Brewing-workshops, scale of production
and skilled staff in Old Kingdom Egypt


The brewer is identified as early as the Old Kingdom on the frescoes and in the texts. He is depicted by an old hieroglyph : Egypt Middle Kingdom brewer

The hieroglyph depicts the pressing of the soaked beer loaves over a sieve, the central operation of the brewery after the making of the actual beer loaves and before the fermentation.

During the Middle Kingdom, the hieroglyph changes :Egypt Middle Kingdom brewer 1orEgypt Middle Kingdom brewer 2

This can be seen as an evolution towards the brewing of larger volumes of beer, or rather the choice to picture one brewing method among several. This latter method (pressing larger quantities of raw material with the feet) refers to specialised brewing workshops. This does not imply that brewing on a domestic scale disappeared in Egypt during the Middle Kingdom.

As early as the 3rd dynasty (ca. 2740 to 2570 BC), a high court official named phrnfr watches over brewers. At the same time, a high priest may exercise the function of " chief brewer " (habawskr) within an agricultural estate reserved for the service of the gods and the production of daily offerings, especially beer, and at the same time for the maintenance of the religious staff who also receive its beer rations.

The teamwork involves several identified technical operations, a controlled brewing cycle, a collective organisation of work, the measurement of grains and calculation of ratios of the different ingredients of the brewery (malt, raw grains, dates, water) in order to obtain predefined densities and qualities of beer that are controlled on spot. The key operations, apart from making the malt, are as follows:

  • grinding raw grains with millstones and crushing the malt with a mortar and pestle.
  • heating terracotta moulds.
  • make a liquid dough with flour, crushed malt and leaven.
  • pour this dough into the hot moulds: superficial cooking.
  • keep for some time and then remove the dried beer loaves from the moulds.
  • kneading the breads with water through a sieve over a fermentation vat.
  • possible addition of crushed dates to the wort previously produced.
  • Allow the beer to ferment and check the process.
  • Seal the vat with clay when the fermentation almost ends and let a small open hole.
  • Alternatively, pour the freshly fermented beer in smaller beer jars for storage or service.


This brewing pattern shown on the tombs frescoes is only one of the genuine Egyptian techniques of that time.

The scribe becomes a key figure in the brewing workshops. He counts the raw grains, malt and other ingredients that enter the workshop. He counts the jars of beer that come out, the capacity of which and the density of the beer inside are more or less standardised.


The brewing workshops have been replicated by many miniature funerary models retrieved in Egyptian tombs[1]. Le défunt s'attendait à ce que ces brasseries miniatures leur fournissent une bière éternellement fraîche grâce à un brassage magique.


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[1] Winlock H. E. 1955, Models of daily life in ancient Egypt, from the Tomb of Meket-Re' at Thebes.

14/11/2020  Christian Berger