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Neolithic Grog!
June 26, 2011 7:51 AM   Subscribe

The Beer Archaeologist. "Biomolecular archaeologist" Dr. Patrick McGovern has unearthed millennia-old alcohol recipes and ancient medicinals, "by analyzing residues in ancient pottery. Now he's working with brewer Sam Calagione, (of Discovery Channel's Brew Masters, (autoplaying video)) whose pub Dogfish Head serves up beers based on recipes that are thousands of years old." (Via)

Mr. Calagione: previously on MeFi.

Interview with Dr. McGovern (2009).

Did a thirst for beer spark civilization?

Dr. McGovern's bio. He is "Scientific Director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, where he is also an Adjunct Professor of Anthropology. In the popular imagination, he is known as the "Indiana Jones of Ancient Ales, Wines, and Extreme Beverages." Also see: "The Origins and Ancient History of Wine."
posted by zarq (45 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
As long as they continue brewing the 90 minute IPA I support this.
posted by nathancaswell at 7:56 AM on June 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


I just want to know what makes a beverage "extreme." :D
posted by zarq at 7:57 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yellow no 5
posted by nathancaswell at 7:59 AM on June 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


The next Short Round's on me.
posted by fatllama at 8:04 AM on June 26, 2011


Ed Wood, not that Ed Wood, of Sourdoughs International has been doing this for years (tracking yeast cultures). He holds a somewhat controversial belief that the lactobacillus of sourdough ferments will not be overwhelmed by local yeasts so you can get san francisco sourdough in different locations and the firm sells yeast cultures. His book, Sourdoughs from Antiquities is an interesting read.

For those hoping to make ancient beverages such as, palm wine and beer should consider looking into his writings.
posted by jadepearl at 8:05 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Their World Wide Stout is my favorite beer in the world... Sweet, malty, not at all bitter, and very high in alcohol. It's seasonal, though...
posted by Huck500 at 8:08 AM on June 26, 2011


Point of clarification: McGovern has been working with Dogfish Head since 1999 and has put together three beers with Dogfish Head: the above-linked Midas Touch, Chateau Jiahu, and Theobroma. Also, Dogfish Head is one of the most successful small breweries in the nation and distribution goes far beyond the Delaware brewpub: this means go find and try this stuff, people.

While I was a paleolithic archaeologist and had no need for his archaeological chemistry course in grad school, my Bronze-and-Iron-Age-studying fiancé took it and said it was fairly interesting; it's obvious that he doesn't just do this as a hobby: it's all-consuming in his work and life (this is a good thing).
posted by The Michael The at 8:22 AM on June 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


ancient beer? i'll drink it down!
get as drunk as they did in some ancient town!
i'll dance like they did back in olden days!
til i fall down flat in some ancient haze!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:25 AM on June 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


Speaking of Brewmasters, is that even a live show anymore? My DVR picked up 3 or 4 episodes and then it never aired again.
posted by COD at 8:34 AM on June 26, 2011


zarq: "I just want to know what makes a beverage "extreme." :D"

For me it's extreme levels of consumption.
posted by Splunge at 8:44 AM on June 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Midas Touch is a favorite of mine. Sweet and tasty and full of history. I would love if more breweries got experimental with the ingredients. The Reinheitsgebot is bullshit, widespread usage of hops is recent compared to the history of beer making. This is a beverage with a lot more potential for variety, and what I love about the American craft beer industry (especially Dogfish) is that they are willing to try something new and crazy.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:45 AM on June 26, 2011


Speaking of Brewmasters, is that even a live show anymore?

The Episode Guide indicates that only 5 episodes were made. Wikipedia suggests that a sixth may air this year sometime.
posted by hippybear at 8:47 AM on June 26, 2011


I highly recommend Dr. McGovern's book - Uncorking the Past
posted by drewbage1847 at 8:58 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ancient beer, previously.
posted by exogenous at 9:03 AM on June 26, 2011


I just want to say, "Yay Science!"
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:03 AM on June 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Mmm... beer. I've said it before: yeast is man's best friend. I have no trouble believing beer came before civilization. Makes perfect sense. Without beer, civilization would be pointless.

Dogfish Head, as portrayed in this Brewmaster episode, actually had many members of its staff chew and spit to recreate a beer from an ancient recipe similar to what is described in the Independent article. And yeah, Midas Touch is yummy. I would love to live near such a brewery.
posted by fartknocker at 9:04 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Everytime I read something in The Smithsonian, I find something about which to post and someone always beats me to it ;-)
posted by PapaLobo at 9:32 AM on June 26, 2011


I would love to live in such a brewery.
posted by Splunge at 10:58 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


The main article is from 2001. It refers to Michael Jackson (the beer guy) in the present tense. Made me a little sad.
posted by notsnot at 11:10 AM on June 26, 2011


For the life of me I can never manage to get my hands on the mythical Dogfish 120. I hear great things about it; I wonder if it is the El Dorado of beer.
posted by Renoroc at 11:13 AM on June 26, 2011


I actually think the World Wide Stout mentioned above is the better of their extreme beers.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:15 AM on June 26, 2011


I've had the 120 at the Downtown Bar and Grill on Court Street in Brooklyn. It's strong and expensive, but well worth it.
posted by Splunge at 11:21 AM on June 26, 2011


(oops got the looked at the tabs out of order...the second link was from 2001)
posted by notsnot at 11:23 AM on June 26, 2011


I've had the 120

Is it just me or does Sam seem like he's already had a 120 or 2 before they started to tape that video?
posted by nathancaswell at 11:28 AM on June 26, 2011


Keep a bottle in your basement for a year or two? HA!
posted by Splunge at 11:36 AM on June 26, 2011


For the life of me I can never manage to get my hands on the mythical Dogfish 120.

Well, I can't tell where you live because you haven't fleshed out your profile page, but that's a bit surprising to me. It's carried in just about all the stores in my area which have a beer selection that's, say, two tiers above the bottom. And we're basically clear across the country from the brewery, so it's not like we have a locational advantage.

Perhaps using the Fish Finder will help you locate what you're after.
posted by hippybear at 11:46 AM on June 26, 2011


For the life of me I can never manage to get my hands on the mythical Dogfish 120. I hear great things about it; I wonder if it is the El Dorado of beer.

Try using the Fish Finder. It is indeed a rare brew, but man.. it is a great one. I've had the Theobroma as well, which I highly highly recommend.

Apparently they've got the 120-min IPA on tap at the Dogfish Head beach pub in Rehoboth. I really want to plan a trip there when I get the opportunity.
posted by lemuring at 11:48 AM on June 26, 2011


For the life of me I can never manage to get my hands on the mythical Dogfish 120. I hear great things about it; I wonder if it is the El Dorado of beer.
posted by Renoroc at 11:13 AM on June 26


It's been even rarer lately because last year's batch didn't hit DFH's quality control benchmarks, so they flushed it down the drain. All of it. They've been tinkering with the recipe ever since, but they recently announced they've finished, bottled, and shipped a small batch to a few states. List here.

Also, I love Chateau Jiahu. It has that light body and crispness of rice beers with just a hint of honey and muscat in the mid and late palate to keep it interesting. Midas Touch is great, too, if you want something a bit more aggressively flavorful (it reminds me of a very, very light mead). It being summer, though, my go-to is their Festina Peche. Tart, thirst quenching, highly drinkable, and the low alcohol means I don't have to clear my schedule for awhile, unlike most DFH brews.
posted by onebadparadigm at 11:57 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


So I've had the Jiahu and really enjoyed it. I found a second bottle (over a year old now) hiding in a bookcase. Worth drinking, or is it skunked by now?

I used to really enjoy Midas Touch, but I've found the sweetness is just too much for me these days.
posted by Hactar at 12:03 PM on June 26, 2011


Assuming you kept it away from a lot of light, it might be fine. The only way to test that is to try it though.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 12:11 PM on June 26, 2011


Yeah, it's a trial and error thing. Certain beer types age well, others don't; I don't know on which side Jiahu falls. A general rule of thumb, though, is that if it's 10% ABV or higher, it can age well. Jiahu is right at 10%, so it's worth a taste.
posted by onebadparadigm at 12:26 PM on June 26, 2011


It should be fine, higher alcohol beers aren't gonna lose that much taste unless you really abuse them.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:26 PM on June 26, 2011


As an aside, I fucking hate Coors for convincing people un-coldening a beer for 5 minutes will destroy it.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:28 PM on June 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Skunking tends to happen to beer in green, blue, or clear bottles that have been exposed to sunlight (UV rays interact with hop chemicals, turning the flavors skunky). Brown bottles are harder to skunk, because the brown absorbs UV rays.

Some unpasteurized beers (which includes Dogfish Head's, I think) can get old (I think the phrase is stale) in a while because they still have yeasts (and possibly contaminant microbes (although that's unlikely at a commercial brewery that sets high standards like DFH)) doing things, but a year is probably not enough to impact it. According to Professor Google, it takes a few years for it to start getting a winey flavored. If anything, it should taste better after a year of conditioning, making the beer clearer and the body rounder.

Anyway, I say drink it. It absolutely won't make you sick, and I am 90% sure it's not skunked unless it was right next to a window. And if it were, it still might not be skunked because of the brown bottle. And if it is skunked, you can best find out by popping it open.
posted by mccarty.tim at 12:32 PM on June 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


My feeling is chill it, taste it. If you don't like it, dump it. Of course mccarty.tim is totally correct.
posted by Splunge at 1:17 PM on June 26, 2011


The Michael The: I was a paleolithic archaeologist

"this cave has not been used in centuries, our best current theory is that the gods of flame and smoke put a curse on that land, but a competing theory contends it was the gods of the hunt. Pending further research (and funding for that research) we should be able to supplicate the angry spirits and open these caverns for safe habitation"
posted by idiopath at 1:18 PM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fossil Fuels Brewing is doing another version of the ancient beer thing, using prehistoric yeast strains.
posted by TheCoug at 2:06 PM on June 26, 2011


A couple of brewers I have spoken to reckon that bottle conditioned beer will keep (and often improve) far longer than pasteurised will. Certainly with my own homebrew I am much more a fan of drinking late (often years) than early

One of the most impressive I had along those lines was George Gale & Co's Prize old Ale, which had been shipped around the world in my backpack and then drunk with a close friend years after I bought it. I almost needed a knife and fork, but in a very, very good way.
posted by deadwax at 2:02 AM on June 27, 2011


He holds a somewhat controversial belief that the lactobacillus of sourdough ferments will not be overwhelmed by local yeasts so you can get san francisco sourdough in different locations and the firm sells yeast cultures.

jadepearl, I really can't imagine what's controversial about this (outside of SF and sourdough-purchasing snobs). It's a fairly well documented process in most sourdough and wild fermentation books.

I've been studying, and recreating, pre-modern beers and ales for a few years now; only recently have brewers come around to agree that there's nothing magical about Belgian breweries; it's the microbiological population that makes the beer, and that can be sampled, stored, and recreated. But sourdough bakers never really died out the way wild fermented brewers did (except in Belgium and 3rd-world countries), so it's hardly a controversy.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:19 PM on June 27, 2011


As an aside, I fucking hate Coors for convincing people un-coldening a beer for 5 minutes will destroy it.

I understand and agree with this sentiment, but have you ever had a warm coors? It's fucking terrible.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 3:22 PM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


So is a cold Coors!
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:20 PM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


I once tried Coors. It was straight seltzer!
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:17 AM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


IAMBroom, it is controversial if you take a look at a few breadmaking sites and the ongoing discussions about local yeast culture dominance. Breadmaking and its aspects have beliefs, anecdotes and observations. I recall, when making my first sourdoughs, how I was talked out of transporting my Alaska strain by more experienced bakers. Live and learn. Ha, if you were local to me I would pester you for beer yeasts. Tacitus describes how women of the Germanic tribes leavened bread from the foam of their beer and I have been curious.
posted by jadepearl at 10:10 AM on June 28, 2011


Some unpasteurized beers (which includes Dogfish Head's, I think) can get old (I think the phrase is stale) in a while because they still have yeasts (and possibly contaminant microbes (although that's unlikely at a commercial brewery that sets high standards like DFH)) doing things

In my experience, bottle-conditioned beers (containing live yeast) are actually more likely to taste fresh than are pasteurized beers, probably due to yeast scavenging oxygen. A tiny amount of oxygen in beer will lead to nasty stale flavor.
posted by exogenous at 4:11 PM on June 29, 2011


(I think the phrase is stale)

Stale is a word, not a phrase.

/end pedantic nitpick
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:41 PM on June 29, 2011


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