Ninkasi -- the Goddess and the Brewery -- Now Available in Arizona
Beer: Tricerahops Brewery: Ninkasi Brewing Co. Style: Imperial IPA ABV: 8 percent
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,
When you pour out the filtered beer of the collector vat, It is [like] the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates. Ninkasi, you are the one who pours out the filtered beer of the collector vat, It is [like] the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates.
Man, I love that song. The Hymn to Ninkasi, as the above bit of poetry* is known, is an ancient beer recipe/drinking song, created by the people of ancient Sumeria and passed down through generations. They did this both orally -- each older generation teaching the song to the youngins -- and, eventually, via the written word. Clay tablets upon which the hymn was written date back to the 18th Century BC and are considered one of the world's oldest examples of literature.
The people of Sumeria (today a part of Mesopotamia in Southern Iraq) are important to the history of beer because they were one of the first civilizations to give up their hunting and gathering ways and settle down into a life of grain cultivation. Having discovered (likely by accident) that grain and water when mixed and allowed to sit for a few days gave drinkers a nice little buzz, the Sumerians focused much of their culture on the practice of brewing.
To the people of Sumeria, Ninkasi was considered the mother of all creation. Born of fresh, sparkling water, this goddess' name literally meant "the lady who fills the mouth," and she was worshipped as the symbol of fertility, drunkenness, war, sex and, most importantly, beer. The Sumerians believed that Ninkasi was in charge of brewing for the other gods in the world beyond, and so it only stood to reason that the priestesses in her temples across Sumeria provide fermented beverages for visitors. This practice grew outward from the temples -- nearly all of the brewing in ancient Sumeria was carried out by women.
Today, most brewing is done by very hairy men, but Ninkasi lives on in the form of Ninkasi Brewing Co. Founded in June 2006 by buddies Nikos Ridge and Jamie Floyd, this Eugene, Oregon-based brewery is renowned mainly for its hop-focused ales. Small amounts of Ninkasi beer have been previously available at Valley BevMos thanks to a brewery-direct partnership, but this partnership lapsed some time ago. The brewery's new distribution contract means their beer will be available at bars and retail locations across the state beginning this week.
The first of Ninkasi's brews you should pick up: Tricerahops. Aside from having one of the best hop-pun names in the game, this imperial IPA looks great in a glass -- hazy vermilion, topped with at least two fingers of frothy off-white marshmallow fluff that crackles away at its leisure. In the nose, candied grapefruit mixes with spirals of lemon peel, while overripe oranges, caramel and biscuits make up the backbone.
Bolstered by additions of Chinook, Cascade, Summit, Centennial and Palisade hops, the flavor exhibits equal solidity, as sweet tangerine flavors mix with grapefruit bitterness, burnt sugar and sticky alcohol while floral/herbal fumes permeate the mouth. Sugars linger after the swallow, as do pithy bitterness (100 IBUs' worth) and subtle hits of biscuit. Smooth yet sticky, the mouthfeel lends itself to the flavor. Microscopic bubbles break out of the medium-light body as it moves, making it even more silky. Hop bitterness an ethanol burn combine to lend the liquid an almost peppery spiciness in a highly enjoyable sugar-citrus mix that toes the line between IPA and barleywine. Tricerahops won't stomp all over your taste buds, but it does pack a surprising spiked tail.
If you're picking up Ninkasi brews, also seek out Total Domination, the brewery's top-selling IPA, Oatis, a gloriously smooth oatmeal stout, and Vanilla Oatis, the bean-soaked version. When you get them, offer up a prayer to Ninkasi, the one who soaks the malt in a jar. The waves rise, the waves fall.
*This is an excerpt -- the hymn in its entirety can be found here.
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