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Reproducing an Ancient New World Beer 175

Posted by kdawson
from the mmm-ancho dept.
The Edible Geography blog has an amusing piece about Patrick McGovern, the "Indiana Jones of Ancient Ales, Wines, and Extreme Beverages," and his role in the production of a 3,400-year-old Mesoamerican beer recreated from a chemical analysis of pottery fragments. "McGovern describes his collaboration with Dogfish Head craft brewers ... to create a beer based on the core ingredients of early New World alcohol: chocolate beans (in nib form, as the cacao pods are too perishable to transport from Honduras to Delaware), honey, corn, ancho chillis, and annatto. ... The result? Cloudy and quite strong (9% A.B.V.), but more refreshing than you would think: the chocolate is savoury rather than sweet, and the chilli is just a very subtle, almost herbal, aftertaste. There is almost no head."
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Reproducing an Ancient New World Beer

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  • Excellent! (Score:5, Funny)

    by sv_libertarian (1317837) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @10:07PM (#32394182) Journal
    Just the thing to toast the arrival of 2012 with
  • Midas Touch (Score:5, Interesting)

    by robbievienna (1771246) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @10:14PM (#32394208)
    Dogfish Head is also well known here in Delaware for recreating the mead found in King Midas' tomb, based on studies done by UPenn archaeologists in Turkey. The beverage is called Midas Touch and is frickin' amazing.
    • Re:Midas Touch (Score:5, Interesting)

      by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @10:32PM (#32394278) Homepage Journal

      Dogfish Head is also well known here in Delaware for recreating the mead found in King Midas' tomb, based on studies done by UPenn archaeologists in Turkey. The beverage is called Midas Touch and is frickin' amazing.

      Even better, you can make it yourself. The recipe is posted here [www.penn.museum]. Mead making is very, very easy. Combine the honey, water and other ingredients in a big plastic bucket, add some wine (or champagne) yeast, yeast nutrient and yeast energizer, and wait. Siphon out into a carboy when fermentation stops. Yummy.

      • by vegiVamp (518171)
        Not so much a recipe as a partial list of ingredients, really, but an interesting base to start from nevertheless. Any idea where I could get ancient greek yeast ?
      • But if you do it wrong, you also get methyl alcohol, or so I heard. And that stuff... well you know that yourself.

    • Re:Midas Touch (Score:5, Informative)

      by Psyborgue (699890) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @11:14PM (#32394486) Homepage Journal
      It's well known in a lot of places thanks to the documentary "Beer Wars". In the DC area where I live there are several Dogfish Head alehouses [dogfishalehouse.com] and the local Wegmans stocks several of their beers as well. I don't normally like beer but Dogfish Head makes excellent products with variety and eccentricity that actually taste good.
      • by Cylix (55374)

        It's not exactly special that Wegman's stocks their beers. They have an oddly large collection of off the wall brews.

        After moving far away from the area I now deeply miss Oak Barrel Stout.

        • by cvd6262 (180823)

          It's well known in a lot of places thanks to the documentary "Beer Wars". In the DC area where I live there are several Dogfish Head alehouses [dogfishalehouse.com] and the local Wegmans stocks several of their beers as well. I don't normally like beer but Dogfish Head makes excellent products with variety and eccentricity that actually taste good.

          For those of you one the West Coast: Wegmans is a Rochester-based grocers that puts anything else to shame. Seriously, I moved here from the Bay Area.

    • Re:Midas Touch (Score:4, Informative)

      by Phanatic1a (413374) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @11:30PM (#32394544)

      Dogfish and McGovern also collaborated on: Jiahu, based on chemanalysis of 9000-year-old pottery fragments from China; Sah'tea, based on 9th-century Finnish sahti; and Pangaea, which is more gimmicky than most of Dogfish head's gimmicks, and includes an ingredient from every continent.

    • Re:Midas Touch (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jd (1658) <imipak@nOSPam.yahoo.com> on Sunday May 30, 2010 @12:12AM (#32394694) Homepage Journal

      It's not really a mead, as it is not primarily honey, but it is good. I like the fact that Dogfish are doing this right. The Japanese brewery that recreated Old Kingdom beer (to the point of reconstructing the original brewing vessels) only did so for one season and distribution was limited. A Californian brewery that recreated one of the 27 known Sumerian beers likewise only did a limited edition. Not all places that sell Dogfish's beers sell Midas Touch though.

      Ultimately, there's a huge range of ancient brews that might be very popular but next-to-zero research on the subject and absolutely zero interest from the stores and bars. That has to be fixed before any of this goes anywhere.

      For mead, I've produced my own GPLed mead recipe (GPL version 2) which has proven very popular with those who have tried it.

      • by MrHanky (141717)

        When it comes to recipes, I'd say the GPL is probably the most draconian "license" you could come up with (as some other guy points out, you can't actually copyright a recipe, so fuck you). You can't serve the finished product without making the recipe available? You can't serve derivative products without making the recipe changes available under a similar license? What if someone uses your recipe as the base for an improvisation, and fail to take notes? S/he wouldn't be able to make the changes to the rec

      • by dkf (304284)

        Ultimately, there's a huge range of ancient brews that might be very popular but next-to-zero research on the subject and absolutely zero interest from the stores and bars.

        The big issue is that ancient beers tended not to keep for very long, which is really important when it comes to commercial sales! Up until the introduction of hops (from the 11th century in Germany, from the 17th in the US) beer would only stay drinkable for a few days. I suppose you could substitute pasteurization these days...

    • How is it that one of their other recipes features the heavy use of chocolate, which as far as I'm aware should have been unknown to Midas and company?
  • by FShort (91112) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @10:14PM (#32394210)

    welcome to my marriage

  • by pushing-robot (1037830) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @10:36PM (#32394300)

    Okay, that is officially the best job description ever.

  • by plopez (54068) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @10:38PM (#32394306) Journal

    There's been a drought of good stories on Slashdot lately, leaving me parched for more. This is a great way to pop open some new discussion, jump in, and drink deeply of the conversation. Did anyone find the actual recipe? I'm thirsty for more knowledge.

  • by Foobar of Borg (690622) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @10:40PM (#32394322)
    The writer didn't mention his discovery of an ancient tablet written in an ancient Mayan language. The tablet describes the method of brewing this beer and declares that beer is "the cause, and solution, to all of life's problems!"
  • Beer Wars (Score:4, Interesting)

    by futuresheep (531366) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @10:54PM (#32394390) Journal
    I love Dogfish Head. As much for the passion they have for producing great beers as for the great beers they produce. Everyone should watch the documentary Beer Wars to see what I mean. http://beerwarsmovie.com/ [beerwarsmovie.com]
  • Does the summary mean they are using nib form because 3400 years ago it would have been in nib form to get to that region of the New World, or are they saying they are compromising the original slightly based on the geographic location of the brewer reproducing it today? Surely there is a way to get them to Delaware this day in age...

    • I know, right. Surely, if they can ship bananas to New York from South America and they're still green, then they can ship this cacao husk stuff to Delaware.
    • by tivoKlr (659818)
      That's what I was thinkin' isn't there FedEx for gosh shakes? Aren't we flyin' around the planet in aeroplanes nowadays?

      How perishable IS this chocolate stuff? I mean Hershey bars are pretty indestructible.
      • by camg188 (932324)
        It's not chocolate. They are using a different part of the plant than what Hershey bars are made from. From the article:

        made from the fermented fruit that we now discard in favour of the chocolate-producing bean it surrounds.

      • The cacao beans themselves are pretty hardy, and once dried and roasted are very transportable. What they're talking about is the pulp that surrounds the seeds, which is supposed to be very good, but has an extremely short usable life. Like just hours from harvest. Likely the only practical way to use it would be to build your brewery on the plantation.

  • by carlzum (832868) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @11:11PM (#32394466)
    The head on a Guinness stout has nothing on this beer...

    It was apparently served with a thick head of foam, in vessels designed so that “one had the option to inhale the foam or drink directly from the mouth of the vessel.”

    Heroin users call that chasing the dragon :)

    • Heroin users call that chasing the dragon :)

      No, they don't. Heroin vapors and beer foam are not even remotely similar, and I doubt many junkies drink liquid heroin. Equating the responsible enjoyment of a truly interesting, historical, fine craft beer with illegal drug abuse is not funny. Not even when you put a :) after it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by xonar (1069832)

        Equating the responsible enjoyment of a truly interesting, historical, fine craft beer with illegal drug abuse is not funny. Not even when you put a :) after it.

        "Ethanol is one of the oldest recreational drugs."
        -Wikipedia

      • by carlzum (832868)
        Opium use predates written history, and it certainly has an interesting history. If heroin is legalized, can I make jokes about "craft smack"?
  • History of Alcohol (Score:5, Interesting)

    by geoffrobinson (109879) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @11:14PM (#32394484) Homepage

    Dogish Head also makes Chateau Jihau, which is based on a 9000 year old Chinese recipe. Based on the ingredients of all their historical recreation beers, I can safely say that the ancients just took whatever around them was fermentable, founds some good spices and herbs, and made themselves an alcoholic drink.

  • Homebrew (Score:3, Interesting)

    by camg188 (932324) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @11:25PM (#32394522)
    Go to any homebrewing forum and you can find recipes that were taken from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.
  • by PatPending (953482) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @11:33PM (#32394558)
    "The result? Cloudy and quite strong (9% A.B.V.)" --like my urine.
  • Not beer. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by DerekLyons (302214)

    If there's no grain in it, it's not beer. Since the primary carbohydrate source in it is honey, it's mean - honey wine.

    And speaking as someone who does historical reproduction cookery: The odds this wine tastes like the source are pretty slim. We don't know what their cacao tasted like or how close the extract shipped from Honduras to Delaware is to the product they would have used. (Reading TFA, it appears that it wasn't very close at all.) We don't know the quality of their honey. (And I bet

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      If there's no grain in it, it's not beer. Since the primary carbohydrate source in it is honey, it's mean - honey wine.

      I realize that this is Slashdot, but did you even RTFS? Right up there, the list of ingredients includes corn.

    • If there's no grain in it, it's not beer. Since the primary carbohydrate source in it is honey, it's mean - honey wine.

      I don't know how nice this mead is, but you're certainly right that it is not beer.

      It's kinda cool, but it's pretty much worthless and meaningless from a historical and scientific standpoint.

      Agreed again. It is impossible to duplicate an ancient recipe unless we know for sure that we can use the exact same ingredients and utilize the same preparation methods. This is cool though, an
    • Obligatory XKCD for your stab at the mythusters.
      That aside, you make several well thought out and voiced points, and I award you One internet for pointing out the fact that because they did not go hunker over a clay pot in the jungles of the Yucatan mumbling ancient rites and sprinkling herbs, that this beer is a mere facsimile of the goat-swill that once was brewed.
    • If there's no grain in it, it's not beer.

      Not actually true. In it's most basic definition, beer is anything made from fermenting starches. Yes, modern beers use grain for the primary starches, but that wasn't always the truth.

      Root beer wasn't always a sickly sweet kid's drink, it once was exactly what the name suggests, beer fermented from roots, primarily sassafras.

      Grain became the hands-down favorite because of its relative low cost and high starch content. Which is also why companies like Anheuser-Busch use rice, it's very cheap and high in fer

      • Not actually true. In it's most basic definition, beer is anything made from fermenting starches.

        Yes, actually true - beer is made from grains. (Hint: Look up how beers were made historically, back in Mesopotamia for example.) Not to mention that you ferment sugars, not starches.

        Root beer wasn't always a sickly sweet kid's drink, it once was exactly what the name suggests, beer fermented from roots, primarily sassafras.

        Which is why it's called 'root' beer rather than beer - to differentiate it fr

    • At best we get a close approximation of something Mesoamerican peoples might have quaffed 3400 or so years ago. At worst we get yet another interesting recipe and high-octane brew. Where exactly is the bad?
  • by PatPending (953482) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @12:44AM (#32394798)
    "...a 3400-year-old Mesoamerican beer recreated from a chemical analysis of pottery fragments."

    How do we know the pottery fragments weren't from a piss pot?

  • hmm... (Score:2, Funny)

    by frnic (98517)

    Problem is that after a pint you have an uncontrollable urge to declare your independence, and write a constitution...

  • 3,400 years old? Meh (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nofx_3 (40519) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @01:08AM (#32394872)

    How about beer produced with 45 MILLION year old yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae (aka brewer’s yeast)) cultivated from a piece of amber. I've tried it and it's damn good too: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/07/brewery/ [wired.com]

  • Wake me up when they discover/remember Greek fire.
  • Although that's the same thing I thought about Chili with chocolate and that was pretty bad.
    • you don't like molé? me either, but an entire culture seems to think its the best thing ever.
      • Similar to the discussion about high production beer, mass produced mole sucks. If you're ever in Salt Lake CIty, Utah try out the red iguana it's about 5 mins or less from the Airport. I went there on a business trip for a few weeks, ended up liking the moles (yes, plural) so much I went their half a dozen times during my stay. It was packed every time too. When food network did a special they nearly doubled the price they had when I went for plates. Here is a look at their menu. http://www.rediguana [rediguana.com]
  • The wrong yeast? (Score:5, Informative)

    by haggholm (1678078) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @02:53AM (#32395202)

    I haven’t had this particular beer, but I did have the Midas Touch (another Dogfish brand reconstruction), and I rather enjoyed it. It wasn’t nearly as weird or “special” as one might expect; nothing spectacular, but pretty tasty.

    However, one thing makes me doubt that either beverage comes anywhere near the original flavour. As per the article, “The fermentation was carried out with a German ale yeast, which is not obtrusive and brings out the flavours of the other ingredients.” The Midas touch certainly tasted like that was the case there, too. However, that long ago there was no such thing as cultivated strains of brewer’s yeast—fermentation was done with wild yeasts (leave the vats open, let naturally occurring yeast spores drift in on the breeze, gaze in wonder as the brew transforms for no reason discernible without a microscope). As anyone who has had a Lambic beer (still made with spontaneous fermentation) can attest, spontaneously fermented beers taste vastly different from beers fermented with cultivated yeast: Wikipedia calls it “bracingly sour”.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      While you have a good point, I don't think it's likely that this was a sour beer. The first thing to keep in mind is that this is a strong beer--9% ABV. Most sour beers (including lambics) are in the range of 3-5% ABV because the lactic acid bacteria can't handle the higher levels of alcohol.

      Secondly, lambics are aged for at least a year or two (and in reality lambics probably get most of the bacteria that make them interesting from the oak barrels in which they're aged). If this beer was drunk when it wa

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by VShael (62735)

      Indeed. There are many spontaneously fermented beers on sale in Belgium. They do taste quite different.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Making your own (good) beer at home is straight-forward. From there, the sky's the limit -- it's easy to add fruit, cocoa nibs (really, really freaking good to add when fermentation is done -- about a quarter pound per 5 gallons), honey, spices, you name it. You just need about one hundred dollars' worth of equipment, patience, a bottle of bleach, and some empties.

    Calagione even has a beginner's book to extreme brewing, http://www.amazon.com/Extreme-Brewing-Enthusiasts-Guide-Craft/dp/1592532934/ref=sr_1_3?i

  • Dogfish Head (Score:3, Informative)

    by porky_pig_jr (129948) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @03:48PM (#32400020)

    BTW, Dogfish Head IPA is truly outstanding brew. Give it a try. You won't be sorry.

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