Food & Drink

We drank beer from 3500 BC, and it was delicious

Dogfish Head's Ancient Ales

The World Science Festival just blew through NYC and brought with it countless opportunities to expand your mind, traverse new avenues of consciousness, and, most importantly, drink high-ABV beer from King Midas's tomb.

A roster of "Ancient Ales" created by Dogfish Head were up for consumption at "Cheers to Science! A Drinkable Feast Of Beer, Biotechnology, and Archaeology", which featured a talk by bio-molecular archaeologist (basically a science Indiana Jones) Patrick McGovern and Dogfish brewmaster Sam Calagione. Featured: Midas Touch, Birra Etrusca Bronze, Jiahu, and their as-yet unreleased offering coming out in September, Kvasir. Since this had to do with science, and was kinda like a college lecture, we now present our notes. You can feel free to copy them, and give them to the hot girl, even though she takes her own and has much better handwriting

The IntroThe two started off by talking about how the collaboration came to be and general themes of archaeological and biological beering

  • Back in 2000, McGovern challenged micro-brewers to make something with his findings from the dig at King Midas's tomb, and Dogfish Head's was the best, thus birthing the whole project and collaboration.
  • Dogfish strives to deviate from tradition and break away from the Reinheitsgebot. What, you don't know about Reinheitsgebot? It's the very scary-sounding "German beer purity law" that allowed beer to be brewed with malt, barley, and water. Nein artisanal elderflower essence! Nein!!!
  • This doesn't really have anything to do with these beers, but who cares: Tej is the national drink of Ethiopia, a mead-esque honey drink bittered up with twigs and leaves from shrubs taking the place of hops and served in Tej betoches, or Tej "houses". Now just imagine a Tej house party.
  • Also unrelated: Malaysian tree shrews drink fermented palm nectar all night long (the equivalent of about nine glasses of wine) and never really show the effects. Baller.
  • Ancient beers would have all had a lambic-esque taste thanks to their non-sanitized and unisolated brewing processes. And no, that does not mean they would all taste like strawberries.

Midas Touch Notes:

  • The youngest of the beers, this one only dates back to 750 BC.
  • King Midas was real and he had a tomb that was actually filled with a bunch of bronze stuff (not gold, stupid lying fairy tales). These included one of the largest collections of drinking vessels archaeologists have ever seen.
  • What they drank back then was, in fact, a kind of wine/beer/mead hybrid, making them essentially the cronut of grog.
  • There was also evidence of a funerary feast, so if you're gonna drink this beer, do it like the Greeks did: paired with a massive spicy stew of BBQ lamb (or maybe goat, they're not totally sure) and lentils.

Jiahu:

  • This is the oldest ale of the night with origins dating back to 7000 BC.
  • Named for the site of the archaeological dig near the Yellow River in China.
  • What they found is the oldest known fermented beverage; it's actually from the Neolithic era.
  • It tastes mad sweet (#experttastingnotes!).
  • Their hieroglyph for beer and bread is the same character.
  • This one is more of a beer/wine/sake hybrid.
  • Chewing rice releases chemicals that help the fermentation process. At Dogfish, they once made a beer that used rice that had been chewed by some of their female coworkers (they had the best enzymes). It was never sold commercially.
  • It's made with something called the Hawthorn fruit, which is common in ancient Chinese pharmacology, and whatever Jada Pinkett Smith does.
  • "Alcohol is the universal medicine." Truth.
  • Completely unrelated awesome fact: there is evidence in the pilgrims' daily logs that they only stopped at Plymouth because they ran out of beer. Looks like Plymouth wasn't the only thing that rocked.

Birra Etrusca Bronze

  • Another semi-young joint, this one's story starts in 800 BC.
  • All the other countries were totally friendly to the brewers, but Italy didn't want them there at all because they look down on beer compared to wine.
  • Lots of botanicals! The original Etruscan beverage had things like hazelnuts, pomegranates, and grapes. There's lots of pomegranate in this one, and also some thyme.
  • Traditionally, they grated cheese over the beer. When a wounded warrior came home from battle, they sent a woman with a cheese grater necklace (?!) in to help him heal, and grate cheese over his beer. When they were buried, they also had cheese graters in their tombs. Not a bad way to spend eternity.
  • These may have seemed more applicable before, but this is where they said it: before the Reinheitsgebot, most beers were actually some type of hybrid.
  • Another tangent: 30-40yrs ago, the US was the laughing stock of the global beer community. There was a common joke that went something like this: "How are American beer and having sex in a canoe alike? They're both f***ing close to water." Where you at now, global beer community?!?!

Kvasir

  • This is the new and unreleased one, keep on eye out come September.
  • The recipe for this one came from Northern European drinking vessels from about 3500 BC, making this the second oldest Ancient Ale, and the Northernmost.
  • They're brewing it in collaboration with Nynäshamns Ångbryggeri, a Nordic brewery that'll also handle European distribution.
  • This was the first tasting of it outside of Delaware.
  • It's made with cranberry, lingonberry, bog myrtle, meadowsweet, birch syrup, red winter wheat, and wildflower honey. And tastes most like a modern sour beer.
  • It's named for the first human in the Nordic saga.
  • Here's that story, basically: Kvasir, who's made out of spit, is killed by a bunch of dwarves. They take his blood and keep it in jars and mix it with honey. Odin wants it, so he changes into a snake and has sex every night, then he drinks some of the beer and turns into an eagle and flies to Valhalla. THE END.

Cheers to Science at the Bell House
Scientist and Brewmaster -  Patrick McGovern and  Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head
Chateau Jiahu
Birra Etrusca
A ton of Ancient Ale