The Early History of Hops

<< 2022-12-06 10:15 >>

Hops growing up a house wall in Voss, Norway.

One of the biggest mysteries in the history of beer is where and when people started using hops in beer. We still don't really know the answer, but we do know some things, and what we know is quite different from the history of hops as most people understand it. So I wanted to straighten out the record a little bit. But before we get into that, let's set the context.

Hops have been growing wild in Europe for a very long time. Once the glaciers retreated after the last Ice Age, hops seem to have spread northwards to cover most of the continent. In Sweden hop pollen has been found already from 9000 BCE[1]. Because of climatic changes hops may at times have retreated southwards again, but overall hops appear to have covered most of the continent.

There are also early signs of hop cultivation in Norway, from around 500 BCE, and signs of it growing wild well before that[2]. Today hops grow wild in Scandinavia up to the Arctic Circle and beyond. So it's clear that hops grew across most of Europe long before beer brewing even began. Ireland appears to be an exception.

One striking thing I learned from analysing beer herb finds in archaeology was that the most popular herbs in northern European brewing appear to have remained the same from prehistoric times up to aboout 1900, at least in farmhouse brewing. Juniper is one example, and Myrica gale would be another.

It does seem, however, that hops were not used in beer in the earliest period of beer brewing. There are a number of early beer finds in Denmark and Sweden from around 2800 BCE to 200 CE that have been carefully analyzed to see what ingredients were used, and none of them show any sign of hops[8][9]. So while hops were available brewers seem not to have used them. And apparently the biggest change in herb use in beer is the introduction of hops, and its later almost complete dominance (outside of farmhouse ale).

So when and where did brewers start using hops? Martyn Cornell has done great work presenting what I think is the generally shared view: the first documented instance of hops in beer is from northern France in 822, from a statute written by the abbot of Corbie. Wikipedia has a very similar story.

This, however, is the history you get from written documents, but hop usage began at a time when brewing was mostly something people did at home, for their own household, and almost none of what they did was ever recorded in writing. So we must expect that nearly all of the early history of hops has gone undocumented, and therefore we must turn to other sources of information to cast light on the early history of hops.

Map showing the words for hops in various languages, with colours to indicate their origin. From a tweet by Øystein Hellesøe Brekke.

One place to turn is linguistics, where we find that of the words for hops, those of Slavic origin completely dominate eastern and northern Europe, and are used in the Nordic languages as well as Turkic and Finnic languages. Words with the same origin show up in Flemish dialects in Belgium as well as in Old English, so the Slavic dominance is greater than what the map is able to show. Exactly why is not clear at all.

The best place to turn is to archaeology, which is able to shed light on places and ages from which we have no written evidence at all. By far the best thing written on the early history of hops is Behre 1999[17], but it's now more than 20 years out of date, and the archaeology of beer has moved very quickly since then. So it's high time for an update. And as expected archaeology has been able to cast a rather surprising light on periods that the written evidence does not cover.

Let's look at another map.

Map showing archaeological finds of hops thought to be remains of use in beer brewing. The dots are shaded according to the age of the find.

As you can see from the map, the oldest find of hops thought to derive from beer brewing is from nothern Italy, dated to about 550 BCE. That's almost 1400 years before the abbot of Corbie. The find is from Pombia, where a beaker with dried-up remains of a drink were found in a grave. Analysis of the remains found pollen from cereals, trees, and hops. In other words, this was a hopped beer[3][4].

So did brewing of hopped beer begin in northern Italy in 550 BCE? Look at the map again. See how few dots there are? There are so few brewing-related archaeological finds at all that we know almost nothing. (There are more finds than what this map shows — this is just the archaeological reports I've been able to unearth over the years.) Brewing of hopped beer could have started 2000 years earlier 2000 km away from Pombia without anyone knowing.

Although, having said that, let's look at yet another map.

Map showing archaeological finds of beer brewing where we have some idea of the herbs used, shaded to indicate whether or not hops were found.

Ignore the black dots in Sweden: those are mainly from the 17th century onwards. The black dots in Denmark we already talked about: those are the very early beer finds. The interesting ones are the one in the Czech Republic, Kladina 900 BCE[19], and in Italy, Verucchio 700 BCE[20]. So it does look like using hops in beer before 1 CE was relatively unusual. The evidence is thin enough, however, that even that is a pretty shaky conclusion.

One thing about the Pombia find that may surprise some: this brewer was a Celt, probably belonging to the Hallstatt culture. This find is from before the Romans conquered this part of Italy, or indeed much of anything at all. Once the Romans did start expanding they called this part of what is now Italy Gallia Cisalpina, that is, Gaul on this side of the Alps. Eventually all of present-day Italy became wine country, but that was later.

What is quite striking is that the next hop finds, chronologically, is the cluster of four finds on the north side of the Alps, in southern Germany. That, too, was a Hallstatt culture area at the time of the Pombia find.

Hops growing on a pole at Lithuanian national museum, Rumšiškės.

The two oldest finds are from Aalen-Hofherrenweiler, roughly 250 CE, and Langenau, roughly 330 CE[5]. And while these are the "next" finds, they are eight centuries or more after the Pombia find, which gives you some idea of how sparse the record actually is. Both finds are from villages where remains of hops and grain were found together. That makes it likely that the hops were used in brewing, but it's somewhat uncertain.

(And what else did they find, besides hops? That's right. Juniper. As I've written before, juniper use in beer seems to go back to the beginning of beer brewing in Europe.)

Much more definitive, however, is the third find, from Trossingen, roughly 580 CE, where a wooden bottle with dried up remains was found in a grave that also contained a musical instrument, leading it to be dubbed "the singer's grave". Analysis of the remains found pollen from cereals and hops[5][6]. So people in this area definitely used hops in their beer.

The fourth find, Pfettrach, is fairly late by our standards, 850 CE, and the connection with beer is somewhat uncertain, but it does provide further indication that people in this area were brewing hopped beer at the time[7].

The German finds are all from Germanic peoples, who at that time had newly arrived in these areas from the north. In other words it's very possible that Celtic people from the Hallstatt culture were brewing hopped beer here, too, before the Germans arrived. The Germans may have adopted the use of hops from these Celts.

None of this necessarily means that the Celts were the first to use hops in beer, or that the use of hops in beer began around the Alps, but it's quite suggestive to see such a concentration of early hop finds. However, it's entirely possible that we'll find evidence of even earlier hop use somewhere else in the future.

Hops in the wort, ready to boiled, Shitovo, Russia.

The next set of finds is from what we might call the viking world, since they date from that era and are from regions dominated by the vikings at the time. In order:

All of these are finds of hops together with grain, so none are definitive, but there are so many of them that it seems safe to conclude that it wasn't unusual among the vikings to use hops in beer. Note also the southernmost black dot in Sweden: that's Blackeberg, 975 CE[18], so it seems there were also viking beers without hops, which shouldn't surprise anyone.

When the Viking Age started the peoples of Scandinavia suddenly started travelling far more outside Scandinavia, probably at least in part because they started using sails on their ships. So it could be that this was a time when their contact with peoples further south expanded substantially, and they adopted the use of hops from them at this time. That's just a guess, but it does fit with the earlier absence of hops from beer finds in the same area.

Martyn Cornell wrote a great piece on the Graveney boat hop find, which is the southernmost of the two dots in the UK. In a sunken boat a very large amount of hops was found, so large it's assumed it must have made up a proportion of the cargo. It's been seen as something of an archaeological mystery, because we know that British commercial brewers were brewing unhopped beer up until the 15th century, while the Graveney boat is from roughly 950.

However, the find of hops in York from around 875 shows that probably people were brewing beer with hops in Yorkshire at the time. Which means the hops on the Graveney boat may well have been destined for brewing, and it's probably less of a mystery than it seemed when it was excavated in the 1970s.

But if people were brewing beer with hops in the UK in the viking era, why was 15th century ale unhopped? Well, we don't know how common hop use was. Maybe only a minority used hops, and maybe only in some regions. If hops were not that common, then commercial brewers may have had difficulties getting enough of it, and therefore not used it.

Hop garden, Sõru, Estonia.

A key point here is that while to our minds hops are an ingredient that's crucial for getting bitter flavour and protection from infection, those two things require boiling. And as far as we know, historically beer was not boiled until quite late. Martyn Cornell dug up a British description of brewing from the 13th century that describes raw ale, for example. (Much more about raw ale and the introduction of boiling in my book.) This means that further back in time, the use of hops very likely did not have the effects we're used to it having today. That is, the benefits of hop usage were much less before boiling than they became after.

What this means is that while people were probably using hops in beer in England already in the 9th century, hops were probably not seen as something that must be included in every beer. Hops may even have gone out of use in England before the 13th century for all we know.

As Richard Unger describes it, it's only from the late 13th century onwards that boiling hops in the wort becomes common in north Germany, and hopped beer really begins to to take over[10]. The later British conflict between brewers of hopped and unhopped beer is probably a consequence of this development crossing the channel to England.

The evidence is quite flimsy, but it may be that the beginning of hop usage should be understood as having two phases. First one phase where hops were coming into use, but just as one beer herb among many, and then later a phase where hops were combined with boiling, and this combination then took over. It's really the second phase that corresponds to hop usage as we know it.

What is very clear, however, is that brewers started using hops long before the time indicated by documentary evidence.

And what about the dominance of Slavic words for hops? That doesn't quite fit this history, but on the other hand there's very little evidence either way from Slavic-speaking areas. Basically we're not at a point where the archaeological evidence is firm enough that we can connect it with the linguistic data. However, beer archaeology has been making huge advances over the last years, and so it's likely more pieces will be falling into place over the years to come.

And who knows what we might find then. The earliest beer find in Europe is from Hornstaad/Hörnle 1A, by Lake Constance on the border with Switzerland, dated 3910 BCE. Starch analysis showed grain had been malted and fermented[21]. Those people also had hops, because in the 1980s hop remains were found in a well in the same village. But did they use the hops in beer? There's no reason to assume they did, but they certainly could have, and it's also in the area around the Alps.

Hop garden, Busemarke, Denmark.


A blog post like this of course not something you just type up out of the blue. I've been aware for almost a decade now that there was much more to the early history of hops that most people were aware of, but there was so much to write about that I never got round to writing anything on it.

Over the years I kept adding to the collection of archaeology papers and my view of this history kept changing. What prompted the publication of this right now was basically that now I had the time and the inspiration.

In general, this blog post is just one of many, many examples of how my view of beer's history is completely different from the mainstream. What to do about that is something I'm pondering these days.

Also, if you know of a find that's not mentioned here please do tell me about it.


[1] Från tundra till skog. Miljöförändringar i norra Skåne under jägarstenåldern, L. Björkman, Riksantikvarieämbetet. Stockholm. 2007.

[2] Jordbrukskulturens historie i Oslo-området og Mjøstrakten belyst ved pollen-analytiske undersøkelser, Ulf Hafsten, Viking, 1957/58, vol 21/21, p51-72.

[3] Ancient Italic Beer The archaeological finds at Pombia (NO), Filippo Maria Gambari, Etruscan News, 15, 2001, p14.

[4] Il contenuto del bicchiere della t 11, Castelletti Lanfredo, Maspero A etc, in: La birra e il fiume, Pombia e le vie dell'Ovest Ticino tra VI e V secolo a.C, Gambari FM etc, Celid, Torino, 2001, p107-109.

[5] New aspects of agriculture and diet of the early medieval period in central Europe, Manfred Rösch, Veget Hist Archaeobot 17:225-228, 2008.

[6] Starkbier mit Honig, Manfred Rösch, in Mit Leier und Schwert. Das frühmittelalterliche Sängergrab von Trossingen, Barbara Theune-Großkopf, Likias, 2010.

[7] Early medieval wells from Pfettrach, Bavaria: cultural ecology of an early Bavarian village, Engelhardt B / Herzig F / Kobyliński Z / Krasnodębski D / Kuprijanowicz M / Michniewicz M, Archaeol Polona 37: 87-118 (pp 106-115), 1999.

[8] A biomolecular archaeological approach to ‘Nordic grog’, McGovern et al, Danish Journal of Archaeology, 2013.

[9] Egekistefundet fra Egtved, Thomas Thomsen, Nordiske Fortidsminder, bind 2, hæfte 4. København, 1929, p. 165-201.

[10] A History of Brewing in Holland 900-1900, Richard W. Unger, Brill, 2001. See pages 25-27.

[11] Arkæobotaniske analyser af prøver fra markedspladsen i Ribe, Robinson et al. In: C. Feveile, ed. Ribe Studier, Det ældste Ribe. Udgravninger på nordsiden af Ribe Å 1984–2000, Volume 2. Jysk Arkæologisk Selskab Skrifter 51, Aarhus University Press, 107–132, 2006.

[12] Interpreting the Plant and Animal Remains from Viking-Age Kaupang, Barrett J. H., Hall, Alan Richard, Johnstone, C., Kenward, H. K., O'Connor, Terry, Ashby, Steve. In: Kaupang in Skiringssal, Kaupang Excavation Project Publication Series. Aarhus University Press, Aarhus. 2007.

[13] Biological evidence from Anglo-Scandinavian deposits at 16-22 Coppergate, Kenward, H. K. and Hall, A. R. The Archaeology of York 14 (7). York: Council for British Archaeology. 1995

[14] Finds of hops, humulus lupulus L., in the black earth at Birka, Sweden, Ann-Marie Hansson, Arkæologiske Rapporter nr. 1, 1996, Esbjerg Museum.

[15] Archaeobotany and Palaeoenvironment of the Viking Age Town of Staraja Ladoga, Russia, Pact 52 - Birka Studies 4 - II: Marjatta Aalto and Hanna Heinäjoki-Majander 1997/1900/11.

[16] Aristokratin i landskapet. Paleoekologiska studier i Järrestads järnålder, P. Lagerås, In: B. Söderberg, ed. Järrestad – huvudgård i centralbygd. Stockholm. Riksantikvarieämbetet, Arkeologiska undersökningar, Skrifter 51, 243–270. 2003.

[17] The history of beer additives in Europe - a review, Behre, K.-E. 1999. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany. 8:35-48.

[18] Tidigmedeltida grophus i Blackeberg. Halland, Vinbergs socken, Tröinge 6:4, RAÄ 128. Mölndal, Anna Aulin Häggström. Riksantikvarieämbetet UV Väst. Dokumentation av fältarbetsfasen 2004:1. 2004.

[19] The oldest millet herbal beer in the Europe? The 9th century BC bronze luxury bucket from Kladina, Czech Republic, Jan Jilek et al, Archaeometry 1–14, 2021, DOI 10.1111/arcm.12711

[20] Analisi botaniche del contenuto del vaso biconico, Marchesini M & Marvelli S, in: Von Eleson P, Eles Guerrerio e sacerdote: Autorità e communità nell'età de ferro a Verucchio, La Tomba del Trono. All'Insegna de Giglio, Firenze, 2002, p299-307.

[21] Mashes to Mashes, Crust to Crust. Presenting a novel microstructural marker for malting in the archaeological record, Andreas Heiss et al, PLOS ONE, May 7 2020.

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Andras B. - 2022-12-06 16:48:10

Thank you, interesting read, as always!

I often feel that people (including me) like clear-cut results, even if the topic is historical research (because nowadays trends are very strong, and be able to go around the world really fast).

But maybe we should force restraint on ourselves and ponder a very probable possibility - that many different method of beer/ale brewing, flavouring, and anti-infection methods (if any), or making the acid-producing effect of bacteria more tasty via other additions, might have co-existed for a long time (as do they now, after the revival of sour styles and using bacteria and wild yeast in fermentation).

Paul Arney - 2022-12-06 18:07:19

Thanks, Lars! Always a good read. Thank you for sharing your passions.

Lars Marius - 2022-12-06 18:11:10

@Andras: I think what you say about many different approaches co-existing for a long time is spot on. For example, it's not like hops have taken over completely even now, because in Finland many sahti brewers don't use hops. So the movement toward hops taking over completely, which seems to have started in the 12th century, apparently still isn't done.

Martyn - 2022-12-06 21:09:43

An excellent summary, Lars. I think it's vital to separate what one might call the early "no boil" use of hops, where they were used for flavour and MAYBE some preservation effect, and the later "boiled" use of hops, where the main intention was to use the hops as a preservative.

On this subject, there is a book called A History of Vodka by William Pokhlebkin, published in Russian in 1991, English translation by Renfrey Clarke, published 1992, which claims (p29) that Russians were adding hops to kvass and mead, apparently from at least the 10th century; that the word khmel' occurs in the works of Nestor the Chronicler (c.1056–c.1114), and by the 13th century the city of Novgorod was buying hops in large quantities from the principality of Tver and exporting them to German states through Riga.

Pokhlebin says that in Russian practice, in the production of mead, braga (light beer), kvas and (very early) distilling, hops were added "in the middle, one could even say almost at the beginning, together with boiling water", in "lavish" quantities, much greater than in Western beer brewing.

I think, therefore, that we probably need to look to Russia for the origins of "boiled" hops, though the linguistics suggests the Slavs may have taken the name of the plant (?and its use?) from their Finno-Ugric neighbours. Friedrich Kluge, the great German etymologist, discussing the word Hopfen, says that the word for hops in Wogulish,or Mansi, an Ugric language from the Urals, "qumliz", "stammen von den Germanen", which I would like to suggest is nonsense, and the route was strictly the other way, via Russian, but I am not a linguist …

Lars Marius - 2022-12-06 22:09:39

@Martyn: Thanks for this! Excellent stuff.

Adding hops to kvass is a bit strange, since the whole point of kvass is that should be sour. I also wonder what evidence he has for this, because AFAIK the oldest mention of kvass is the Nestorian chronicle, written (in Kyiv, btw) ca 1113. It does cover events prior to that date, so maybe that's the explanation, but all it says about kvass (that I could find) is that it was drunk. I need to check what it says about hops.

What you say about Novgorod chimes with what I've read, that Russia had a large hop trade on the rivers very early. Which of course raises the question of why they would be so early with this, when they tended to be among the last to get innovations from the west.

That bit about adding the hops early makes a lot of sense. Exactly what you would expect from pre-boiling practice. Same with the quantities.

In fact, that reminds me that while I have very little data on Russian hop use, there is a 19th century stone brewing account that seemed to specify a crazy amount of hops in the beer. Checking my notes I see I added a comment: "(WTF????!?)" Yep. 6.1 kilos of hops for 123 liter of beer. Beyond lavish, I would say. In fact, I always thought it was a mistake, but it's only 3-4x beyond values that aren't so unusual. I see other accounts are also generous, although not to that extent. Interesting!

There's also the fact that the Georgian highlanders of the 19th century, who were still pagan(!), were using hops in their beer. I always thought it sounded unlikely that the use of hops should have made its way from northern France to the remotest parts of the Caucasus so quickly. But if hop use started in Slavic areas it would be rather different.

Lana Svitankova just sent me a paper that suggests the Slavic word for hops was derived from Arabic. The Finnish "humala" and Estonian "humal" is generally thought to be from Proto-Norse, which again is thought to be from Proto-Slavic. I don't know, but I wouldn't trust any of that unless there is something like a consensus.

The Mansi are very far east, along the Ob river, and don't seem to have been farmers (no beer), but I see wikipedia says their ancestors lived west of the Urals. Were they farmers who gave it up? I guess it's at least theoretically possible.

Hmmmm. A lot to think about here. Very interesting!

Are D. Gulbrandsen - 2022-12-06 23:30:55

Thank You, - Great read!

1. Karoline Kjesrud's presentation about viking beer, at the Norwegian farmhouse ales festival 2022, mentioned viking age and middle age sources writing about the conserving properties of hops.

2. She also mentions an archaeological excavation in Kristiansand 2018, where 50-60 hops seed were found in a viking burial site from year 800 CE.

Robert P Brubaker - 2022-12-07 03:36:07

Excellent work! I've been looking for an update on this aspect of brewing that brings in more recent archaeological work since reading Hornsey's classic, but now somewhat dated history.

Lars Marius - 2022-12-07 08:54:48

@Are: Thank you! I remember there were several things in that talk I wanted to follow up, but all the stress of the festival completely wiped that from my mind. I'll go back and look again.

Lars Marius - 2022-12-07 08:59:11

@Nick: Thanks for the tip about Hanna Glasse. I have her work in my notes, but have not read it. Looks like I need to do that.

I agree: brewing brooms were probably made the same way as other brooms, so that's very likely a survival of the same technique.

Max K. - 2022-12-09 00:44:15

Hello! There was a shift in meaning during the evolution of the Russian language. Modern sour "Russian kvass" (квас) is not traditional Russian kvass! Moreover, modern kvass is no more similar to traditional kvass, than pilsner beer to keptinis.

What is now called kvass, originally was called "кислые щи" ("sour shchi"), but now "кислые щи" is the name of a cold soup, originally based on it

Until the 12th century the word "kvass" was the name of strong beer. Traditional (until early USSR) Russian kvass was a type of ancient beer (with or without hops) similar to keptinis in technology of mach baking, but with an early stop of fermentation, so kvass was often sweet. The popularity of this drink began to decline only in the 19th century. Also, "fruit kvass" and "mead kvass" was the name for fruit beers and braggots based on this keptinis-like, low-alcohol beverage. But sometimes the name "fruit kvass" was used for ciders and, later, "sugar kvass" - for kilju-like beverages (fermented water with sugar).

"Кислые щи" was originally a group name for small beers and boza-like beverages, but during the 19th - beginning of the 20th century the name kvass was more and more often applied to them. During standartization of beverages in USSR, word "kvass" was finally adopted for these beverages only. Original kvass disappeared from literature. I heard that somewhere in villages traditional kvass was brewed until 1970's

Both of these beverages (квас and кислые щи) are mentioned in a 16th-century Russian set of household rules called "Domostroy"

There are many recipes for traditional Russian kvass brewing in the old monograph published 124 years ago: Симонов Л.Н., Пумпянский М.С. Квасоварение и домашнее пивоварение. I can send you scans in pdf

Lars Marius - 2022-12-09 11:47:24

@Max: It's a bit odd that sour kvass should not be the original, when the word "kvass" itself derives from a word meaning sour.

How do you know "kvass" meant a strong beer until the 12th century? There isn't much in the way of sources going back that far.

How do you know about this 19th century name change?

Thank you for the offer to send me Simonova, but I already have it.

Max K. - 2022-12-09 20:09:01

@Lars: Yes, I know about common Slavic word "Kvas". However, specifically in East Slavic languages "Sour" translated by other words derived from "Кысати": "Кислий" (Ukrainian), "Кислый" (Russian), "Кіслы" (Belarusian). In Russian, the word "Квас" is only used for fermented beverages. Acid = кислота. It is curious that "Кислый" has the same ethymological origin as "Квас".

As for the Medieval Rus' - I know it only from academic sources. For example, a monograph: Похлёбкин В.В. История водки Link to a chapter interesting for us: Yes, it is "A History of Vodka by William Pokhlebkin" about which you wrote in this article, but in the original language.

Additional etymological evidence - the verb "Квасить": in Russian it is used quite frequently with meaning "drinking too much alcohol" although it means usually "to fermentate with lactobacteria". In original 16th-century text of Domostroy verb "Квасить" obviously also meant "to fermentate beer": "А коли пиво затирают ячное или овсяное, или оржаное, или хмель парить, и у квашенья и у сливаныя дозирати самому — все бы было бережно и чисто, и не раскрадено". Also, fermentation of "Кислые щи" (Кислые шти) given there in meaning "secondary use of beer mash": "И тотъ исътокъ приквасит, добре хорошо семъе пити; а ис первого последу приквасивъ, на кислые шти пригодится." "Закваска" in Russian means now any fermentation starter including clear yeast strains.

I know about name change from "Кислые щи" to "Квас" directly from texts written at that time. Симонов is very good example. You can trace the end of this change also by looking at changes in ГОСТ standards of the USSR.

As you can easily see, a colossal mess with the names of fermented drinks existed throughout all the East Slavic history. So, with sources older than the 19th century you can't be sure of anything here. for a while even clear water could be called "Пиво" (= beer nowadays). You can often only guess what type of beverage was meant at all... Regarding the USSR, the nuance is that politicians and rationalizers have practically eliminated the culinary traditions of the Russian Empire and destroyed the traditional rural lifestyle. Among fermented drinks, this applies not only to kvass, but also to beer styles, meads, etc. One popular style of dark ale with an early stop of fermentation (Velvet/Black beer), for example, was transformed to a ordinary dark lager with the same name. By the way, this beer was differed from sweet Квас only by the method of mashing. We are lucky that at the end of the existence of the Russian Empire, the processes of traditional brewing was finally described even a bit.

P.S.: it turns out that in Ukraine baked mash (квасні житні хлібці) is used for kvass even now.

P.P.S.: not less curious that the Russian word "Хмель" (hops) has "Alcohol" among its meanings; "Захмелеть" = to get drunk. Even nowadays, many poor-educated people here believe that hops more than alcohol causes getting drunk on beer :)

Yann - 2022-12-09 23:18:05

@Lars: Thank you for your blog. I am fascinated by your approach and overall perspective. I admire your knowledge and enthusiasm. :-)

I know this is a much more modern problem than the one you are addressing here, but I remembered this:

It's admittedly out of context. I'd have to look it up. I've definitely read that hops later became the preferred raw material due, among other things, to the successful efforts of the nobility and wealthier bourgeoisie to break the Church's monopoly on granting permission to produce gruit, the prevailing style at the time. This would have deprived them of considerable profits. I think this created a very lengthy and complicated situation. Perhaps there was some loophole in the law that allowed nobles and merchants to brew beer as long as it did not contain gruit herbs but hops. I think Myrica gale and Rhododendron tomentosum were taxed and could only be sold to brewers who had permission from the bishop/archbishop.

I assume you will be familiar with this history, and perhaps you can elaborate.

@Max: Could I ask you for scans? It would be very useful for my research. Thank you very much.

Lars Marius - 2022-12-10 10:18:10

@Max: That "kvass" derives from a word meaning sour does indicate that acidity was a key part of the concept all along. That East Slavic used other words for "sour" doesn't affect that.

I'll look at that Pokhlebin book. Thank you! (It was Martyn who referred to it, btw.)

That etymological evidence is interesting.

Names for fermented drinks were a colossal mess pretty much everywhere, it seems. Generally when people think names for these drinks are reliable guides to anything they are fooling themselves.

What you said about Ukraine is super interesting. Do you have any references?

Intriguingly, the hops=drunk connection exists in Finnish, too. Hops = humala, drunk = humalassa. I wonder if there's any connection.

Thanks again for the information!

Lars Marius - 2022-12-10 10:21:50

@Yann: Gruit was essentially a method of taxation, used by both the church and nobles. What caused it to die out seems to be both its replacement by more effective methods of taxation, and the spread of hops boiled in wort.

I recommend Susan Verberg's paper on this:

Max K. - 2022-12-10 15:54:57

@Yann: Which scans? "Симонов Л.Н., Пумпянский М.С. Квасоварение и домашнее пивоварение"? Yes, I can. Give me your E-Mail please.

@Lars: I meant that "квасні житні хлібці" are in the current Ukrainian state standard for kvass (ДСТУ 2368:2004): "4.2.31 квасні житні хлібці. Сировина для виробляння хлібного квасу, яку випікають із суміші житнього та ячмінного солоду". Unfortunately, I can't say more about it. I did not find baked mash itself in Ukraininan online stores.

About "Квас" word. In my opinion, there could be such a chain: what is naturally fermented usually becomes sour. Accordingly, the general meaning of this word itself could easily shift from "sour" to "fermented". Especially when you consider that another word for "sour" already was in language. Another evidence: verb "Квасить" in Russian have also third, quite odd and difficult to translate meaning - "to make solid thing soft/viscous/liquid". Looks like what happens to grain during wort making and fermentation, doesn't it?

Here are some links on the topic of Russian kvass. All of them on Russian and Belarusian, but can be machine translated easily.

Modern mash baking and making of true kvass by a Russian enthusiast, with photos (in two parts):

Another recipe:


Article about kvass-like beverages in the USSR:

A brief history of kvass brewing in Russia in the 19th and 20th centuries:

Also, I know very interesting authentic recipe of bread based on Boza-like "kvass" (i.e., кислые щи) from a woman born in the Kobrinsky Uyezd (near intersection of the modern Belarusian, Ukrainian and Polish borders). Process of making kvass and bread:

P.S.: it is amusing that now among people in the post-Soviet space memory of baked mash use for homemade kvass remained, but in a distorted way. There are many recipes for "kvass" from the fermented infusion of dried rye bread with addition of sugat (baked mash, as the bread, named "Хлеб/хлебцы" in Russian). My family did this beverage too. Possible reason: as far as I know, it was rather hard for ordinary person to buy malt in USSR, and, subsequently, Russian Federation until 2010's when a lot of hobby-shops for enthusiast of home alcohol manufacturing arose and e-commerce has grown. In my city (population 1.5 million) are about 13-15 of them right now. But grocery stores still don't sell malt.

Keith - 2022-12-13 20:53:27

Hello Lars,

First, thank you. I very much enjoy your thorough blog. Always fascinating.

It's interesting to see linguistic evidence dovetail with archeological finds, seen through the lens of beer-making.

I saw in an earlier post that you noted that many yeasts came from China. I just finished reading The Eurasian Steppe by Warwick Ball. He has done many archeological digs across the steppe and chronicles the movement of people east to west over the centuries. After reading your posts, it struck me that were certainly many such movements that could have carried yeast with them.

I think you would enjoy the book.

All the best


Lars Marius - 2022-12-13 20:59:21

@Keith: Thanks for the tip about Ball's book. That does look interesting. And, yes, there's no shortage of movements that could have carried yeast.

It should be added that Saccharomyces cerevisiae arose and spread over Eurasia long, long before beer brewing began.

You'll note that in the previous blog post we saw "Asian fermentation" as a separate family far removed from Beer 1 and Beer 2. So at the moment it doesn't look like domesticated yeast has moved between east and west. But that could of course change.

Josh - 2022-12-14 05:30:24

Great synthesis! Interesting and informative read as always.

The early history of hop use certainly needs a lot more research and discussion. I’d like to push back a bit about the earliest hops examples. I see them as entirely ambiguous. The pollen report from that vessel at Pombia only found two grains of hop pollen in their analysis (Castelletti et al. 2001). The cereal component was plausibly interpreted as beer, but the two hop grains are not enough to clearly establish that it was hopped. Likewise, the Trossingen residue only yielded a single hop grain (Rösch 2008). In that same article Rösch does make it clear that a real hopped beer residue might only yield one grain based on his experimental work. However, one or two grains of hop pollen in a beverage residue might also be environmental contamination. Laubenheimer (2015:42) suggests as much in her book on drinks in ancient Gaul. The possibility that one or two grains of hop pollen were just contamination is made clear by Rösch’s analysis of Coptic wine (2005) and Kozáková et al.’s (2016) analysis of a potential Iron Age mead (though I suppose the mead could have been hopped…). Anyway, Rösch’s experimental wine (2005) made from grapes near Lake Constance also contained a bit of hop pollen, which was certainly environmental contamination. Ultimately, one or two grains of hop pollen is simply not enough to identify a hopped beer given the presence of wild hops across ancient Europe.

The marcobotanical remains from Aalen-Hofherrenweiler and Langenau are interesting, but don't come from beer residue and are hardly concentrated enough to clearly indicate hopped brewing.

In addition to the examples you mentioned, there are a number of potential beer residues from the Iron Age and Roman Period that were investigated by Johannes Grüss in the late 1920s-early 1940s, which lack any reference to hops. Grüss reported enzymatically altered starch, microbes like yeast, and pollen that probably derived from honey so the lack of hops may be telling, especially since he was professionally involved with the brewing industry. It’s still a very small sample, so in no way definitive, but the early archaeological evidence for hops in beer is so far unconvincing. Let me know if you’re interested in the Grüss articles. I’d be happy to send them.

Other sources Laubenheimer, Fanette 2015 Boire en Gaule. CNRS Éditions, Paris. Rösch, Manfred 2005 Pollen Analysis of the Contents of Excavated Vessels – Direct Archaeobotanical Evidence of Beverages. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 14:179-188. Kozáková, Radka, Martin Trefný, and Kateřina Postránecká 2016 Using Pollen Analysis to Detect Microscopical Traces of the Original Contents of an Etruscan Beaked Flagon from Ostrov U Stříbra (Okr. Tachov / CZ) Near Pilsen. Archäologisches Korrespondenzblatt 46:75-87.

Lars Marius - 2022-12-14 08:55:00

@Josh: Yes, those early examples from Trossingen and Pombia have very low amounts of hop pollen in them, and I agree that makes them somewhat uncertain. For the Trossingen find the researchers did brew a replica and confirm similarly low amounts of pollen in it. But, yes, it could be contamination. It's hard to say definitively.

The Aalen-Hofherrenweiler and Langenau finds are also not definitive, but similar finds have often been treated as likely beer finds by Scandinavian archaeologists.

What's suggestive to me is this concentration of five early hop finds around the Alps (if we include Pfettrach). It doesn't prove anything, but the finds support each other.

Like it or not, this is the state of the archaeology at present. It's uncertain, but it's all we have. I'm hoping we'll see more clarity in the years to come.

And thank you very much for those references! I will most definitely be checking them out.

Lars Marius - 2022-12-14 09:08:10

@Josh: And, yes, I would *love* to see the Grüss articles! Please do send.

Dave Hardy - 2023-01-03 22:39:17

There is one more dot to add to the map, albeit in what might be a mead. In a Frankish cemetery in Ennery, France archaeologists found evidence of hops used in what was described as a hydromel.

Emile Delort excavated a Merovingian-era Frankish cemetery in the 1940s, an undertaking rendered quite difficult by WWII. His findings were published in 1947. The cemetery of Ennery is located in the Moselle region. Delort dated the burials to the 6th century. Grave #65 had a pitcher with evidence of wild hops and birch pollen in a fermented drink, in the hydromel style (houblon sauvage et du pollen de bouleau, done une boisson fermente dans le genre hydromel). Additional dishes had evidence of meat (or at least animal fat) seasoned with oats, sage, and black mustard as well as millet porridge flavored with honey. Yum!

The details can be found on page 383 of Delort's report. has a PDF of the full document at:

BTW, love the blog! I've learned a lot here!

Lars Marius - 2023-01-04 09:10:38

@Dave: Thank you, Dave! That's very helpful. I'll definitely check out this paper.

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