This is a post by regular contributor Kimberley, who runs the social media at BCS. Kimberley is currently writing up her PhD in Mediterranean Archaeology and is based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Every once and a while, she will blog at BCS about all things beer and Classical in the Low Countries or – as I’d like to call it – ‘The Nether Regions’.
In this Classical Beer Review, ancient Egypt is back with a vengeance. As in my previous Egyptian-inspired review, I will make sure to slip in some Greco-Roman for the lovers, so hang in there you guys! This time, I am reviewing a new beer called HNQ.T (pronounced: Hèn-kèt) – which is an ancient Egyptian word for ‘beer’. The brew is a collab between Leiden brewery Pronck and Janko Duinker of the Rijksmuseum voor Oudheden or RMO (the National Antiquities Museum) to celebrate the opening of the new Egypt rooms in the museum. The beer was presented at a tasting night with accompanying lectures last Wednesday and I was lucky enough to win two tickets for the event!
A night at the museum
Naturally, I invited my regular beer buddy Jamie (who has made his appearance on BCS here and here) to this event. We made our way to the RMO around 19.30. Upon entering, our eyes immediate caught sight of this huge temple, in front of which a beamer and several rows of seats were positioned. As a pub quiz side note, this temple was gifted to the Netherlands by Egypt for help in moving the site of Abu Simbel from the area that would be flooded by the Aswan Dam in the 70s. The temple was actually commissioned by the Roman Emperor Augustus (see, I told you there would be Romans!) and later used as a Christian church. Back to the main event though. After entering we were offered a taste of the star of the night: HNQ.T. Tasting notes below.
After a while we were asked to take our seats in front of the temple, HNQ.T in hand. After brief introductions by the museum director and Janko, the floor was given to Benjamin of Brouwerij Pronck. Benjamin gave the crowd a quick brewer’s 101 and then went on to explaining how the collab brew came about. First, the brewers and Janko experimented with bread-porridge like brews because they thought it would be more faithful to original Egyptian beer. This idea was quickly abandoned, however, in favor of a beer that would be ‘inspired’ by ancient Egypt but would also appeal to modern tastes. As a base for this brew they tried to use emmer wheat, since archaeobotanic research demonstrates this grain was among the primary staples in ancient Egypt. Emmer-wheat malt is not commercially available, however, and turned out to be so hard that Pronck’s mills could not process it!
For this reason, spelt was chosen as the alternative ‘heritage’ grain featured in the beer, combined with various barley malts. Although hops were not used in the ancient world, Target and Saaz hops were chosen to compliment the earthy notes coming from the spelt. In matching the flavor of the hops with the malt, the brewers were aiming for a brew that would not taste hoppy as a means to pay homage to nonhopped beer, but would still offer the medicinal, floral aspects of hops that would amp up the flavor. Finally, coriander seed was added as a flavor maker. Benjamin explained that coriander seed has been a popular addition to beer at least in the last 400 years of brewing and, once more, archaeobotanical research indicates it was used in ancient Egypt as well – perhaps even for beer.
After this already highly beer nerdy lecture (yeay!), the second lecture of the night by Dr. Lara Weiss made my beer archaeology heart beat even faster. She used objects in the RMO’s collection to tell the audience something about the evidence for beer and brewing in ancient Egypt. What became clear from this overview is that beer was a very key aspect of ancient Egyptian life and afterlife. For example, the hieroglyph for ‘sacrifice’ consists of the symbols for bread and beer. In addition, she showed us funerary steles dated to ca. 1870 BC in which the dead would express their hopes for not only taking their beer but also their brewers to the afterlife. To the ancient Egyptian mind, this would ensure an eternity of beer supplies – I should add here that this was merely a symbolic expression, it would be highly unfortunate if the Egyptians were to really take their brewers to the grave…
For those of you who are here for the Classical world, Lara also mentioned an inscription on the Edfu temple dating to ca. 100 BC by Ptolemy X. Ptolemy X comes from a dynasty of Greek (!) pharaohs, which founded by one of Alexander the Great’s generals and ended with the suicide of Cleopatra. The inscription has the pharaoh address the beer goddess Menqet and reads (freely translated from Lara’s slide): “take the Nebti-beer that has come from you, rejoice your Ka with the Horus eye, the beer. When you drink from it, your heart rejoices. The work of Menqet rejoices your majesty, because you are the mistress of the infatuating liquid.” So even the Greco-Egyptian pharaohs loved them some beer!
HNQ.T tasting notes
Now that I have given you all the #beerhistory and #beerarchaeology you can handle, over to the tasting notes. HNQ.T pours amber, almost orangy, and is slightly hazy. The brew smells faintly spicy and sweet, but I have to admit that I could not pick up the coriander seed in the nose. Upon drinking, HNQ.T reminds most of a watery Belgian Blonde – with the flavor being on point but the brew not being as full-bodied and high in alcohol as the ‘original’. While this is not what the brewers were aiming for, one of the other audience members had a similar association when asked about the flavor. He thought the beer reminded him of Trappist beer; the brewer explained this is probably due to the fact that these Belgian beers contain large amounts of grain and spelt also gives off a strong grainy flavor without similar ABV. My beer buddy Jamie compared the beer with a session ale, and this indeed would be a great thirst quencher for a summer day out in the sun.
Ingredients: water, barley malts (Pils malt, Munich malt, Biscuit malt, Sour malt), spelt malt, hop flowers (Target, Saaz), coriander seed, yeast
Brewed: Brouwerij Pronck, Leiden, The Netherlands