The only authority for all things beer…
It’s one thing to re-create a 9,000-year-old brew. It’s another thing to drink. Dogfish has done a real nice job attempting to re-create several beers based on archeological findings (Dogfish Theobroma, Midas Touch, and Chateau Jiahu come to mind). One night a buddy brought a German beer using a pre-German Purity Law recipe, 13th Century Grut Bier. He suggested that I write a blog on old world recipes. Great idea!
When archaeologists discovered a four-thousand-year old Mesopotamian clay tablet, they were naturally curious to learn what it was all about. So a good deal of scholarly effort was put into the task of deciphering its cryptic markings. As it turns out, the ancient Mesopotamians were recording a recipe for beer. And not just any recipe, but a formula handed down from the god Enki himself.
This probably came as no surprise to the archaeologists, since the subject of beer pops up regularly in their work. Images of people brewing, storing, and drinking beer are found in ruined cities and forgotten tombs scattered throughout the ancient world. The Babylonians made sixteen kinds of beer, using everything from white and black barley to wheat and honey. Beer was extolled in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, where the varieties listed include “beer of truth” and “beer of eternity.”
Ancient Herbed beer represents beers of yore, the way beers were probably brewed throughout the Middle Ages in Continental Europe. Gruit is mainly a concoction of : sweet gale (Myrica gale), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and wild rosemary (Ledum palustre). Other herbs, spices, and berries might be used to create interesting and pleasant aroma and flavor of green- and herbal-tea. These ancient ales may be highly intoxicating and aphrodisiacal when consumed in significant quantity. Historically, it has been said to stimulate the mind, create euphoria, and enhance sexual drive.
The list can go on and on… Here are some old-world beers to try out in our modern world:
13th Century Grut Bier
4.6% ABV. This ancient herbed beer was created by Dr. Fritz Briem of Doemens Institute ( http://www.doemens.org ), brewed by Weihenstephan & Doemens. Before the German Purity Law “Reinheitsgebot” of 1516 it was common practice to use any kind of different spices, herbs, fruits and other plants to provide balance to beer. Hops was not yet well known at this time. Grut bier has roots in many cultures and each culture had its own “special ingredients”: Egyptians, Native Americans, Arabian Tribes, Gaulles, Germanic Tribes and the Vikings. This interpretation of a traditional Grut Bier is spiced with Lorbeer (Bay Leaves), Ingwer (Ginger), Kummel (Caraway), Anis (Anise), Rosemarin (Rosemarie) & Enzian (Gentian). It is brewed with water, wheat & barley malt, “pollinated wild hops” and fermented using top fermenting yeast. Poured from bottle into a tulip glass. Pours a blonde haze with a fizzy white head. Aroma is unique of some ginger, peppery notes, herbs, and spices. Taste is more sweet than spicy. The ginger comes forth but not as prominently. The herbs are there but lean heavier on the rosemary. The peppery spices seem tamed as well. Sweet malt and wheat come through towards the back end. Body is light and refreshing with the carbonation being creamier than expected. Ends with more ginger and peppery flavors, light rosemary, sweet malt and grains. Definitely a unique beer from old Germany!
9% ABV. Chile beer from Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, Delaware. Theobroma, or “food of the gods,” is brewed with Aztec cocoa powder and cocoa nibs from Askinosie Chocolate, honey, ancho chilies, and annatto. The recipe is based on chemical analysis of pottery fragments found in Honduras, which scientists claim is the earliest known alcoholic chocolate drink. Poured from a 750ml bottle into snifter glass. Pours orange-amber along a pithy blanket lined with lacy frills and shadowed by a soft haze. Aromas of cacao, ginger, apricots, sugar syrup, mangos, green bananas, ginger bread snaps, brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, lavender and lilies. Green chilies tickle the back of my nose while all of her sugar, spice, and everything nice blends together in thirst-inducing harmony. There is a steady undercurrent of honey sweetness throughout our session together which leaves bitter fruit skins in the back. I was most leery of the addition of ancho chilies in this beer because chilies and beer are not usually the most harmonious of marriages. But in Theobroma she is a gentle whisper with just enough spicy heat in the recesses to remind me of her presence. Caramel mingles with honey sweetness while gingerbread cookies and ginger snaps pepper my breath. I am intrigued by the lack of apparent ABV heat; I get more warmth from the ancho chilies than I do the 9% ABV within. The chocolate is very subtle and seems to be quite happy weaving in and out of her tropical fruits, green apples, honey and caramel sweetness than she could be as the center of attention. Medium bodied and good carbonation throughout. Overall a good beer.
Other recommended Dogfish brews to try out!
Chateau Jiahu – Inspired by a beverage found in clay posts in China around 9000 years ago. In keeping with historic evidence, Dogfish brewers used pre-gelatinized rice flakes, Wildflower honey, Muscat grapes, barley malt, hawthorn fruit, and Chrysanthemum flowers. The rice and barley malt were added together to make the mash for starch conversion and degradation. The resulting sweet wort was then run into the kettle. The honey, grapes, Hawthorn fruit, and Chrysanthemum flowers were then added. The entire mixture was boiled for 45 minutes, and then cooled. The resulting sweet liquid was pitched with a fresh culture of Sake yeast and allowed to ferment a month before the transfer into a chilled secondary tank.
Midas Touch – Midas Touch Golden Elixir is a beverage based on the residue found on the drinking vessels in King Midas’ tomb. Our recipe highlights the known ingredients of barley, white Muscat grapes, honey and saffron. Somewhere between a beer, wine and mead, this smooth, dry ale will please with Chardonnay or I.P.A. drinker alike.
Shatea – A modern update on a 9th century Finnish proto-beer. 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 coriander, cardamom, lemon grass, Indian Black Tea, and ramps leaves.
Ta Henket – Working with archeologist Dr. Pat McGovern, this beer was created to incorporate the ancient ingredients and techniques described in Egyptian hieroglyphics. It was brewed to 11.4Plato with Emmer (an ancient form of wheat) and loaves of hearth baked bread and flavored with dom-palm fruit, chamomile, and zatar. Fermentation was carried out by a native Egyptian saccharomyces yeast strain captured by Sam and a colleague during a recent trip to Egypt. ABV went from 5 to 4.5%.
In closing, you might want to try this Ancient Scottish Gruit as well:
Fraoch Heather Ale – Brewed in Scotland since 2000 B.C. heather ale is probably the oldest style of ale still produced in the world. From an ancient Gaelic recipe for “leann fraoich” (heather ale) it has been revived and reintroduced to the Scottish culture. Into the boiling bree of malted barley, sweet gale and flowering heather are added, then after cooling slightly the hot ale is poured into a vat of fresh heather flowers where it infuses for an hour before being fermented.