One of Scandinavia’s oldest breweries is uncovered in Sweden

Traces of 1,600-year-old BEER found at an ancient brewery reveal Swedes have enjoyed the drink on a large scale since the Iron Age

  • Site in Sweden is one of the oldest breweries ever found in the Nordic region
  • It was used to produce beer on a large scale at least 1,600 years ago 
  • The site predates the previous such site in Sweden by a century 
  • Scientists believe the brewery’s product was drunk during grand feasts and to seal deals with traders
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Nizhni Novgorod in Russia ‘ran out of beer’ this week after Swedish football fans drank it all during World Cup celebrations.

And it appears this incredible appetite for beer by Swedes has an ancient history dating back to the Iron Age.

That’s according to a new study that claims to have found one of Scandinavia’s oldest breweries in Sweden.

Burnt cereal grains found at an Iron Age settlement are among the earliest evidence of a mass-scale beer brewing operation in northern Europe.

Residents used malt to produce the beverage on a large scale at least 1,600 years ago – predating the previous such site in Sweden by a century.

Scientists believe the brewery’s product was drunk during grand feasts and celebrations, much like they are today. 


Archaeologists in Sweden dug up carbonised germinated grains (pictured) dating back to between 400 and 600AD – around the time the Roman Empire collapsed

Archaeologists in Uppakra, Sweden, dug up carbonised germinated grains dating back to between 400 and 600AD – around the time the Roman Empire collapsed.

A rudimentary low-temperature oven recently found at the ancient settlement suggests the beer would have been roasted rather than boiled like modern batches.

The finds show malt was being produced for brewing in southern Sweden centuries sooner than thought.

Study coauthor Dr Mikael Larsson, a researcher at Sweden’s Lund University, said: ‘We found carbonised malt in an area with low-temperature ovens located in a separate part of the settlement.

‘The findings are from the 400 to 600s, making them one of the earliest evidence of beer brewing in Sweden.’

The monks of the monastery of St Gallen in Switzerland have been hailed as building the first full-scale brewing operation in Europe during the early 800s.


A crude low-temperature oven (pictured) recently found at the same ancient settlement suggests the beer would have been roasted rather than boiled like modern batches

A floor plan for the group’s monestary drawn up in 820AD shows a crude system of fermenting vessels and straining casks thought to be centuries ahead of its time.

Before this, ancient groups in Germany were brewing beer on a small scale as early as 800BC – the earliest evidence of the alcoholic beverage in Europe.

But Europeans were long beaten to the punch by ancient people of the Middle East – legal documents show beer was produced in Mesopotamia 6,000 years ago.

Written sources in the Nordic region are absent prior to the Middle Ages before 1,200AD, so knowledge of earlier beer production relies on botanical evidence.

Dr Larsson said: ‘We often find cereal grains on archaeological sites, but very rarely from contexts that testify as to how they were processed.

‘These germinated grains found around a low-temperature oven indicate they were used to become malt for brewing beer.’


This image shows the process of excavation of the stone oven. A shows removal of the clay base, while B shows the stone packing exposed at the base of the kiln. C shows the removal of stone packing and wall foundation. In D we see the site with the oven removed

Scientists said the kiln oven found in Uppakra was likely used to dry out germinated grain before it was strained to produce beer. 

Dr Larsson said: ‘Because the investigated oven and carbonised grain was situated in an area on the site with several similar ovens, but absent of remains to indicate a living quarter, it is likely large-scale production of malt was allocated to a specific area on the settlement, intended for feasting and trading.’

Early traces of malt in connection with beer brewing have only been discovered in two other places in the Nordic region.

WHEN DID HUMANS START DRINKING BEER?

Humans have had a long history of consuming alcohol.

It is believed the primitive cultures of Mesopotania could have been brewing malted barley scraps as far back as 10,000BC but there are no records of it.

The earliest proof of beer-drinking dates back to Northern China 9,000 years ago.

This ancient brew was made using hawthorn fruit, Chinese wild grapes, rice and honey, and is the oldest known fermented beverage in history – older even than wine.


The earliest proof of beer-drinking dates back to Northern China 9,000 years ago

To make it the corn was milled and moistened in the maker’s mouth to convert starches in the corn into fermentable sugars – before it was ‘spat’ into the beer.

Throughout history, the consumption of alcohol may have helped people become more creative, advancing the development of language, art and religion.

This is because alcohol lowers inhibitions and makes people feel more spiritual.

It is believed the Egyptians started brewing beer around 5,000BC, according to the papyrus scrolls.

They were brewing things like dates, pomegranates and other indigenous herbs.

At around 3150 BC, the Egyptians used industrial-scale breweries to provide beer for the workers who built the pyramids of Giza.

Eventually beer made its way from the Middle East to Europe where an abundance of barley crops provided lots of raw ingredient for brewers.

Experts have now found evidence of brewing in Greece during the Bronze Age.

Researchers believe that these prehistoric people enjoyed getting merry with alcoholic drinks for feasts all year-round and not just when the grapes were ripe.

Not only was it considered nutritional it was also a safe alternative to drinking water.

It was in the Middle Ages that malted barley became the main source of fermented sugar and beer became the beverage we are familiar with today.

One is in Denmark from 100AD and the other at an Iron Age fort at Eketorp on the Swedish isle of Oland built around 500AD – though it is unclear in exactly what context the grain was used.

Dr Larsson added: ‘From other archaeological sites in the Nordic region, traces of the bog myrtle plant have been found, which indicates beer brewing.

‘Back then, bog-myrtle was used to preserve and flavour beer. It wasn’t until later during the Middle Ages that hops took over as beer flavouring.’

In the study two litre soil samples were taken from pits around hearths and ovens. The plant material found is usually preserved in a carbonised state.

The soil was mixed with water so the carbon rises to the surface and can be sieved through a fine mesh.

The particles extracted were dried and studied under a microscope.


Scientists said the kiln oven found in Uppakra was likely used to dry out germinated grain before it was strained to produce beer (stock image)

Dr Larsson said: ‘The excavation of the kiln structure revealed, underneath scattered daub fragments from the kiln, intermittent layers of burnt and unburnt clay, fine charcoal, and a stone packing at the ovens bottom.

‘These layers comprised a build-up from one kiln structure.

‘At the rear of the kiln was a channel-like part, observed in the field to contain fine charcoal, cereal grain, and a spindle whorl, possibly functioning as an air vent in the back of the oven.

‘The scattered daub fragments recovered around the kiln had negative imprints from small wooden sticks.

‘These imprints indicate how the kiln was constructed from a wooden framework, having formed a dome-shaped oven made from clay.’ 

The study was published in the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences.


The finds at an ancient site in Uppakra, Sweden, show malt was being produced for brewing in the region a century sooner than thought

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