Oldest Alcoholic Beverages in the World

8 Oldest Alcoholic Beverages in the World

Humans have a long history of drinking and making alcohol that spans over 9,000 years. While fermentation is a natural process, humans have purposely been creating alcohol since the early days of civilization. In fact, many researchers now believe that humans may have started settling down to cultivate grains for beer, rather than bread.

Research also suggests, that our love for alcohol may be a hardwired evolutionary trait. Humans and other primates are some of the only animals in the world who have a positive reaction to ethanol, which in moderate amounts, helps release serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins in the brain, chemicals that make us happy and less anxious. Our early human ancestors enjoyed eating naturally fermented fruit and would have been brave enough to venture down from the trees to eat these fallen fruits. Eventually, our ancestors started making their own alcoholic beverages and we haven’t looked back since.

8. Cacao Wine (Theobroma)

Year Created: c.1400 BCE
Country of Origin:  Mesoamerica (oldest evidence from Honduras)
Derived From:  Cacao

Cacao Winephoto source:  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)

Chocolate did not start out as we know it today, it was actually an alcoholic drink from Mesoamerica. According to researchers, the discovery of the natural fermentation of cacao fruits most likely influenced the ancient cultures of Mesoamerica to cultivate the cacao tree.

The researchers analyzed pottery shards from 1400 BCE that tested positive for theobromine, the chemical compound only found in cacao. This early cacao wine was made from the sweet pulp surrounding the fruit’s seeds. Like other ancient wines, cacao wine was a marker of wealth and was used in religious ceremonies. Cacao was so valuable to the Aztecs, that the beans were used as currency.


7. Ninkasi Beer

Year Created: c.1800 BCE
Country of Origin:  Southern Mesopotamia, modern-day southern Iraq
Derived From:  Bappir bread made from several grains, honey, and malt

Ninkasi Beerphoto source:  Open Culture

The Hymn to Ninkasi, the Sumerian goddess of alcohol, contains the world’s oldest beer recipe. Beer was one of the most important drinks in Sumerian culture that they worshipped Ninkasi, who blessed their beer and brewing.

In the early 1990s, Miguel Civil, Professor of Sumerology at the University of Chicago, was the first to translate the hymn from clay tablets and discovered the beer recipe. The recipe calls for bappir bread, which was made from various grains, to be combined with honey and twice baked. The resulting granolalike food is then added to a mash with lots of malt and left to ferment.

After the release of Civil’s translation, Fritz Maytag, founder of the Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco, recreated the beer and presented it to American Association of Micro Brewers in 1991. However, Maytag was unable to bottle the beer commercially because it is supposed to be enjoyed immediately.


6. Ancient Egyptian Herbal Wine

Year Created: c.3150 BCE
Country of Origin:  Abydos, Upper Egypt
Derived From:  Herbs, tree resins, and grape wine

Ancient Egyptian Herbal Winesphoto source:  Wikimedia Commons

Herbal wines from ancient Egypt were alcoholic beverages used a medicine rather than for recreation or enjoyment. These wines show that people have been using natural remedies for thousands of years. The Egyptians put herbs and tree resins in grape wine or beer to create effective plant remedies.

Archaeologists excavated the tomb of Scorpion I, one of ancient Egypt’s first rulers, and found a treasure trove of over 700 jars. They analyzed one of the jars that had a yellowish flaky residue and found the presence of tartrate, a principal biomarker for wine and other grape products in the Middle East. The chemical analysis of the jar supports previous written evidence that the Egyptians were practicing medicine – “physicians” were making diagnoses and providing treatments such as the herbal wines.


5. Barley Beer

Year Created: c.3400 – 3000 BCE
Country of Origin:  Godin Tepe, Zagros Mountains, Iran
Derived From:  Barley

Barley Beerphoto source:  Wikimedia Commons

The barley beer discovered at Godin Tepe in Iran is one of the earliest examples of beer made from cereal grains. Archaeologists analyzed a jug from between 3400 – 3000 BCE and found trace elements of the earliest known barley beer. The jar had a yellowish material that turned out to be beerstone (or calcium oxalate), a byproduct of barley beer production.

The barley beer was produced by the Sumerians who were big beer drinkers. In fact, one of the most common pictographs found on Sumerian artifacts is the symbol for beer. The Sumerians, and other civilizations of Mesopotamia, made a variety of beers, including light, dark, and amber beers, as well as sweet beers and specially filtered beers.


4. Chicha

Year Created: c.5000 BCE
Country of Origin:  Andes Region of South America
Derived From:  Maize (corn)

Chichaphoto source:  Wikimedia Commons

Chicha, one of the most important cultural and ceremonial drinks in the Andes region of South America, has been around for over 6,000 years. Archaeologists discovered pottery dating back to around 5000 BCE, which was used to grind the maize (corn) to make and store the chicha.

According to researchers, the Inca used chicha like we use coffee today. Workers, who were tasked with cultivating the Inca’s most important crop, corn, would drink chicha during and after work. The Inca also used chicha as an offering to their gods and ancestors. Additionally, human sacrifices were rubbed down with chicha before the sacrificial ceremony.


3. Hajji Firuz Tepe Wine

Year Created: c.5400 – 5000 BCE
Country of Origin:  Hajji Firuz Tepe, Zagros Mountains, Iran
Derived From:  Grapes

Hajji Firuz Tepe Winephoto source:  Penn Museum

Before the recent discovery of older wine from Georgia, the wine found at the Hajji Firuz Tepe archaeological site in Iran was considered the world’s earliest wine. Following the excavation of Hajji Firuz Tepe, researchers analyzed the yellowish residue inside of a jar and discovered that it was grape wine.

The jar was found with five other similar jars in what may have been the kitchen area of a Neolithic mudbrick building. The jars also contained traces of terebinth tree or pine resin, which was added to the wine as a preservative. There is also evidence that the people of Hajji Firuz made both red and white wine.


2. Georgian Wine

Year Created: c.6000 – 5800 BCE
Country of Origin:  Tbilisi, Georgia
Derived From:  Grapes

Georgian Winephoto source:  The New York Times

Although there is evidence of an older alcoholic beverage from China, this Neolithic wine from Tbilisi, Georgia has been declared the oldest wine in the world, according to Guinness World Records. The Georgian wine is about 8,000 years and was found at an archaeological site called Gadachrili Gora. Researchers unearthed several jars that showed the people in the Neolithic people of this area loved grapes. Their pottery is decorated with grapes and an analysis of the pollen from the site suggests that the hillside used to be covered in grapevines.

The ancient people of Gadachrili Gora have been declared the world’s earliest winemakers. There is strong evidence that they were already producing wine on a large scale as early as 6000 BCE.


1. Chinese Fermented Beverage

Year Created: c.7000 – 6600 BCE
Country of Origin:  Jiahu Neolithic Village in Henan Province, China
Derived From:  Rice, honey, hawthorn fruit/and or grape


In 2004, a scientific study was released revealing that Neolithic jars from Jiahu, China had traces of a fermented beverage. This “wine” was made from rice, honey, and hawthorn fruti/and or grape around 7000 – 6600 BCE, making it the oldest alcoholic beverage in the world with definitive proof. Jiahu

Scientists analyzed shards of pottery from 16 different vessels to determine what this Chinese fermented beverage was made from. The research team said that this early alcohol was the precursor to later fermented cereal beverages found in sealed jars from the Shang and Zhou Dynasties (c. 1250-1000 BCE). In 2005, Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Delaware, USA recreated this neolithic drink and called it Chateau Jiahu.

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