Did Romans Drink Beer and Mead? (Quick History of Alcohol & Culture)

Romans traditionally drank wine, and it was actually considered a staple in daily life. But what about beer – did Romans drink that as well?

Romans drank beer, although it was mostly considered a drink for the barbarians and was not often consumed by the higher class. They also brewed beer as well, although it was brewed with rye instead of barley. The writings of Zosimus have been translated to say that he used clumps of bread as a fermenter in his brews rather than yeast.

Keep reading to learn what there is to know about what the Romans drank, ancient Roman recipes and methods, and modern beers inspired by Roman history. 

Did Romans drink beer?

Was beer consumed by the Romans? Were they beer drinkers? Did Caesar have an Untappd profile? Okay, probably not, but what about the rest?

The Romans’ impact on beer and brewing is not as large as some other historical entities, but they did drink beer – although not a lot of it. The preferred drink of the Romans was wine. Roman beer recipes included the same base of ingredients; water and yeast.

Beer was often considered to be a drink for barbarians.

Although Romans didn’t drink much beer, it was still consumed by some and was brewed in northernmost parts of the Roman empire.

Why didn’t the Romans drink much beer?

What did the Romans drink?

Why didn’t they drink beer?

There are a plethora of reasons that historians attribute the Romans’ preference for wine, but it’s likely because of its availability and overall preference over beer. Romans didn’t drink much beer because they preferred wine. Beer drinkers were considered barbaric.

Definitive answers to this question vary from source to source, but one thing is for sure: Romans loved to drink wine, making beer relatively obsolete in comparison.

Did Romans brew beer?

Declaring exactly who brewed beer and where in the Roman empire it was brewed is almost futile.

We do know, though, that in 179 AD, beer was brewed at Casta Regina, a Roman outpost located on the Danube river in Bavaria. Zosimus, a Greek historian, paganist, and advocate for the imperial Roman treasury crafted his own beer recipe; one that has since been translated and replicated.

This is the most accurate information we have about beer brewed in Rome.

What did ancient Roman beer taste like?

What did these Roman beers taste like? Were they any good?

Romans used rye to brew their beer. Rye beers have a very distinct, roasted, and full taste. Roman Emperor Julian wrote that beer smelt like goat, meaning that Brettanomyces yeasts were likely present in the beers, resulting in an off-flavor. As with other ancient brews, it was probably sour, too.

These conclusions are made from what we know about beer now, and the little history we’ve gathered about ancient brewing.

Ancient Roman beer recipes

We can discern that Roman beer recipes included traditional methods and the most necessary ingredients: yeast and water.

Zosimus of Panopolis’ ancient Roman beer recipe calls for leftover baked bread instead of yeast, although they serve the same purpose. His recipe is a roundabout way of our society’s modern methods, but it produces the same end product.

This particular recipe is likely similar to other beer recipes from its time. Some breweries even have their own take on historical Roman beers.

Beers inspired by Roman history

The lack of information and concrete evidence of ancient Roman beers leaves a lot left unknown regarding what they tasted like, who made them, where they were made, and how they were made.

Some of the traditional methods that we use were likely used by the Romans themselves. We do know that they use live yeast cultures in their beer; some using leftover clumps of bread from the day of or the day prior.

There are some beers on the market that are inspired by Roman history. Although they use more modern practices and appliances, they’re a great homage to ancient Roman history.

Pliny the Elder

Pliny the Elder by Russian River Brewing is a beer that pays homage to the Roman author, naturalist, and philosopher after which this beer is named.

Pliny the Elder, the beer, is a double IPA brewed with Amarillo, Centennial, CTZ, and Simcoe hops.

Pliny the Elder, the man himself, has been credited with accomplishing great feats in the world of natural history, including the study of Humulus Lupulus – or hops.

Pliny the Younger

Pliny the Younger is another beer inspired by Roman history and the people of its time.

The beer is released once a year; the first Friday in February. It is brewed with the cream of the crop from the year prior and so the taste changes slightly from year to year. It uses the same base ingredients and techniques every year and usually clocks in at 10.25%.

Pliny the Younger was the nephew of Pliny the Elder and was an author, lawyer, and magistrate.