Greetings once again, gentle readers! Today I bring you a follow up to the rather popular ‘Archaeology of Beer‘ post. This time, we will be exploring the exciting world of beers available for purchase NOW that use ancient recipes or are brewed according to ancient traditional methods! While recreation of ancient beverages is not a new phenomena, it’s gotten a lot more tasty in recent years. Let’s take a look at what’s on the menu, shall we?
This one is one of my favorites. It exists entirely because of organic residue found inside an amphora in a Turkish (then part of the Greek world…) tomb. The brewery, Dogfish Head
, parks the date at around 2700 years old but since they don’t list the tomb it could be slightly older or younger depending 😛 Sadly, I don’t think it came from the tomb of the legendary Midas but that’s beside the point. The point, dear readers, is that this beer is a flavor experience. The ingredients used in its brewing are barley, honey, muscat grapes and saffron which creates what I can only think is the physical manifestation of the epithet “Honey-sweet”. Honey is the dominant flavor so it’s perhaps a bit closer to mead than the beer that we’re used to drinking but without the outright awfulness that is mead. That said, I love it! It’s available year round so there’s a very good chance you can buy some and enjoy it tonight.
Another offering from the good folks at Dogfish Head! This one I haven’t had the pleasure of sampling but it too comes from an archaic recipe. Dogfish Head says that this brew is an update of a traditional 9th century Finnish beer-like beverage. On their website, they say that this beer is “brewed with rye, we caramelize the wort with white hot river rocks, then ferment it with a German Weizen yeast. In addition to juniper berries foraged directly from the Finnish country-side we added a sort of tea made with black tea, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and black pepper.” As the last beer I had that was full of flowery herby things was amazing, I can’t wait to try this one! It’s a limited release, so keep your eyes peeled for this potentially tasty beer at your local junior market or beverage supply merchant.
Ninkasi the first
You may recall mention of the Ninkasi Brewing Company
in the original Archaeology of Beer
post. Since that post, I’ve had the opportunity to try their Oatis Stout! It is extremely dark and stouty with a distinct smokey flavor. It’s pretty readily available so there’s a very good chance there is a fine retailer near you that stocks one or more brews from this awesomely named brewing company.
Ninkasi the second
The lovely folks at Anchor Steam Brewing Company
also paid tribute to the great goddess Ninkasi with their own Sumerian Beer Project
. The result of said project is the very limited Ninkasi beer. It was brewed according (as much as possible) to the instructions detailed in the Hymn to Ninkasi and does actually include bread in the brewing process, making it the closest thing to proper old school bread beer that may be available for purchase. I have yet to sample this but hopefully I’ll get the chance to very soon!
The native ale of Scotland
! I actually had this last night and it was delightful to say the very least. This ale is one of the oldest styles of ale in the world and has been brewed 1) with heather and 2) for about 4,000 years. There is documentation of the Picts brewing this tasty beer while they ruled Scotland. The beer is brewed with heather (you know, the kind that flourishes on all those moors in Scotland), barley and sweet gale, giving it a sweet flavor not unlike the Midas Touch beer but definitely not as overtly sweet. I would agree with describing it as spicy and floral and would definitely buy it again. It also has runes on the label for extra fun!
Dogfish Head is to be the leader in ancient-beers-for-you-to-purchase. This is pretty much a fact. Another of their fine limited release offerings comes to us from China! Yes, you read that right. China! Chateau Jiahu exists thanks to analysis of residue found in vessels in the Neolithic village of Jiahu in Henan province. This recipe is quite special because as it is Neolithic, it is the oldest of the ancient recipes out there. And by old I mean 9,000 years old. Essentially, before the folks in the Mesopotamia were brewing bread beer, the Chinese had been brewing a fermented beverage from rice, honey and fruit. This modern recreation was made according to the molecular analysis of the original samples and included pre-gelatinized rice flakes, wildflower honey, Muscat grapes, barley malt, hawthorn fruit and Chrysanthemum flowers. The mixture was boiled and added to a mixture of Sake yeast and then allowed to ferment for a month, creating a truly awesome beverage! Again, I have yet to try this one but I’m keeping my eyes peeled.
The most recent offering from Dogfish Head and their Ancient Ales adventure is inspired by analysis from broken pottery in Honduras! This pottery contained the earliest known alcoholic chocolate drink and they went and recreated it! Fiesta indeed. Once again, the recipe keeps very close to the results of the analysis and this beer is made using Aztec cocoa powder and nibs, honey, chilies and annatto seeds (WIN). If it’s anything like the Aztec cocoa powder-and-chilies-infused mocha I had the other night and the other chocolate beers I’ve had in the past, this is shaping up to be pretty epic. If you see this beer, tell me where I can buy it!
I think that wraps up the list of ancient brews I can immediately think of. I’m sure there are more lurking in the dark forests of Europe but this is the bunch that is available for purchase within US borders. Until next time, gentle readers, pour yourself a well-earned pint and toast to the brave pioneers of ancient brewing! Cheers!