Hymn to Ninkasi
December 13, 2011

Hymn to Ninkasi, Hop Pendant Necklace by Feral Strumpet on Etsy

The Hymn to Ninkasi is a 4,000 year old song to the Sumerian goddess of brewing, and it’s also a recipe for beer.  (There’s a brewery in Eugene, Oregon named after her, but I have yet to try any of their beers.)

History often shines a miraculous light on what we take for granted.  Who first learned to turn the heel of a sock when knitting it?  Who first knew which herbs would cure or kill? And who first discovered brewing? There are many legends across cultures, but when confronted with the details of the thing it’s no less startling.

“You are the one who soaks the malt in a jar
The waves rise, the waves fall.
Ninkasi, you are the one who soaks
the malt in a jar
The waves rise, the waves fall.

You are the one who spreads the cooked
mash on large reed mats,
Coolness overcomes.
Ninkasi, you are the one who spreads
the cooked mash on large reed mats,
Coolness overcomes.

You are the one who holds with both hands
the great sweet wort,
Brewing [it] with honey and wine
(You the sweet wort to the vessel)
Ninkasi, (…)
(You the sweet wort to the vessel)

(translation by Miguel Civil.  You can read the whole poem here.)

The goddess is both the brewster and the brew itself. The rhythm and repetition, the vivid scene rendered in each stanza reminds me that brewing is very much a fun time, some cooking and cackling over a boiling pot– but it’s also a ritual, a visit with the ancestors who once saw brewing as such a wonder, they sang about it.

I was inspired to make the necklace pictured in the post after reading this poem. I have many elegant beer-inspired designs in the Feral Brewhaus section of my etsy shop.

AB04: A Cerveza Worthy of Xochiquetzal
October 29, 2010

Xochiquetzal, Aztec Goddess of fertility, female sexual power and chocolate.

Aztlán is the mythical land of the Nahua people and the concept has been used by the Chicano movement in America to refer to the Mexican lands annexed by the US and the cultural hybridity of Mexian-Americans. I am from Aztlán, though technically it is a place that does not exist and as a gringa it gets complicated.

Last night I went to the launch of BrewDog’s new AB04 at the White Horse.  How strange to be standing in this West London gastro pub, full of upwardly-mobile young white professionals and to taste my home, Aztlán, in this beer.  Brewdog have combined chocolate and chilis in this black imperial stout– sure to make you swoon at 15%.

The word chocolate is from the Nahuatl, and new archeological findings have not only dated the invention of chocolate by the Mesoamerican peoples almost 600 years earlier than previously thought, but this evidence suggests the first chocolate was actually a kind of beer.  Researchers have suggested “the distinctive taste of chocolate was stumbled upon by ancient brewers fermenting cacao pulp to make a kind of beer known later to the Spanish as chicha.”  Chicha is a beer which involves masticating the maize prior to fermentation and is still brewed in some parts of Mesoamerica, giving us a contemporary glimpse of ancient brewing practices.

Could the AB04 hint at what that ancient cacao-beer might have tasted like?  Probably not, but like Aztlán, it can stand in as a glorious invention.

At  the tasting James Watt asked the crowd what foods they thought might pair with it and immediately I thought of mole- named for the verb moler, or to grind.  And what a grind making the mole is!  The ultimate in slow food, it’s a lot like brewing beer: labor-intensive, communal and full of variations.  It takes two days to make the mole, which contains chilis, chocolate, seeds and herbs.  And like beer, it is a food in which one can put dreams and wishes, memories and hopes as you grind and stir and grind and stir.

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