, writing, math, and modern medicine, just to name a few.

No doubt, the documentary boasted many a bold claim, but as a beer brewer, I was interested in one claim in particular: a significant amount of tetracycline, a broad-spectrum antibiotic, was discovered in 3,000 year-old Egyptian bones, and the source of that tetracycline was from an ancient beer recipe.

The idea that a modern-day wonder drug like tetracycline was found in 3,000 year-old bones might seem unusual especially considering that tetracycline wasn’t officially discovered and produced by science until 1945 by Benjamin Minge Duggar. 1

But sure enough, Dr. George Armelagos, Professor of Anthropology at Emory University, proved conclusively that there was no mistake; tetracycline was in ancient bones, and in large quantities.

To be clear though, Armelagos was originally testing Sudanese Nubian and Egyptian bones dated between 350 A.D and 550 A.D., and later bones from a Jordanian site dating to the 2nd century B.C., not 3,000 year-old Egyptian bones. 2  Nevertheless, indirect evidence suggests that tetracycline could be found in Egyptian bones going as far back to pre-dynastic (pre-Pharaoh) Egypt (6,000 B.C – 3,100 B.C.). 3

Now, the curious story of how tetracycline was found in an ancient Nubian bone goes like this:

Around 1980, Debra Martin, a grad student of biological anthropology at the University of Massachusetts, was learning how to make thin sections of archaeological bones while visiting a research laboratory at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan.  After manually grinding down a bone fragment from a 4th century ancient Nubian mummy, Martin was preparing to view it under a standard microscope, but only a UV microscope was available.

Coincidentally, researchers in this particular lab were using tetracycline to measure the rate of bone formation because tetracycline tends to bind to calcium and phosphorus in growing bones and will emit a yellow-green fluorescence when exposed to UV light at the 490-nanometer wavelength. 4

Remarkably, when Martin looked at this ancient bone section under the UV microscope, it was emitting a yellow-green fluorescence, just like tetracycline.

Martin returned to the University of Massachusetts where she told Dr. Armelagos about her discovery, and in the fall of 1980, Armelagos, Martin and three other colleagues published their findings. 5

But Armelagos and his colleagues’ work was met with skepticism, so in 2010, he teamed up with medicinal chemist Mark Nelson and after using hydrogen fluoride to first dissolve the bones, they then extracted and finally positively identified the tetracycline through chemical analysis.  No question, tetracycline was definitively in the bones.

Of course the real kicker was that the levels of tetracycline extracted from the bones were so high it suggested that the ancient Nubians and Egyptians were consuming the antibiotic on a regular basis beginning in early childhood and on into old age. 6

Searching for the source of the tetracycline, Armelagos recreated many ancient recipes to no avail.  That was until he finally came across an ancient beer recipe from around that time, brewed it, and, lo and behold, the beer contained significant enough levels of tetracycline to be considered a likely candidate for the source of the antibiotic.

And Now, the Rest of the Story

Of course the documentary How Beer Saved the World left one big fat mystery sitting on the table: what the heck was going on with that ancient beer recipe that it not only produced antibiotics, but produced the antibiotics in such large amounts?

And here’s a scary thought: if ancient brewers were somehow introducing antibiotics into their beer, is it possible that brewers today are doing the same thing and pumping us all full of tetracycline?

Sure, a steady intake of antibiotics might keep us healthy in the short term, but ultimately it could also contribute to the increase of deadly antibiotic-resistant superbugs that might one day wipe mankind off the face of the Earth leading to a follow-up documentary: How Beer Destroyed the World.

But before you call the FDA, let’s examine the facts.

Like modern beer, the ancient antibiotic beer was made with grain. Naturally occurring tetracycline is produced by mold-like (spore-forming) bacteria called Streptomyces, which is common in soil and decaying vegetation, especially in warm arid regions like in ancient Nubia.  If these antibiotic-producing bacteria were to come into contact with grain, and that grain was then used to make beer, tetracycline would be in the final product.

Dr. Armelagos believes that the grains used to make the ancient beer were likely stored in mud bins, and because Streptomyces is commonly found in soil, the grains would have come into contact with the Streptomyces from the mud bins.

Now, even though modern grain is frequently covered with bacteria, it is normally stored in steel silos, not in mud bins.  This reduces the likelihood that modern beer would contain significant amounts of tetracycline.

But the mud bin theory only explains how the grain could have been contaminated, not how it was able to produce so much tetracycline.

For example, when grain covered with the antibiotic-producing bacteria was tested, there were only minimal amounts of tetracycline detected— not nearly the amount that was found in those almost 2,000 year-old bones.  So what gives?

Well, as Emily Sohn pointed out, “only when people fermented the grain would tetracycline production explode.”

But that explanation might leave some brewers scratching their heads, and here’s why: dead bacteria (Streptomyces) don’t produce tetracycline.  Allow me to clarify.

When making beer, malted grains are first soaked in hot water for about an hour.  That hot water extracts sugars from the grain.  The grain is then removed, leaving behind a kind of sugar water that brewers call “wort”.

After that, the wort is typically boiled for an hour or more, and then cooled.  Boiling the wort is key here because the boiling temperature would kill most bacteria, including Streptomyces.  It’s only after the wort is boiled and cooled that primary fermentation takes place.

In other words, if the Streptomyces bacteria are killed off during the boil, they wouldn’t survive to create any tetracycline during fermentation, certainly not the kind of levels of tetracycline found in those ancient bones.

You might then wonder how any tetracycline could be found in beer after Streptomyces-contaminated grain was boiled.  The reason that at least small amounts of tetracycline could remain after being boiled is because tetracycline doesn’t fully decompose until about 338 °F (170 °C), and boiling temperature is about 210 °F (100 °C).  Even pasteurization only seems to minimally reduce tetracycline levels by about 5-6%. 7

So, yes, tetracycline could survive the boil, but the Streptomyces bacteria couldn’t.  And we need that Streptomyces bacteria alive and well to make it to the fermentation process in order to produce the amounts of tetracycline found in those ancient bones.

Oh well- so much for our ancient antibiotic beer.  Eh, except for the fact that Dr. Armelagos and his colleagues were able to reproduce the ancient beer which was teeming with tetracycline, and he’s even had some of his student do it too.

The Secret Formula for Antibiotic Beer

Antibiotic Beer

The first thing you should know about ancient Egyptian beer recipes is that they are not exactly similar to how most beer is typically brewed today.  For example, the process for making Egyptian beer generally began first by making bread, which probably would have been made from emmer (a kind of wheat), spelt or barely grains, and there is evidence to suggest that the grains were malted.

In order to make the bread for an antibiotic beer the way the ancient Egyptians and Nubians seem to have done it, the Streptomyces-contaminated grain would go through a malting process which first begins by germinating the grain.

Anthropology student Amanda Mummert who assisted Dr. Armelagos in his research described the germination procedure like this: “This process is much like how you would do in a fourth-grade germination science project, where the grains would be soaked in water for about 24 hours, drained and then laid between sheets of cloth until they sprouted.”

Germinating the grain causes the starch inside the grain to be converted into sugars by enzymes which conveniently reside within the grain itself.  The grain is eventually dried out which stops the germination process, otherwise the sprouting plant would use up the starches and sugars in the grain needed to make beer.  

The dried grain is now called malt and contains the sugars that are important for making antibiotic beer.  Those sugars are important because they become a food source for the Streptomyces coating the grain to metabolize and convert into tetracycline.

After the grain was dried, it was milled into flour and mixed with water to create dough.  That dough was then left to rise which likely occurred as a result of exposure to naturally occurring yeast in the air.  During this time, the Streptomyces that was on the grain could produce even more tetracycline from the sugars in the fermenting dough.

The dough was then made into partially baked bread, and that bread was later tossed into water and allowed to ferment into beer.  Even modern beer recipes of villagers along the Nile today brew beer in this way, 8 and at least one ancient recipe called for taking three loaves of bread, breaking each piece up into quarters, and placing them into one crock to ferment. (By the way, fermentation is the process by which yeast consumes sugars and converts them into alcohol and CO2, which transforms our bready mush into beer.)

Even if the all of the Streptomyces would have been destroyed as a result of baking the bread, the tetracycline would have already been produced and been present in bread and any beer made from bread that used Streptomyces-contaminated grain.  However, Dr. Armelagos notes that the tetracycline bread was added to a broth of milled Streptomyces-contaminated malt, which would have further increased both the alcohol and tetracycline content.

In fact, Armelagos’ team preformed two experiments: one in which Streptomyces was added to the dough, and one where Streptomyces was added only to the malt broth.  The latter proved more successful, producing significant amounts of tetracycline.

The resulting “beer” may have been strained away from the mushy bread gruel, or simply consumed together in a bowl like a mildly alcoholic lumpy, beer-y soup.

So, as it turns out, the key to making ancient antibiotic beer is the presence of live Streptomyces bacteria during fermentation.  And if one were trying to introduce Streptomyces into beer or bread today (for scientific purposes), it is certainly possible to find the naturally occurring antibiotic-producing bacteria under certain conditions.  However, one could also probably just buy a pure culture of Streptomyces online and add it along with yeast early in the fermentation process (although personally, I generally prefer my beer antibiotic-free).

Final Comments

Although the ancient Egyptians and Nubians probably didn’t fully understand the science behind how antibiotics were being produced in their bread and beer, it does seem that they were aware of the medicinal benefits of such tetracycline-laced beer and used it as a mouth wash to treat diseases of the gums, as a dressing for wounds, as an enema, vaginal douche, and as Armelagos points out, as an anal fumigant where remaining dried grains were burned to create a smoke to treat diseases of the anus (your mileage may vary). 9

And finally, you may have wondered what were the effects of prolonged regular exposure to antibiotics for the ancient Egyptians and Nubians. Did it create a superbug that ended their cultures?  Well, Dr. Armelagos’ team wondered the same thing. “To test this, we have examined the bones in our sample for signs of periosteal reactions— roughened surfaces that form as a result of bone infection.  We have found no evidence that infections became more intense during the centuries represented by the bones, as would be expected if more resistant bacteria had evolved.” 10

To echo the late Paul Harvey: and now you know the rest of the story.


Hi, I’m Dan: Beer Editor for Beer Syndicate, Beer and Drinking Blogger, Gold Medal-Winning Homebrewer, Beer Reviewer, AHA Member, Beer Judge, Shameless Beer Promoter, and Beer Traveler.


1. Cartwright, A. C. (n.d.). The British Pharmacopoeia, 1864 to 2014: Medicines, International Standards, and the State (p. 193).
2, 8, & 10. Armelagos, G.J. (2000). Take Two Beers and Call Me in 1,600 Years . Natural History. Vol. 109/4
3. Mills, J. O. (1992). Beyond Nutrition: Antibiotics Produced through Grain Storage Practices, Their Recognition and Implication for the Egyptian Predynastic
4. Nelson, M., Hillen, W., & Greenwald, R. A. (2001). Tetracyclines in Biology, Chemistry, and Medicine (p. 219). Basel: Birkhauser Verlag.
5. Bassett, E., Keith, M., Armelagos, G., Martin, D., & Villanueva, A. (1980). Tetracycline-Labeled Human Bone from Ancient Sudanese Nubia (A.D. 350). Science, 209(4464), 1532-1534. doi:10.1126/science.7001623
Nelson, M. L., Dinardo, A., Hochberg, J., & Armelagos, G. J. (2010). Brief Communication: Mass Spectroscopic Characterization of Tetracycline in the Skeletal Remains of an Ancient Population from Sudanese Nubia 350-550 CE. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 143(1), 151-154. doi:10.1002/ajpa.21340
7. Kellnerová, E., Navrátilová, P., & Borkovcová, I. (2015). Effect of Pasteurization on the Residues of Tetracyclines in Milk. Acta Veterinaria Brno Acta Vet. Brno, 83(10). doi:10.2754/avb201483s10s21
9. W.J. Darby, P. Ghalioungi and L. Grivetti, Foor: The Gift of Osiris, 2 volumes, Academic Press, London, 1977.


10 Things You Might Not Know About the Reinheitsgebot (Beer) Purity Law of 1516

Original Reinheitsgebot of 1516
[Segment of the original Reinheitsgebot of 1516. Credit: Deutscher Brauer-Bund e.V.]

If you’re a beer enthusiast or perhaps fond of German beer, this probably isn’t the first time you’ve heard about the “Reinheitsgebot”, or the (Beer) Purity Law of 1516. And with 2016 marking the 500th anniversary of arguably the most famous piece of beer legislation the world has ever known, it probably won’t be the last you hear of it either.

But just because the Reinheitsgebot is one of the most famous beer laws doesn’t mean it’s the most well understood.

So with that, here’s a quick rundown of ten things you might not know about the Reinheitsgebot:

1. Meaning and pronunciation of “Reinheitsgebot”: In German, “Rein” means “pure”, “Reinheit” means “purity”, and “Gebot” means “commandment” (“The Ten Commandments”/”Die Zehn Gebote”), “decree” or “ordinance”, but “Gebot” is typically translated in this case as “law”. Therefore, “Reinhietsgebot” is translated as “Purity Law”, commonly referring to beer Purity Law.

The law itself dictates, among other things, the ingredients that may be used to make beer.  To be clear, only one sentence of the original Reinheitsgebot of 1516 discusses limiting beer ingredients, while the rest of the document mainly focuses on setting price limits on the sale of beer.  Some speculate that the main impetus behind the creation of the Reinheitsgebot of 1516 was to protect consumers from brewers who may add dangerous ingredients to beer potentially poisoning the public, while others believe that in addition there were more economic motives involved (more on that later).

The correct way to pronounce “Reinheitsgebot” is like this: “Rine Heights Ge-Boat”, not “Rine Heights Ge-Bot” where “Bot” is pronounced like “Robot”.

2. There are technically two different beer Purity Laws that German breweries might be following: The Bavarian Reinheitsgebot or the German Reinheitsgebot.

In fact, many German breweries will often specifically indicate on the beer label which of the two Purity Laws their beer falls under as you can see on the images below:

Bavarian Reinheitsgebot

German Reinheitsgebot
And of course, sometimes the brewery isn’t exactly clear which “Reinheitgebot” they’re following as you can see in the label below that merely states “brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot”.

Schneider Weisse Label

Nevertheless, the distinction between the two Purity Laws is made not just because “Germany” didn’t even exist as a country in 1516 (that only happened in 1871), and therefore there was no “German Reinheitsgebot of 1516”, but also because the two Purity Laws are themselves objectively different with respect to the ingredients allowed in making beer, with the German version being the more lenient of the two:

A) The Bavarian Reinheitsgebot of 1516: The only ingredients used for the brewing of beer must be barley, hops and water. [1]

B) The German Reinheitsgebot: Bottom-fermented beer (lager) may only contain barley malt, hops, water, and yeast.  Top-fermented beer (ale) must include barley malt, hops, water, and yeast, but it is also permittable to use other malts, pure cane sugar, beet or invert sugar, as well as colorants derived from modified starch sugar and any of the aforementioned sugars. [2] If you wanted to put a date on what is referred to as the original “German Reinheitsgebot”, you could nail it down to May 31st, 1872 when Germany enacted the “Law Concerning Levying Brewing Tax” (Gesetz wegen Erhebung der Brausteuer), however the ingredients listed above come from the “Notice Concerning the Version of the Brewing Tax Act” from June 7th, 1906 (Bekanntmachung, betreffend die Fassung des Brausteuergesetzes), which was a modification to the original German Reinheitsgebot of 1872.

3. Mark your calendars! The official date of the 500th anniversary of the Bavarian Reinheitsgebot of 1516 is April 23, 2016, which conveniently happens to fall on a Saturday. Accordingly, we recommend starting the celebration with a tall cool glass of your favorite Reinheitsgebot beer on Friday at midnight.

(Wouldn’t it be cool if some breweries got the crazy idea to brew a special “Reinheitsgebot beer” to mark the occasion? Hmmm…)

4. Many sources claim that the Reinheitsgebot is the oldest, still valid food safety law in the world. Technically, that statement isn’t exactly true… and that’s putting it nicely.

First of all, the Reinheitsgebot was officially repealed by the European Court of Justice in 1987 because it was found to be in direct violation of the Rome Treaty (Article 30, banning protectionism). [3] This repeal thus allowed German brewers to produce beer for export with no regard to the Reinheitsgebot.  So, technically the Reinheitsgebot isn’t “still valid”.

Secondly, the Reinheitsgebot of 1516 was not the oldest food regulation in the world. Take, for example, the 1493 Duchy of Lower Bavaria Beer Decree which limited beer ingredients to malt, hops, and water. Before that there was the Münchner (Munich) Reinheitsgebot of 1487, and before that was the Runneburg “Wirtshausverordnung” (“Statuta thaberna”) of 1434 which stated that beer may only be brewed from hops, malt and water. [4][5]

Then of course there’s the “Novus Modus Fermentandi Cervisiam”(New Method for Fermenting Beer) introduced by Emperor Charles IV in 1364 which decreed that all beer brewed throughout the Holy Roman Empire must be brewed with hops. [6] There were even earlier beer laws: one from Erfurt in 1351, and yet another from Nuremberg in 1293. Laws and regulations specifically concerning food and alcohol existed in ancient Rome, [7] and depending on how you look at Kosher food regulations from the Talmud/Old Testament, you have a pretty solid argument against the Reinheitsgebot of 1516 being the earliest law that regulated food or food safety.

Nor has the Reinheitsgebot of 1516 remained essentially unchanged since its inception because as of the mid-1500s, Bavaria started to allow for other ingredients in making beer like coriander, laurel, etc. [8]

5. Neither the Bavarian nor the German Reinheitsgebot originally allowed for yeast as an ingredient. Now, if you know a little bit about brewing science, you know that it would have almost certainly been impossible to make beer back then without yeast.

So what’s the deal with the Reinheitsgebot missing this key ingredient?

Simple. People didn’t know about the role that yeast played in fermentation in 1516. According to the history books, Dutch naturalist Anton van Leeuwenhoek was the first to microscopically observe yeast in 1680 (although he didn’t consider yeast to be a living organism), [9] while French microbiologist Louis Pasteur was the first to prove that indeed living yeast was responsible for alcoholic fermentation in 1857. [10] Eventually, the Reinheitsgebot was revised to include yeast in 1906.

6. If the Bavarian Reinheitsgebot of 1516 only allowed for three ingredients (barely, hops, and water), how was it then that wheat beers like Hefeweizen, Berliner Weisse or Gose were allowed to be brewed in Germany after 1516? Well, it was hinted at above, but the Bavarian Reinheitsgebot was updated beginning in the mid-1500s to allow for other ingredients including wheat. [11]  (In 1616, caraway, juniper, and salt were added to the Reinheitsgebot, which allowed Gose, a beer brewed with salt, to be considered Reinheitsgebot-friendly.) [12]

Some speculate that the reason wheat [and rye] were intentionally excluded from the Reinheitsgebot of 1516 was to better control the grain-based food supply in Bavaria so that bakers could have sufficient access to wheat grain in order to produce bread in a time of food scarcity, [13] and also to prevent price competition between the brewers and bakers.  Others go further and suggest that there were indeed profit-driven motives behind the legislation as evidenced by the powerful Wittelsbach family of Bavaria (in particular, Dukes William IV and Louis X), who originally enacted the Reinheitsgebot, and later profited by selling special wheat beer brewing rights. [14]

7. In 2013, the German Brewers Association attempted to have the Reinheitsgebot added to UNESCO’s Intangible World Heritage List, a list that already includes the Flamenco of Spain, Mariachi music of Mexico, and the coffee culture of Turkey. [15] The Brewers Association’s application was initially rejected, but there’s still a chance it could get approved if the paperwork is appropriately revised and resubmitted. [16]

8. Bavaria demanded that their Reinheitsgebot be adopted by Germany in 1871 as a precondition to joining the new German nation. Bavaria’s condition was met. After the first German Empire fell following World War I, a new German unification took place forming what was called the “Weimar Republic” in 1919 (officially known as the “German Reich”). Again, Bavaria refused to join unless their Reinheitsgebot was adopted by the rest of the newly reformed country. Bavaria’s condition was met. Again. [17]

9. Even though the Bavarian Reinheitsgebot of 1516 is old, it only started being called the “Reinheitsgebot” as of March 4, 1918. Prior to the term being coined by Hans Rauch of the Bavarian State Parliament in 1918, the “Reinheitsgebot” was simply known as the “Surrogatverbot”, or “Surrogate (Adjunct) Prohibition”. [18]

10. In the 19th century, Greece incorporated a nearly identical version of the Reinheitsgebot into Greek law. [19] This Greek law was later struck down around the time the Reinheitsgebot was repealed in Germany in 1987. [20]

Test Your Knowledge

Based on the information above, what’s wrong with the following two beer labels?

1. Hint: The text at the top of the Rex Pils label states “Nach dem Deutschen Reinheitsgebot von 1516 Gebraut”, or “Brewed According to the German Reinheitsgebot of 1516.”

Potsdamer Rex Pils - Berliner Kindl Brauerei

2. Hint: The small text at the top of the Erdinger Hefe-Weizen label reads “Getreu dem bayerischen Reinheitsgebot von 1516”, or “True to the Bavarian Reinheitsgebot of 1516.” The only other thing you need to know is that “Hefe-Weizen” is a wheat beer.

Erdinger Hefe-Weizen Dark

[Check the Answers on the Next Page]

Next Page…

[expand title=”References: (Click to View)“]

1. Reinheitsgebot of 1516 Highlighted
[Original segment of the Reinheitsgebot highlighted to indicate the sentence documenting allowable ingredients (transcription and translation below). Credit: Deutscher Brauer-Bund e.V.]

Original German text: “Wir wollen auch sonderlichen / das füran allenthalben in unsern Stetten / Märckthen / unn auf dem Lannde / zu kainem Pier / merer stückh / dann allain Gersten / Hopfen / unn wasser / genommen unn gepraucht sölle werdn.”

Modern German translation: “Ganz besonders wollen wir, daß forthin allenthalben in unseren Städten, Märkten und auf dem Lande zu keinem Bier mehr Stücke als allein Gersten, Hopfen und Wasser verwendet und gebraucht werden sollen.”

Typical English translation of the modern German translation: “Furthermore, we wish to emphasize that in future in all cities, markets and in the country, the only ingredients used for the brewing of beer must be Barley, Hops and Water.”

2. Deutsches Reich Law Gazette Volume 1906, No. 32, page 675 -. 693 [§ 1. Bierbereitung. Zur Bereitung von untergärigem Biere darf nur Gerstenmalz, Hopfen, Hefe und Wasser verwendet werden. Die Bereitung von obergärigem Biere unterliegt derselben Vorschrift, es ist jedoch hierbei auch die Verwendung von anderem Malze und von technisch reinem Rohr-, Rüben- oder Invertzucker, sowie von Stärkezucker und aus Zucker der bezeichneten Art hergestellten Farbmitteln zulässig.]
3. Swinnen, Johan F. M. (2011-10-27). The Economics of Beer. OUP Oxford.
4. Gaab, Jeffrey S. (2006-01-01). Munich: Hofbräuhaus & History: Beer, Culture, & Politics. Peter Lang. p. 10.
5. Hales, S. D. (2007). Beer & Philosophy: The Unexamined Beer Isn’t Worth Drinking (pp. 25). Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.
6. Van Uytven, R. Geschiedenis van de Dorst. Twintig Eeuwen Drinken in de Lage Landen (Pp. 74-76). Davidsfonds Leuven, 2007.
7. Albala, Ken (2015-03-27). The SAGE Encyclopedia of Food Issues. SAGE Publications. p. 1488. ISBN 9781506317304.
8. Karin Hackel-Stehr: Das Brauwesen in Bayern vom 14. bis 16. Jahrhundert, insbesondere die Entstehung und Entwicklung des Reinheitsgebotes (1516). Dissertation. Berlin 1987, pp. 2450, 2472.
9. Huxley A (1871). “Discourses: Biological & Geological (volume VIII) : Yeast”. Collected Essays. Retrieved 22 January 2016.
10. Barnett JA. (2003). “Beginnings of Microbiology and Biochemistry: the contribution of yeast research”. Microbiology (Reading, Engl.) 149 (3): 557–567.
11. Karin Hackel-Stehr: Das Brauwesen in Bayern vom 14. bis 16. Jahrhundert, insbesondere die Entstehung und Entwicklung des Reinheitsgebotes (1516). Dissertation. Berlin 1987, pp. 2450, 2472.
12. Herrmann, S. (2016, January 22). Viel Bier vor vier. Retrieved January 26, 2016, from
13. Opinion of Advocate General Slynn in Case 178/84 Commission v. Germany, delivered Sept. 18, 1986.
14. Herrmann, S. (2016, January 22). Viel Bier vor vier. Retrieved January 26, 2016, from
15. Sarhaddi Nelson, S. (2013, December 18). Is A 500-Year-Old German Beer Law Heritage Worth Honoring? Retrieved from
16. Reinheitsgebot vorerst als UNESCO Weltkulturerbe abgelehnt – ein Appell! (2015, February 18). Retrieved from
17. Swinnen, Johan F. M. (2011-10-27). The Economics of Beer. OUP Oxford.
18. Oliver, G. (2012). The Oxford Companion to Beer (pp. 692). New York: Oxford University Press.
19. Swinnen, Johan F. M. (2011-10-27). The Economics of Beer. OUP Oxford.
20. Glenny, Misha (1986-09-25). Last orders for Reinheitsgebot. New Scientist.



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Hi, I’m Dan: Beer Editor for Beer Syndicate, Beer and Drinking Blogger, Gold Medal-Winning Homebrewer, Beer Reviewer, AHA Member, Beer Judge, Shameless Beer Promoter, and Beer Traveler.

Native Beer: A Guide to Indigenous Beer Around the World

Mbege (Beer)

At one point or another, all beer was native.

It was regional. Indigenous. Communal. Domestic.

Nearly all cultures have their own version of beer based on whatever grain was around in the area at the time.  In Asia it was often rice, in Europe barley or wheat, millet in Africa, and in the Americas maize was common.  The only universally consistent components found in beer were grain, water, yeast and/or bacteria.  The widespread use of hops in beer is only a historically recent occurrence beginning in about the 11th century in Europe, which is partly why hops as an ingredient is not typical seen in indigenous beer around the world.

And with the craft beer renaissance in full swing at least in the U.S., don’t be surprised if you happen across one of these exotic brews in the near future as modern brewers rediscover native beer.  Dogfish Head already did a take on at least one of the old school brews below, but the truth is that you don’t have to wait for Dogfish Head to revive these not so well known brews— some of these traditional beers are so user-friendly, you could make them in our own home today!

First we’ll look at an old Slavic beer, then jump over to the New World for a few native treats, and finally swing back around to Africa to check out some tribal beers.

Or you can do a choose-your-own-adventure tour and skip to whatever region interests you most by clicking below.

Native Slavic Beer

Native Beer of the Americas

African Native Beer

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