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Reproducing an Ancient New World Beer 175

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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  • Midas Touch (Score:5, Interesting)

    by robbievienna ( 1771246 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @11:14PM (#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 @11:32PM (#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.

  • Beer Wars (Score:4, Interesting)

    by futuresheep ( 531366 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @11:54PM (#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]
  • Re:Want to buy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Aranykai ( 1053846 ) <slgonser&gmail,com> on Saturday May 29, 2010 @11:57PM (#32394414)

    I followed a few links and discovered Dogfish Head originally published this beer in June of 2008. Its called "Theobroma".

    http://www.dogfish.com/brews-spirits/the-brews/occassional-rarities/theobroma.htm [dogfish.com]

    The blog article in question was just written in May, so I'm assuming he either got an old bottle or the brewers did another production run. I'm going to ask my local dogfish head distributor about it next time I go in and hopefully he can track some down for me.

  • History of Alcohol (Score:5, Interesting)

    by geoffrobinson ( 109879 ) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @12:14AM (#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 Sunday May 30, 2010 @12:25AM (#32394522)
    Go to any homebrewing forum and you can find recipes that were taken from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.
  • Not beer. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <fairwaterNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday May 30, 2010 @12:46AM (#32394598) Homepage

    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 they didn't use honey from the beverage's native region.) We don't know the taste of their chili's or other spices (or in what form they were used).
    Not to mention the yeast, cooking, handling, and storage processes... (Note that he had it in a refrigerator - something the Mesoamericans notably lacked.)
    In short, from a culinary historic point of view, this is junk science à la Mythbusters. It's kinda cool, but it's pretty much worthless and meaningless from a historical and scientific standpoint.

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

    by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak.yahoo@com> on Sunday May 30, 2010 @01:12AM (#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.

  • Re:Midas Touch (Score:1, Interesting)

    by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @01:21AM (#32394724) Homepage

    American beer defined at urbandictionary.com [urbandictionary.com]:

    Comparable to having sex on a boat. It's fucking close to water.
    European person: What's up with this barley water? 241 thumbs up.

    What the rest of the world knows as water.
    I thought I asked for a beer, not a dasani. 179 thumbs up.

    Dog piss and fairy sauce. The crappiest beer ever. Australian and european beer is the best!
    yuck taste this crap. its called american beer...
    no thanks!
    144 thumbs up.

    Huffington Post: "The 9 Countries With The Worst Beer In The World [huffingtonpost.com]". Guess who comes in at #1, as voted by a diverse range of the world's population? Do we really need any more [citations] and footnotes?

    The reason for this is back in 1920 our government had the bright idea to reduce crime and corruption, solve social problems, improve health and hygiene, and reduce the tax burden on poorhouses and prisons by making alcohol illegal to produce, consume, transport, buy, or sell. Prohibition. All distilleries and breweries were shut down and their inventory destroyed (except for a few that were crafty enough to slip under the government's radar). When these breweries were closed down, most of them permanently, their progress in the field of crafting tasty beer was stopped and forgotten. Meanwhile, the rest of the world was making beer like they had been for the past 500 years. Eventually, in 1933, prohibition was lifted and production of alcohol started with a clean slate. This is why American beer sucks: because there is no history, not as much trial-and-error time to get it right as everyone else had. And we haven't even broached the subject of Canadian beer, either, so STFU.

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

    by nofx_3 ( 40519 ) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @02:08AM (#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]

  • Re:The wrong yeast? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Guido von Guido ( 548827 ) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @10:36AM (#32396804)

    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 was younger, wild bacteria wouldn't have the chance to make as much of a contribution to the flavor. It's hard to say how long it would have been aged before drinking, but the odds are good it would have been drunk within the first 6-9 months. A beer made with malted barley and hops at this ABV would have historically been ready to drink in 6-12 months, but the hops are a factor in that.

    So while I suspect you're right in that bacteria may have made contributions to the flavor profile, I don't think this was a sour beer.

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