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Waking the Beer Gods

“Beer Judges always swallow,” I answered to that age-old question about how closely beer judging follows wine judging. With a slight edge of bawdiness, my answers to such inquiries are always to the point. ‘How could we not swallow when we need to assess the bitterness in the back of our mouth?’ I think to myself.

Delighting in every aspect of beer, I relish the stimulation in the back of my throat; the satiny feel of liquid, with its honey-bread sweetness on the tip of my tongue, followed by a rush of citrus and the satisfying resins that display a bitter edge in the finish. I like a long, intense finish.

And then there’s the warmth … the heat, sliding down to my breastbone, settling in at chest level and sending kinesthetic waves to the tips of my fingers. Ambrosia, liquid food of the gods and immortals, divine intoxication that promotes human happiness and stimulates fertility. That’s how ancient civilizations viewed beer. It was a religious experience.

Beer gods have been on high alert since the beginning of social humanity. How offended must they be by modern-day religions that ignore their very existence? Textbooks universally refer to these has-beens as gods and goddesses of “mythology,” scarcely giving them a passing blink. Settle down, Ceres! Will future generations refer to today’s gods as the has-beens of Jewish “mythology,” Christian “mythology,” Buddhist “mythology,” and the like?

Some sects of modern Christianity must have suffered discomfort in giving up these ancient deities. Although they have lesser powers, saints with divine prowess were substituted for gods of intoxication and goddesses of the brew. Gambrinus, Wenceslas, Augustine of Hippo and the female figure, St. Brigid, were but a few in a long list of mortal beings lauded for their powers of brewing and fermentation.

Gods and goddesses of antiquity may be gone, but they’re not forgotten. Brewers do their research, and arouse these ancient deities from slumber, whenever practical. Hold your mask on, Yasigi. This African goddess of beer was depicted as the ultimate party girl, a female deity with ample breasts, a beer ladle and penchant for lustful dance. A sorghum beer of African traditions would be well suited to such a title. Although you are not likely to find a beer named Tezcatzontecatl, in honor of the Aztec god of pulque, many others are immortalized in our modern beer culture.

Who hasn’t heard of the luscious, sexual numen, Ninkasi? Men in Ancient Mesopotamia worshipped this Ancient Sumerian goddess. She was born of sparkling fresh water, and brewed daily to “satisfy the desire.” In most ancient writings, desire not only covered hunger and thirst, but also lust, a human condition that was pleasing to the gods. Clay tablets, dated from 1800 BCE, document the Hymn to Ninkasi as the oldest recipe for brewing in the Western world.

Ninkasi Brewing in Eugene Oregon honors this Sumerian goddess with a significant portfolio of world-class beers, including the medal-winning Radiant, an International Pale Ale that seized bronze at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival. Ninkasi Fabriques in Lyon, France also honors our fine goddess with a current cache of nine highly regarded styles of beer.

Osiris, the Egyptian god of agriculture, was lauded as the god of beer who taught his people to brew with barley. Sun King Brewing of Indianapolis named Osiris Pale Ale after this almighty being.

How about a female counterpart? Unlike today’s paternalistic religions, the Egyptians endowed both sexes with supernatural powers. Tenenit, the Egyptian goddess of beer, was closely associated with Meskhenet, protector of childbirth and birthing rites. It seems that a fine mead would find happy solace in the title of Tenenit.

Although Osiris and Tenenit did not appear to be linked as a couple, there were others whose storyline crossed paths:

Baltic/Slavic mythology told tales of Raugaptais, god of fermentation, and Raugutiene, goddess of beer. Bold, strong and powerful as a team, they were depicted as the hottest sex symbols of the time.

Dionysius, Greek god of intoxicating liquids, was known as the Liberator, son of Zeus, and student of Silenus, the god of beer who succeeded in staying permanently drunk. Silenus, weighing in with a huge beer belly and bald head, could have rolled into the position as Buddha in his next life. He is immortalized in Old Silenis Amber of Migration Brewing in Portland, and Silenis, the 2nd beer in the Sherbrook Beer God Series from Sherbrook Liquor Store in Edmonton.


Speaking of God:
Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation, and God

A bit of Nostalgia celebrating God's love for us:
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