Who Invented Beer?

Who Invented Beer?

If you’re searching for an original brewmaster to toast the next time you knock back a cold one, you might be out of luck. It’s difficult to attribute the invention of beer to a particular culture or time period, but the world’s first fermented beverages most likely emerged alongside the development of cereal agriculture some 12,000 years ago. As hunter-gatherer tribes settled into agrarian civilizations based around staple crops like wheat, rice, barley and maize, they may have also stumbled upon the fermentation process and started brewing beer. In fact, some anthropologists have argued that these early peoples’ insatiable thirst for hooch may have contributed to the Neolithic Revolution by inspiring new agricultural technologies.

The earliest known alcoholic beverage is a 9,000-year-old Chinese concoction made from rice, honey and fruit, but the first barley beer was most likely born in the Middle East. While people were no doubt imbibing it much earlier, hard evidence of beer production dates back about 5,000 years to the Sumerians of ancient Mesopotamia. Archeologists have unearthed ceramic vessels from 3400 B.C. still sticky with beer residue, and 1800 B.C.’s “Hymn to Ninkasi”—an ode to the Sumerian goddess of beer—describes a recipe for a beloved ancient brew made by female priestesses. These nutrient-rich suds were a cornerstone of the Sumerian diet, and were likely a safer alternative to drinking water from nearby rivers and canals, which were often contaminated by animal waste.

Beer consumption also flourished under the Babylonian Empire, but few ancient cultures loved knocking back a few as much as the Egyptians. Workers along the Nile were often paid with an allotment of a nutritious, sweet brew, and everyone from pharaohs to peasants and even children drank beer as part of their everyday diet. Many of these ancient beers were flavored with unusual additives such as mandrake, dates and olive oil. More modern-tasting libations would not arrive until the Middle Ages, when Christian monks and other artisans began brewing beers seasoned with hops.


Who Were the First People to Brew Beer?

In a small room at the heart of a brewery, two women grind flour. Other workers turn the flour into dough, which is then stamped into mash. The mash goes into tall crocks to ferment. Once the fermentation is complete, the concoction is poured from the crocks into round jugs with clay stoppers. Beer is born.

While this beer-making method may sound like a modern-day small-batch craft beer at its finest, it's actually a recreation of an ancient brewery in Egypt. The model, containing in the wooden figurines, dates from around 1975 B.C.E and was recovered from the tomb of a high administrator named Meketre [source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art].

Beer was a big part of life in Mesopotamia, but historians believe that the Egyptians learned the craft from an even older race. The first-known brewers in the region were likely the Sumerians, Babylonians and Assyrians who lived to the east of Egypt (modern-day Iraq). But the Egyptians were the ones who documented their brewing techniques for the world to later discover. Beer was both an everyday drink and one for special occasions. Beer even appeared in the Egyptian afterlife, when the goddess Hathor accompanied the dead on their journey to the great beyond and provided a crock of beer for reunited lovers. Beer became so popular that it was taxed, used as a symbol of social power and preserved in the tombs of the wealthy [source: Dornbusch].

Credit for one of the first-ever beers goes to the ancient Chinese. A recipe dated to 7000 B.C.E. called for water, rice, honey, grape and hawthorn fruits, and probably discovered as a byproduct of yeast fermentation in preparation for bread making. An archeologist partnered with a brewer to recreate the 9,000-year-old Chinese beer, mashing a mold cake into rice, watching it ferment, and then adding the other ingredients as it brewed over high heat. To meet U.S. federal brewing regulations, the brewer added barley malt as well. In the end, the drink tasted and looked much like Belgian-style ale, with a brilliant color and fruity notes [source: Roach].

The identity of the world's first brew master will likely remain a mystery. However, it's long been thought that even earlier civilizations -- like the hunter-gatherer tribes who first developed an agrarian lifestyle about 12,000 years ago -- may have been the first accidental brewers. As they planted, harvested and stored wheat, rice, barley and corn, it's almost certain that moisture and heat caused a few batches to ferment. This created a liquid that must have been a lot like beer [source: History]. It's something to consider the next time you pop open your favorite brew: Here's to the Neolithic brewer.


Ale in the UK

In the medieval United Kingdom, beer was consumed daily by all social classes. It was easy to make and tasted better than the putrid drinking water available at that time.

Lots of people think ale consumption was higher than that of water! But that&rsquos not true.

Another common misconception is that medieval people consumed beer instead of water because it was cleaner. It was cleaner, but people didn't know that, as they hadn&rsquot discovered germs yet, so they had no clue.

Most of the beer in the middle ages was brewed locally by women. They brewed it in their homes for domestic consumption and small scale sales within the community. Brewsters (as they were called) generated a significant amount of additional income for their households.


The First Beer Can

Still, in the early development stages, the beer can soon found a roadblock. Prohibition had put a halt on any hopes of selling beer, no matter how well packaged and the project was shelved. In the late 1920s Pabst and Anheuser-Busch, sensing the eventual end to Prohibition, asked American Can to start working on the beer can again.

By the early 1930s, American Can had developed a can strong enough to withstand the pressures of packaged beer. They had also finally solved the problem of lining the can by using a moldable plastic called Vinylite. Initial tests with Pabst beer were positive, but the big brewers wouldn’t commit until the can had been tested in a real market.


The pale ales of the early 18th century were lightly hopped and quite different from today's pale ales. [6] By the mid-18th century, pale ale was mostly brewed with coke-fired malt, which produced less smoking and roasting of barley in the malting process, and hence produced a paler beer. [7] [8] One such variety of beer was October beer, a pale well-hopped brew popular among the landed gentry, who brewed it domestically once brewed it was intended to cellar two years. [9]

Among the first brewers known to export beer to India was George Hodgson's Bow Brewery, [10] on the Middlesex-Essex border. Its beers became popular among East India Company traders' provisions in the late 18th century: for being two miles up the Lea from the East India Docks [a] and Hodgson's liberal credit line of 18 months. Ships exported this beer to India, among them his October beer, which benefited exceptionally from conditions of the voyage and was apparently highly regarded among its consumers in India. [12] The brewery came into the control of Hodgson's son early in the next century, [b] but his business practices alienated customers. [ citation needed ] During the same period, several Burton breweries lost their European export market in Europe, Scandinavia and Russia when the Napoleonic blockade was imposed, and Burton brewers were seeking a new export market for their beer. [11]

At the behest of the East India Company, Allsopp's brewery developed a strongly-hopped pale ale in the style of Hodgson's for export to India. [13] [14] Other Burton brewers, including Bass and Salt quickly followed Allsopp's lead. Perhaps as a result of the advantages of Burton water in brewing, [c] Burton India pale ale was preferred by merchants and their customers in India, but Hodgson's October beer clearly influenced the Burton brewers' India pale ales.

London East End brewer Charrington's trial shipments of hogsheads of "India Ale" to Madras and Calcutta in 1827 proved successful and a regular trade emerged with the key British agents and retailers: Griffiths & Co in Madras Adam, Skinner and Co. in Bombay and Bruce, Allen & Co. in Calcutta. [15]

Early IPAs, like those mentioned above, were only slightly higher in alcohol than most of the other beers brewed in their day and would not have been considered strong ales however, more of the wort ( / ˈ w ɜːr t / ) was well-fermented, meaning few residual sugars, and the beer was strongly hopped. [16] The common story that early IPAs were much stronger than other beers of the time, however, is a myth. [17] While IPAs were formulated to survive long voyages by sea better than other styles of the time, porter was also shipped to India and California successfully. [18]

It is clear that by the 1860s, India pale ales were widely brewed in England, and that they were much more attenuated and highly hopped than porters and many other ales. [19]

Demand for the export style of pale ale, which had become known as "India pale ale", developed in England around 1840 and India pale ale became a popular product in England. [4] [5] In 1837, Hodgson's IPA typically cost 6/6 (£0.325) for a dozen pint bottles, the same as Guinness Double Stout, 53% more than the 4/3 (£0.2125) a dozen for those of porter. [20] Some brewers dropped the term "India" in the late 19th century, but records indicated that these "pale ales" retained the features of earlier IPAs. [21] American, Australian, and Canadian brewers manufactured beer with the label IPA before 1900, and records suggest that these beers were similar to English IPA of the era. [22] [23]

IPA style beers started being exported to other colonial countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, around this time with many breweries dropping the 'I' in 'IPA' and simply calling them Pale Ales or Export Pales. Kirkstall Brewery and many competitors sent much export beer across the world by steam ship to auction off to wholesalers upon arrival.

India Pale Ale, or IPA, was well known as early as 1815 [3] but gained popularity in the British domestic market sometime before then. [3] [24] By World War I, IPA in Britain had diverged into two styles, the premium bottled IPAs of around 1.065 specific gravity and cask-conditioned draught IPAs which were among the weakest beers on the bar. For instance Bass was 1.065 OG and 6.4% ABV, but in 1912 Whitbread's draught IPA was 1.049 and less than 5% ABV, at a time when the average British beer was 1.055. [25] Like all British beers, their strength declined during World War I and by 1923 Bass was 1.055 [26] and Whitbread IPA was a bottled beer of 1.036 and 3.7% (compared to their standard X Mild at 1.042 and their draught bitter at 1.042). [27] Greene King IPA (3.7%) and Charles Wells Eagle IPA (3.6%) are examples of IPAs in this tradition.

Worthington's White Shield is an example of a historic India Pale Ale, first brewed in 1829 principally for export to the British Empire. By the 1960s White Shield had become a cult drink brewed in small quantities for a dedicated following, but it found renewed popularity in the early 1970s when the demand for real ale grew in the UK. [28] [29]

The revival of IPA in modern times dates to a seminar on Burton pale ales organised by publican Mark Dorber at his pub, the White Horse, Parson's Green, in 1990. That led to a pale ale festival in 1992 and an IPA festival in 1993, for which Bass brewed a 7.2% beer inspired by Bass Continental, originally brewed for the Belgian market before World War II and based on Bass recipes going back to the 1850s. [30] Dorber and Roger Protz then organised an IPA conference in 1994 at Whitbread's brewery in London, attended by brewers from both sides of the Atlantic. [31] The influence of this meeting persists, for instance Brooklyn Brewery's East India IPA is based on the beer that Garrett Oliver took there. [31]

In the 21st century, US-influenced IPA is one of the most popular beer styles in the UK. [32] In 2019, Brewdog's Punk IPA was the country's best selling craft beer in the on-trade [33] and Swannay's Muckle IPA won overall craft keg gold in SIBA's Independent Beer Awards. [34]

In the late 20th century, during the craft beer revolution in the United States, brewers began seeking out old beer styles that had fallen out of vogue Ballantine IPA, which had been made in the U.S. since 1890 until the 1990s, proved inspirational. [2] The traditional IPA style was well-suited to model the intense flavour and aroma of American hops. [2] Bert Grant of Yakima Brewing and Malting identified that Cascade and Chinook hops, grown locally in Yakima, Washington, provided strong flavours when showcased in an IPA. [35] [2] The boom in popularity for IPA as a style spread down the west coast of the United States, then across the United States and eventually the world. [2]

As the Oxford Companion to Beer notes: "IPA is now the signature of craft brewers worldwide. Fittingly for an export beer, brewers from Australia to Scandinavia are creating new beers, mostly inspired by the American take on the style, but often adding a regional twist of their own." [2]

Black IPA Edit

Black IPA (also known as Cascadian Dark Ale (CDA) or American Black Ale), is not pale in colour. Black IPAs share the bitter hoppy flavours of their IPA cousins however, the use of roasted malts gives them a much darker malty flavour. Greg Noonan of Vermont Pub & Brewery created the first black IPA for sale on draught only in the pub in the early 1990s, but it didn't become popular in the United States until 2009. [36]

Brut IPA Edit

A crisp, dry IPA, the Brut IPA was invented by Kim Sturdavant, head brewer at San Francisco's Social Kitchen and Brewery. [37] [38] To make a brut IPA, brewers add the enzyme amyloglucosidase to remove sugars.

Double IPA Edit

Double IPAs (also referred to as Imperial IPAs) are a stronger, very hoppy variant of IPAs that typically have alcohol content above 7.5% by volume. [39] The style is claimed to have originated with Vinnie Cilurzo, currently the owner of Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, California, in 1994 at the now-defunct Blind Pig Brewery in Temecula, California. [40]

New England IPA Edit

New England IPAs (also referred to as Hazy IPA or Juicy IPA) are a style of IPA invented by The Alchemist's John Kimmich with his beer, Heady Topper. [41] They are characterized by juicy citrus and floral flavours, with an emphasis on hop aroma with lower bitterness. They also have a smooth consistency or mouthfeel, and a hazy appearance. These characteristics are achieved using a combination of brewing techniques, including the use of particular strains of yeast, the timing of adding the hops, and adjusting the chemistry of the water. [42] [43] [44] [45] While the style has become popular among New England brewers, New England IPAs do not necessarily need to be brewed in New England. [46] It was officially recognized as a separate beer style, the Juicy or Hazy India Pale Ale, by the Brewers Association in 2018. [47] [48] A variation on the style is the milkshake IPA, which adds lactose to make a New England IPA more creamy. [49]

Triple IPA Edit

Triple IPAs are characterized by higher hop flavours and higher alcohol content, with alcohol content usually over 10% ABV. The style is personified by Russian River Brewing Company's Pliny the Younger. [50]

West Coast IPA Edit

West Coast IPAs are known for being low in malt content, very clear, and dry with a focus on the hops. [50]


Who Invented Beer? - HISTORY

Bob Brewer looks at the history and evolution of lager, the most popular beer style on the planet.

Many of us who inhabit the craft corner of today’s American brewing industry, myself included, have at times tended to dismiss the vastly greater and hugely popular pale lager style of beer. As of early 2014, the craft segment as a whole is somewhat less than 10% of the total U.S. beer market by volume. This number varies depending on the definition of “craft,” which is continuing to evolve, but more to the point, craft beer is a small but rapidly expanding percentage of the total. Craft is growing by approximately 20% each year, with some breweries posting 50% or greater increases.

Source: Brewers Association

With this rate of growth, many small breweries are now looking beyond the old concept of making all ales and are beginning to embrace lagers as a method of sustaining their growth. Why the change? Well, it’s because lager is the most popular beer on the planet.

Source: German Beer Institute

Lager beers originated in Northern Europe, in what is now Germany and Austria. Historically, all beers were fermented with one particular strain of yeast – with a few variations. This yeast, Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, has been used in beer fermenting for literally thousands of years. Sometimes referred to as a “top-fermenting” yeast, Cerevisiae ferments warm and relatively quickly, produces an estery quality to the beer, and creates what we refer to as “ale”.

Lager beers are fermented with a different – although closely related – yeast. This yeast strain, Saccharomyces Pastorianus, works at a much slower rate at cooler temperatures, and is referred to as a “bottom-fermenting.” Cool fermentation in caves and cellars dates back to the middle ages. During that period, beer could only be brewed in the cooler months of the year, typically September through May, and was fermented and stored in as cool an environment as could be found. The old train of thought was that Cerevisiae gradually evolved into Pastorianus over the centuries as it adapted to this environment. In any event, sometime in 1500s, German brewers had a new yeast to work with that was ideally suited to cool fermentation and aging.

But where did this new yeast really come from? The concept of slow mutation didn’t quite work because the strain made a relatively sudden appearance. It had been known that Cerevisiae was one parent strain of Pastorianus, but what was the other one? No one was really sure – until recently, that is. A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America on August 22, 2011 identifies the other parent strain of Pastorianus as Saccharomyces Eubayanus. Eubayanus is native to, of all places, the Patagonia region of Argentina.

There have been studies of the history of the “Columbian Exchange,” whereby Europeans brought disease, religion, slavery, alcohol, and colonialism to the new world in exchange for treasure, tobacco, cocaine, maize, and potatoes, among other things. The timeline for Eubaynus to hitch a ride back across the Atlantic in the mid 1500s to get friendly with Cerevasiae fits, and as with other exchanges, the Europeans got the better part of the bargain.

Source: utexas.edu

Gabriel Sedlmayr of Spaten Brewery. Source: munichbeergardens.com.

Moving right along here, we find that by the mid-19th century the early versions of lager in Germany were gradually evolving from primarily dark beers to paler brews, although dark lagers survive to this day. Two brewers of the era, Gabriel Sedlmayr of Spaten Brewery in Munich, Germany and his pal Anton Dreher of Austria, are widely credited with starting the shift to pale lagers in Europe. During that period there was also a major migration of Germans and other Northern Europeans to America.

It should be noted here that Germanic emigrants as a whole were arguably the most successful ethnic group in America at that time. They established cities, schools, industries, and maintained much of their cultural roots for generations, and among their industries and culture was, of course, beer and brewing.

Even the most casual perusal of brewing history in America turns up German names at every glance – many of them still familiar today. And not just America. The German diaspora of the 19th century, of which my ancestors were a part, also took brewing to Mexico, South America, and even China. And what were they brewing? Lager.

The history of Anchor Brewing Company is the story of German emigrants and lager beer. In 1871, which is almost as far back as we can trace our company’s origins, a German immigrant named Gottlieb Brekle bought an old saloon in San Francisco and began brewing there. In 1896 that brewery was acquired by two other Germans, Ernst Baruth and his son-in-law Otto Schinkel, and was re-named “Anchor.”

Being an organized and industrious lot, Germans built major industries. They organized cold transportation for their products, modernized their production techniques, and developed the first practical mechanical refrigeration plants – all for lager. Refrigeration was the big one here. It made year-round brewing a practical reality. Ice production made cold rail transport possible in an age preceding refrigerated rail cars. Lager from the large breweries in the Midwest could be shipped to the South. West coast breweries shipped east. Lager was the beer of the day.

An early refrigerator car design. Hatches in the roof provided access to the ice tanks at each end. Source: wikipedia.org.

The availability of transportation brought about a homogenization of styles as regional breweries were able to compete outside of their home markets. Smaller regional breweries still had a bit of local loyalty, but the beer was mostly all the same. When prohibition came about it actually benefitted the larger breweries in the end, partly because they were better able to wait it out with their size and resources, allowing them to diversify. The small regionals didn’t fare as well.

WWII sealed the deal for lager brewery operations. Young men from all over the country were thrown together and drank whatever was available, wherever they were sent, and in virtually all locales, that meant pale American lager. There were still a few dark beers around, but with the prevailing anti-German sentiments of the day, they were not popular.

Source: formerdays.com.

The post-war rise of broadcast media and national advertising, particularly when associated with the airing of sports, expanded the reach of the largest breweries and led to the first truly national beer brands – all pale lagers.

Remember those Germans who went elsewhere? Their descendants are still there making lager. We all know that Latin America saw a surge of Germans and Austrians coming over in the late 40’s and early 50’s. They, too, were lager drinkers. Today, the greater part of brewing tradition in all of Latin America comes from Germans. They import German brewmasters. Likewise in Asia. Even the former British colonies around the world have adopted lager and German-style brewing.

So, where does this get us? The short answer is that by 1970, about 100 years after German brewers conquered the American beer palate, the entire world was drinking some sort of pale lager. Okay, there were a few exceptions, notably Britain and Belgium and Irish stout, but for the greater part it was the whole world. When I first visited England in 1987, I expected to find a culture of traditional ale drinkers because I had been brainwashed into thinking (quite wrongly so, and by visiting Brits) that American lager was piss and everything beer-wise in Britain was vastly superior. What I found instead was a nation of mostly lager drinkers with a few traditionalists and a shrill and highly vocal small minority of consumers who sat around and bemoaned the demise of warm, flat, possibly infected “real ale.” To be fair, their organization, CAMRA – or “Campaign for Real Ale” – was a successful preservationist movement that inspired the first generation of American microbrewers, but that’s another subject.

The fact was that in 1987 the bulk of the beer being consumed in England was lager. When I went to Belgium a few years later to experience what I had been assured was absolute beer Nirvana, I was similarly disappointed. The Belgians, at least, had all of their wonderful beers readily available in bottles wherever I went. They didn’t cry about the loss of tradition, but they were still mostly drinking lagers like Stella, Palm, or Jupiler. At least they were using fancy glassware. The French were drinking mostly Belgian-brewed lager. My visit to Europe last year bore out my earlier impressions, but with a bit of hope for variety shone by a small but noticeable interest in American craft beer.

Circling back to the beginning of my ramblings here, the craft beer segment is growing at a blistering pace. American craft is a big success story, born out of a sort of rebellion against the mega-breweries and their products that is still evolving. The first craft breweries had a hard time getting the word out. I know, I was there and it wasn’t easy to bring people around. That’s all changed now, but there is still major competition for the craft consumer’s loyalties, and the reality is that it’s a big leap from light beer to IPA. Too big a leap for most. With the exception of Anchor Steam Beer, the vast majority of craft beers being brewed today are ales, many of them so hop-forward that they can be a real challenge for all but few consumers.

Ale is much easier to produce than lager in that it takes a lot less time. Time is money after all. Ale can also be quite forgiving in other ways since the traditionally stronger flavors and higher hop rates can mask otherwise heavy-handed brewing. Lager brewing takes a lighter touch, more time, and more attention to detail throughout the entire process, which can be difficult for smaller breweries that are set up to be ale-specific. While ales definitely have their place, lager is becoming an increasingly more important part of the craft lineup, positioned as a style that can attract a greater number of consumers, which allows smaller brewers to better compete with mega-breweries.

Here at Anchor Brewing Company, we have been brewing craft lager all along. As mentioned, Anchor Steam Beer is a lager. It is, however produced using an historical method of open fermentation that was pioneered during the California gold rush, and continued by us today as part of our brewing tradition.

A brew of Anchor Steam Beer in an open fermenter.

We brew several classic ales as well, and in keeping with our historical roots, we continue to research classical brewing styles. In that spirit we produced a lager beer that was inspired by the very first German-style lager brewery in California. Originally a limited release as the first beer in our Zymaster series, Anchor California Lager proved to be so popular that it became part of our full-time line up in February of 2013. Within a year it had become one of our best sellers behind our flagship Anchor Steam Beer. After all, lager is the most popular beer on the planet.

Readers Comments (3)

Interesting article since from my perspective I never liked beer, which for me meant mega brand lagers, until I moved to San Francisco from the East Coast 12 years ago. Around that time, I should mention I was 40 y.o., a friend said try this, it’s called “steam” beer: one sip and I was hooked! Didn’t realize it was lager till later but, what the hey, that was the beginning of my adventure with craft brews, including trying my hand at the craft. Suffice to say that I went through the super hopped ales phase and to my very own surprise recently decided I needed break. Well wouldn’t you know my favorite brew retailer had your California Lager on hand in those eye catching red cans. Well, to come full circle: one sip and I was, that is, am hooked on (craft) lagers!

Thanks for the informative article and great brews!

Great piece. Thank you for carrying the tradition of making superb craft beer.


The Beer Archaeologist

It’s just after dawn at the Dogfish Head brewpub in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, where the ambition for the morning is to resurrect an Egyptian ale whose recipe dates back thousands of years.

From This Story

Video: Inside Dogfish Head Brewery

A brief history of happy hour: a 19th-century Japanese geisha holds sake. (Keisai Eisen, Victoria and Albert Museum, London / Art Resource, NY) A Dutch tapestry depicts a wine harvest c. A.D. 1500. (Musee National du Moyen Age - Thermes de Cluny, Paris / Réunion de Musées Nationaux / Art Resource, NY) In a first-century fresco, Romans enjoy libations, presumably wine. (Iberfoto / The Image Works) In ancient Egypt, pyramid workers received a daily ration of beer. (AKG-Images) Ancient cultures used an array of ingredients to make their alcoholic beverages, including emmer wheat, wild yeast, chamomile, thyme and oregano. (Landon Nordeman) Archaeologist Patrick McGovern—better known to his brewery buddies as "Dr. Pat"—scours fragments of old vessels for residues that allow him to reverse-engineer ancient beverages. He discovered the world's oldest-known booze, a Neolithic grog brewed in China some 9,000 years ago. (Landon Nordeman) Sam Calagione, the founder of the Dogfish Head brewpub in Delaware, uses McGovern's recipes to recreate and market beverages once enjoyed by kings and pharaohs. Part alchemist, part brewmaster, Calagione travels the world searching for rare ingredients, such as yeast gathered from an Egyptian date farm. (Landon Nordeman) Vintage science: Bowls recovered from King Midas' 700 B.C. tomb. (University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Gordion Archive) The discovery of the King Midas bowls led to the creation of Midas Touch beer. (Landon Nordeman) Vessels like those found near the head of a skeleton buried 9,000 years ago in China inspired Chateau Jiahu. (Juzhong Zhang and Zhiqing Zhang / Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology of Henan Province, Zhengzhou, China) Chateau Jiahu is a blend of wild grapes, hawthorn, rice and honey. (Landon Nordeman) A King Tut exhibit in New York City was the venue for unveiling Dogfish Head's latest brew, Ta Henket, ancient Egyptian for "bread beer." It was the fifth collaboration between Calagione and McGovern. "He's one of us," Calagione says of the archaeologist. "He's a beer guy." (Landon Nordeman)

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But will the za’atar—a potent Middle Eastern spice mixture redolent of oregano—clobber the soft, floral flavor of the chamomile? And what about the dried doum-palm fruit, which has been giving off a worrisome fungusy scent ever since it was dropped in a brandy snifter of hot water and sampled as a tea?

“I want Dr. Pat to try this,” says Sam Calagione, Dogfish Head’s founder, frowning into his glass.

At last, Patrick McGovern, a 66-year-old archaeologist, wanders into the little pub, an oddity among the hip young brewers in their sweat shirts and flannel. Proper to the point of primness, the University of Pennsylvania adjunct professor sports a crisp polo shirt, pressed khakis and well-tended loafers his wire spectacles peek out from a blizzard of white hair and beard. But Calagione, grinning broadly, greets the dignified visitor like a treasured drinking buddy. Which, in a sense, he is.

The truest alcohol enthusiasts will try almost anything to conjure the libations of old. They’ll slaughter goats to fashion fresh wineskins, so the vintage takes on an authentically gamey taste. They’ll brew beer in dung-tempered pottery or boil it by dropping in hot rocks. The Anchor Steam Brewery, in San Francisco, once cribbed ingredients from a 4,000-year-old hymn to Ninkasi, the Sumerian beer goddess.

“Dr. Pat,” as he’s known at Dogfish Head, is the world’s foremost expert on ancient fermented beverages, and he cracks long-forgotten recipes with chemistry, scouring ancient kegs and bottles for residue samples to scrutinize in the lab. He has identified the world’s oldest known barley beer (from Iran’s Zagros Mountains, dating to 3400 B.C.), the oldest grape wine (also from the Zagros, circa 5400 B.C.) and the earliest known booze of any kind, a Neolithic grog from China’s Yellow River Valley brewed some 9,000 years ago.

Widely published in academic journals and books, McGovern’s research has shed light on agriculture, medicine and trade routes during the pre-biblical era. But—and here’s where Calagione’s grin comes in—it’s also inspired a couple of Dogfish Head’s offerings, including Midas Touch, a beer based on decrepit refreshments recovered from King Midas’ 700 B.C. tomb, which has received more medals than any other Dogfish creation.

“It’s called experimental archaeology,” McGovern explains.

To devise this latest Egyptian drink, the archaeologist and the brewer toured acres of spice stalls at the Khan el-Khalili, Cairo’s oldest and largest market, handpicking ingredients amid the squawks of soon-to-be decapitated chickens and under the surveillance of cameras for “Brew Masters,” a Discovery Channel reality show about Calagione’s business.

The ancients were liable to spike their drinks with all sorts of unpredictable stuff—olive oil, bog myrtle, cheese, meadow­sweet, mugwort, carrot, not to mention hallucinogens like hemp and poppy. But Calagione and McGovern based their Egyptian selections on the archaeologist’s work with the tomb of the Pharaoh Scorpion I, where a curious combination of savory, thyme and coriander showed up in the residues of libations interred with the monarch in 3150 B.C. (They decided the za’atar spice medley, which frequently includes all those herbs, plus oregano and several others, was a current-day substitute.) Other guidelines came from the even more ancient Wadi Kubbaniya, an 18,000-year-old site in Upper Egypt where starch-dusted stones, probably used for grinding sorghum or bulrush, were found with the remains of doum-palm fruit and chamomile. It’s difficult to confirm, but “it’s very likely they were making beer there,” McGovern says.

The brewers also went so far as to harvest a local yeast, which might be descended from ancient varieties (many commercial beers are made with manufactured cultures). They left sugar-filled petri dishes out overnight at a remote Egyptian date farm, to capture wild airborne yeast cells, then mailed the samples to a Belgian lab, where the organisms were isolated and grown in large quantities.

Back at Dogfish Head, the tea of ingredients now inexplicably smacks of pineapple. McGovern advises the brewers to use less za’atar they comply. The spices are dumped into a stainless steel kettle to stew with barley sugars and hops. McGovern acknowledges that the heat source should technically be wood or dried dung, not gas, but he notes approvingly that the kettle’s base is insulated with bricks, a suitably ancient technique.

As the beer boils during lunch break, McGovern sidles up to the brewery’s well-appointed bar and pours a tall, frosty Midas Touch for himself, spurning the Cokes nursed by the other brewers. He’s fond of citing the role of beer in ancient workplaces. “For the pyramids, each worker got a daily ration of four to five liters,” he says loudly, perhaps for Calagione’s benefit. “It was a source of nutrition, refreshment and reward for all the hard work. It was beer for pay. You would have had a rebellion on your hands if they’d run out. The pyramids might not have been built if there hadn’t been enough beer.”

Soon the little brew room is filled with fragrant roiling steam, with hints of toast and molasses—an aroma that can only be described as intoxicating. The wort, or unfermented beer, emerges a pretty palomino color the brewers add flasks of the yellowish, murky-looking Egyptian yeast and fermentation begins.

They plan on making just seven kegs of the experimental beverage, to be unveiled in New York City two weeks later. The brewers are concerned because the beer will need that much time to age and nobody will be able to taste it in advance.

McGovern, though, is thinking on another time scale entirely. “This probably hasn’t been smelled for 18,000 years,” he sighs, inhaling the delicious air.

The shelves of McGovern’s office in the University of Pennsylvania Museum are packed with sober-sounding volumes—Structural Inorganic Chemistry, Cattle-Keepers of the Eastern Sahara—along with bits of bacchanalia. There are replicas of ancient bronze drinking vessels, stoppered flasks of Chinese rice wine and an old empty Midas Touch bottle with a bit of amber goo in the bottom that might intrigue archaeologists thousands of years hence. There’s also a wreath that his wife, Doris, a retired university administrator, wove from wild Pennsylvania grape vines and the corks of favorite bottles. But while McGovern will occasionally toast a promising excavation with a splash of white wine sipped from a lab beaker, the only suggestion of personal vice is a stack of chocolate Jell-O pudding cups.

The scientific director of the university’s Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health, McGovern had had an eventful fall. Along with touring Egypt with Calagione, he traveled to Austria for a conference on Iranian wine and also to France, where he attended a wine conference in Burgundy, toured a trio of Champagne houses, drank Chablis in Chablis and stopped by a critical excavation near the southern coast.

Yet even strolling the halls with McGovern can be an education. Another professor stops him to discuss, at length, the folly of extracting woolly mammoth fats from permafrost. Then we run into Alexei Vranich, an expert on pre-Columbian Peru, who complains that the last time he drank chicha (a traditional Peruvian beer made with corn that has been chewed and spit out), the accompanying meal of roast guinea pigs was egregiously undercooked. “You want guinea pigs crunchy, like bacon,” Vranich says. He and McGovern talk chicha for a while. “Thank you so much for your research,” Vranich says as he departs. “I keep telling people that beer is more important than armies when it comes to understanding people.”

We are making our way down to the human ecology lab, where McGovern’s technicians are borrowing some equipment. McGovern has innumerable collaborators, partly because his work is so engaging, and partly because he is able to repay kindnesses with bottles of Midas Touch, whose Iron Age-era recipe of muscat grapes, saffron, barley and honey is said to be reminiscent of Sauternes, the glorious French dessert wine.

In the lab, a flask of coffee-colored liquid bubbles on a hot plate. It contains tiny fragments from an ancient Etruscan amphora found at the French dig McGovern had just visited. The ceramic powder, which had been painstakingly extracted from the amphora’s base with a diamond drill, is boiling in a chloroform and methanol solvent meant to pull out ancient organic compounds that might have soaked into the pottery. McGovern is hoping to determine whether the amphora once contained wine, which would point to how the beverage arrived in France in the first place—a rather ticklish topic.

“We think of France as sort of synonymous with wine,” McGovern says. “The French spent so much time developing all these different varietals, and those plants were taken all over the world and became the basis of the Australian industry, the Californian industry and so forth. France is a key to the whole worldwide culture of wine, but how did wine get to France? That’s the question.”

Francophiles might not like the answer. Today wine is so integral to French culture that French archaeologists include the cost of cases in their excavation budgets. McGovern, however, suspects that wine was being produced in Etruria—present-day central Italy—well before the first French vineyards were planted on the Mediterranean coast. Until Etruscan merchants began exporting wine to what is now France around 600 B.C., the Gauls were likely guzzling what their epicurean descendants would consider a barbaric blend of honey or wheat, filtered through reeds or mustaches.

McGovern’s Etruscan amphora was excavated from a house in Lattes, France, which was built around 525 B.C. and destroyed in 475 B.C. If the French were still drinking Etruscan vintages at that point, it would suggest they had not established their own wineries yet. The trick is proving that the amphora contained wine.

McGovern can’t simply look for the presence of alcohol, which survives barely a few months, let alone millennia, before evaporating or turning to vinegar. Instead, he pursues what are known as fingerprint compounds. For instance, traces of beeswax hydrocarbons indicate honeyed drinks calcium oxalate, a bitter, whitish byproduct of brewed barley also known as beer stone, means barley beer.

Tree resin is a strong but not surefire indicator of wine, because vintners of old often added resin as a preservative, lending the beverage a pleasing lemony flavor. (McGovern would like to test the Lattes samples for resin from a cypress-like tree its presence would suggest the Etruscans were in contact with Phoenician colonies in Northern Africa, where that species grows.) The only foolproof way to identify ancient wine from this region is the presence of tartaric acid, a compound in grapes.

Once the boiling brown pottery mixture cooks down to a powder, says Gretchen Hall, a researcher collaborating with McGovern, they’ll run the sample through an infrared spectrometer. That will produce a distinctive visual pattern based on how its multiple chemical constituents absorb and reflect light. They’ll compare the results against the profile for tartaric acid. If there’s a match or a near-match, they may do other preliminary checks, like the Feigl spot test, in which the sample is mixed with sulfuric acid and a phenol derivative: if the resulting compound glows green under ultraviolet light, it most likely contains tartaric acid. So far, the French samples look promising.

McGovern already sent some material to Armen Mirzoian, a scientist at the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, whose primary job is verifying the contents of alcoholic beverages—that, say, the gold flakes in the Italian-made Goldschlager schnapps are really gold. (They are.) His Beltsville, Maryland, lab is crowded with oddities such as a confiscated bottle of a distilled South Asian rice drink full of preserved cobras and vodka packaged in a container that looks like a set of Russian nesting dolls. He treats McGovern’s samples with reverence, handling the dusty box like a prized Bordeaux. “It’s almost eerie,” he whispers, fingering the bagged sherds inside. “Some of these are 5,000, 6,000 years old.”

Months later, McGovern e-mails me with good news: Mirzoian has detected tartaric acid in the Lattes samples from France, making it all but certain they contained imported Etrus­can wine. Also, the project’s archaeologists have unearthed a limestone treading vat from 400 B.C.—what would seem to be the earliest French wine press, just about 100 years younger than the Etruscan amphora. Between the two sets of artifacts, McGovern hopes to pinpoint the advent of French wine.

“We still need to know more about the other additives,” he says, “but so far we have excellent evidence.”

McGovern’s Irish ancestors opened the first bar in Mitchell, South Dakota, in the late 1800s. His Norwegian predecessors were teetotalers. McGovern credits his relationship with alcohol to this mixed lineage—his interest is avid, not obsessive. In his student days at Cornell University and elsewhere, when McGovern dabbled in everything from neurochemistry to ancient literature, he knew little about alcohol. It was the late 1960s and early 1970s other mind-altering substances were in vogue the California wine revolution had barely begun and Americans were still knocking back all manner of swill.

One summer, during which McGovern was “partly in grad school,” he says with the vagueness frequently reserved for the 󈨊s, he and Doris toured the Middle East and Europe, living on a few dollars a day. En route to Jerusalem, they found themselves wandering Germany’s Mosel wine region, asking small-town mayors if local vintners needed seasonal pickers. One winemaker, whose arbors dotted the steep slate slopes above the Moselle River, took them on, letting them board in his house.

The first night there, the man of the house kept returning from his cellar with bottle after bottle, McGovern recalls, “but he wouldn’t ever show us what year it was. Of course, we didn’t know anything about vintage, because we had never really drunk that much wine, and we were from the United States. But he kept bringing up bottle after bottle without telling us, and by the end of the evening, when we were totally drunk—the worst I’ve ever been, my head going around in circles, lying on the bed feeling like I’m in a vortex—I knew that 1969 was terrible, 󈨇 was good, 󈧿 was superb.”

McGovern arose the next morning with a seething hangover and an enduring fascination with wine.

Earning his PhD in Near Eastern archaeology and history from the University of Pennsylvania, he ended up directing a dig in Jordan’s Baq’ah Valley for more than 20 years, and became an expert on Bronze and Iron Age pendants and pottery. (He admits he was once guilty of scrubbing ancient vessels clean of all their gunk.) By the 1980s, he had developed an interest in the study of organic materials—his undergraduate degree was in chemistry—including jars containing royal purple, a once-priceless ancient dye the Phoenicians extracted from sea snail glands. The tools of molecular archaeology were swiftly developing, and a smidgen of sample could yield surprising insights about foods, medicines and even perfumes. Perhaps ancient containers were less important than the residues inside them, McGovern and other scholars began to think.

A chemical study in the late 1970s revealed that a 100 B.C. Roman ship wrecked at sea had likely carried wine, but that was about the extent of ancient beverage science until 1988, when a colleague of McGovern’s who’d been studying Iran’s Godin Tepe site showed him a narrow-necked pottery jar from 3100 B.C. with red stains.

“She thought maybe they were a wine deposit,” McGovern remembers. “We were kind of skeptical about that.” He was even more dubious “that we’d be able to pick up fingerprint compounds that were preserved enough from 5,000 years ago.”

But he figured they should try. He decided tartaric acid was the right marker to look for, “and we started figuring out different tests we could do. Infrared spectrometry. Liquid chromatography. The Feigl spot test. They all showed us that tartaric acid was present,” McGovern says.

He published quietly, in an in-house volume, hardly suspecting that he had discovered a new angle on the ancient world. But the 1990 article came to the attention of Robert Mondavi, the California wine tycoon who had stirred some controversy by promoting wine as part of a healthy lifestyle, calling it “the temperate, civilized, sacred, romantic mealtime beverage recommended in the Bible.” With McGovern’s help, Mondavi organized a lavishly catered academic conference the next year in Napa Valley. Historians, geneticists, linguists, oenologists, archaeologists and viticulture experts from several countries conferred over elaborate dinners, the conversations buoyed by copious drafts of wine. “We were interested in winemaking from all different perspectives,” McGovern says. “We wanted to understand the whole process—to figure out how they domesticated the grape, and where did that happen, how do you tend grapes and the horticulture that goes into it.” A new discipline was born, which scholars jokingly refer to as drinkology, or dipsology, the study of thirst.

Back at Penn, McGovern soon began rifling through the museum’s storage-room catacombs for promising bits of pottery. Forgotten kitchen jars from a Neolithic Iranian village called Hajji Firuz revealed strange yellow stains. McGovern subjected them to his tartaric acid tests they were positive. He’d happened upon the world’s oldest-known grape wine.

Many of McGovern’s most startling finds stem from other archaeologists’ spadework he brings a fresh perspective to forgotten digs, and his “excavations” are sometimes no more taxing than walking up or down a flight of stairs in his own museum to retrieve a sherd or two. Residues extracted from the drinking set of King Midas—who ruled over Phrygia, an ancient district of Turkey—had languished in storage for 40 years before McGovern found them and went to work. The artifacts contained more than four pounds of organic materials, a treasure—to a biomolecular archaeologist—far more precious than the king’s fabled gold. But he’s also adamant about travel and has done research on every continent except Australia (though he has lately been intrigued by Aborigine concoctions) and Antarctica (where there are no sources of fermentable sugar, anyway). McGovern is intrigued by traditional African honey beverages in Ethiopia and Uganda, which might illuminate humanity’s first efforts to imbibe, and Peruvian spirits brewed from such diverse sources as quinoa, peanuts and pepper-tree berries. He has downed drinks of all descriptions, including Chinese baijiu, a distilled alcohol that tastes like bananas (but contains no banana) and is approximately 120 proof, and the freshly masticated Peruvian chicha, which he is too polite to admit he despises. (“It’s better when they flavor it with wild strawberries,” he says firmly.)

Partaking is important, he says, because drinking in modern societies offers insight into dead ones.

“I don’t know if fermented beverages explain everything, but they help explain a lot about how cultures have developed,” he says. “You could say that kind of single-mindedness can lead you to over-interpret, but it also helps you make sense of a universal phenomenon.”

McGovern, in fact, believes that booze helped make us human. Yes, plenty of other creatures get drunk. Bingeing on fermented fruits, inebriated elephants go on trampling sprees and wasted birds plummet from their perches. Unlike distillation, which human beings actually invented (in China, around the first century A.D., McGovern suspects), fermentation is a natural process that occurs serendipi­tously: yeast cells consume sugar and create alcohol. Ripe figs laced with yeast drop from trees and ferment honey sitting in a tree hollow packs quite a punch if mixed with the right proportion of rainwater and yeast and allowed to stand. Almost certainly, humanity’s first nip was a stumbled-upon, short-lived elixir of this sort, which McGovern likes to call a “Stone Age Beaujolais nouveau.”

But at some point the hunter-gatherers learned to maintain the buzz, a major breakthrough. “By the time we became distinctly human 100,000 years ago, we would have known where there were certain fruits we could collect to make fermented beverages,” McGovern says. “We would have been very deliberate about going at the right time of the year to collect grains, fruits and tubers and making them into beverages at the beginning of the human race.” (Alas, archaeologists are unlikely to find evidence of these preliminary hooches, fermented from things such as figs or baobab fruit, because their creators, in Africa, would have stored them in dried gourds and other containers that did not stand the test of time.)

With a supply of mind-blowing beverages on hand, human civilization was off and running. In what might be called the “beer before bread” hypothesis, the desire for drink may have prompted the domestication of key crops, which led to permanent human settlements. Scientists, for instance, have measured atomic variations within the skeletal remains of New World humans the technique, known as isotope analysis, allows researchers to determine the diets of the long-deceased. When early Americans first tamed maize around 6000 B.C., they were probably drinking the corn in the form of wine rather than eating it, analysis has shown.

Maybe even more important than their impact on early agriculture and settlement patterns, though, is how prehistoric potions “opened our minds to other possibilities” and helped foster new symbolic ways of thinking that helped make humankind unique, McGovern says. “Fermented beverages are at the center of religions all around the world. [Alcohol] makes us who we are in a lot of ways.” He contends that the altered state of mind that comes with intoxication could have helped fuel cave drawings, shamanistic medicine, dance rituals and other advancements.

When McGovern traveled to China and discovered the oldest known alcohol—a heady blend of wild grapes, hawthorn, rice and honey that is now the basis for Dogfish Head’s Chateau Jiahu—he was touched but not entirely surprised to learn of another “first” unearthed at Jiahu, an ancient Yellow River Valley settlement: delicate flutes, made from the bones of the red-crowned crane, that are the world’s earliest-known, still playable musical instruments.

Alcohol may be at the heart of human life, but the bulk of McGovern’s most significant samples come from tombs. Many bygone cultures seem to have viewed death as a last call of sorts, and mourners provisioned the dead with beverages and receptacles—agate drinking horns, straws of lapis lazuli and, in the case of a Celtic woman buried in Burgundy around the sixth century B.C., a 1,200-liter caldron—so they could continue to drink their fill in eternity. King Scorpion I’s tomb was flush with once-full wine jars. Later Egyptians simply diagramed beer recipes on the walls so the pharaoh’s servants in the afterlife could brew more (presumably freeing up existing beverages for the living).

Some of the departed had festive plans for the afterlife. In 1957, when University of Pennsylvania archaeologists first tunneled into the nearly airtight tomb of King Midas, encased in an earthen mound near Ankara, Turkey, they discovered the body of a 60- to 65-year-old man fabulously arrayed on a bed of purple and blue cloth beside the largest cache of Iron Age drinking paraphernalia ever found:� bronze buckets, vats and bowls. And as soon as the archaeologists let fresh air into the vault, the tapestries’ vivid colors began fading before their eyes.

Archaeology is, at heart, a destructive science, McGovern recently told an audience at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian: “Every time you excavate, you destroy.”

That may be why he likes dreaming up new beers so much.

Dogfish Head’s Ta Henket (ancient Egyptian for “bread beer”) was unveiled last November in New York, in the midst of a glittering King Tut exhibit at Discovery Times Square. Euphoric (or maybe just tipsy) beer nerds and a few members of the press file into an auditorium adorned with faux obelisks and bistro tables, each with a bowl of nuts in the center. The words dog, fish and head in hieroglyphics are projected on the walls.

Onstage beside McGovern, Calagione, swigging an auburn-colored ale, tells the flushed crowd about how he and the archaeologist joined forces. In 2000, at a Penn Museum dinner hosted by a British beer and whiskey guidebook writer, Michael Jackson, McGovern announced his intention to recreate King Midas’ last libations from the excavated residue that had moldered in museum storage for 40 years. All interested brewers should meet in his lab at 9 the next morning, he said. Even after the night’s revelry, several dozen showed up. Calagione wooed McGovern with a plum-laced medieval braggot (a type of malt and honey mead) that he had been toying with McGovern, already a fan of the brewery’s Shelter Pale Ale, soon paid a visit to the Delaware facility.

When he first met Dr. Pat, Calagione tells the audience, “the first thing I was struck by was, ‘Oh my God, this guy looks nothing like a professor.’” The crowd roars with laughter. McGovern, buttoned into a cardigan sweater, is practically the hieroglyphic for professor. But he won over the brewer when, a few minutes into that first morning meeting, he filled his coffee mug with Chicory Stout. “He’s one of us,” Calagione says. “He’s a beer guy.”

Ta Henket is their fifth collaboration—along with Midas Touch and Chateau Jiahu, they’ve made Theobroma, based on an archaic Honduran chocolate drink, and chicha. (All are commercially available, though only five barrels of the chicha are made per year.) McGovern is paid for his consulting services.

Now the inaugural pitchers of Ta Henket are being poured from kegs at the back of the room. Neither Calagione nor McGovern has yet tasted the stuff. It emerges peach-colored and opaque, the foam as thick as whipped cream.

The brew, which will be available for sale this fall, later receives mixed reviews online. “Think citrus, herbs, bubblegum,” one reviewer writes. “Rosemary? Honey? Sesame? I can’t identify all the spices.”

“Nose is old vegetables and yeast,” says another.

As soon as he has sampled a mouthful, McGovern seizes a pitcher and begins pouring pints for the audience, giving off a shy glow. He enjoys the showmanship. When Midas Touch debuted in 2000, he helped recreate the ruler’s funerary feast in a gallery of the Penn Museum. The main course was a traditional lentil and barbecued lamb stew, followed by fennel tarts in pomegranate jus. Midas’ eternal beverage of choice was served with dessert, in wine glasses that showed off its bewitching color—a warm caramel with glimmers of gold.

In his laboratory, McGovern keeps an envelope containing Neolithic grape seeds, which he wheedled out of a viticulture professor in Georgia (the country, not the state) years ago. The man had six desiccated pips in good condition, ideal for DNA analysis.

“I said, ‘Maybe we could take some of those back and analyze them,’” McGovern recalls. “He said, ‘No, no, they’re too important.’” “This would be for the cause of science,” McGovern persisted.

The Georgian left the room for a moment to agonize, and returned to say that McGovern and science could have two of the ancient seeds. Parting with them, he said, was like “parting with his soul.” The scholars raised a glass of white Muscat Alexandrueli to mark the occasion.

But McGovern has still not tested the seeds, because he’s not yet confident in the available DNA extraction methods­. He has just one chance at analysis, and then the 6,000-year-old samples will be reduced to dust.

One day I ask McGovern what sort of libation he’d like in his own tomb. “Chateau Jiahu,” he says, ever the Dogfish Head loyalist. But after a moment he changes his mind. The grapes he and his wife helped pick in the summer of 1971 turned out to yield perhaps the best Mosel Riesling of the last century. “We had bottles of that wine that we let sit in the cellar for a while, and when we opened them up it was like some sort of ambrosia,” he says. “It was an elixir, something out of this world. If you were going to drink something for eternity you might drink that.”

In general, though, the couple enjoys whatever bottles they have on hand. These days McGovern barely bothers with his cellar: “My wife says I tend to age things too long.”

Staff writer Abigail Tucker last wrote about Blackbeard’s treasure. Photographer Landon Nordeman is based in New York.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article mentioned an Egyptian ale recipe that dates back hundreds of centuries. The article now says the recipe dates back thousands of years.


“The Meaning of Craft”

As the newly-formed Brewers Association, the BA set its mission on promoting and protecting small and independent craft brewers. In order to collect data and serve its membership, the trade organization and its board of directors created the craft brewer definition. The BA board of directors voted to update the definition in 2007, 2010, 2014, and 2018 to reflect the continued innovation by U.S. brewers.

See the current definition here.


Grut Rights

Before the German Beer Purity Law, there were decrees called "Grutrechte," or Gruit Rights, which conferred the privilege of making gruit beer or selling gruit to make beer. It gave the decree-holder a monopoly in a geographical area. These decrees were handed out by the cities, the church or nobility in the territory.

Grut (or gruit) is a mixture of herbs which was used to stabilize the beer and make it drinkable.

The first written citing of grut rights was in the 10th century A.D. Rights were given to upper-class families, churches or entire cities. Sometimes the cities would try to impose their monopoly beyond the city walls, which was called the "Meilenrecht," or mile rights. A mile measured between seven and eleven kilometers in the Middle Ages.

The "Meilenrecht" was the cause of many disagreements between cities and countrysides. They called these "Bierstreite" or "Bierkriege," which translates to beer wars.

The use of hops was forbidden during the time of the grut rights because it broke the monopoly of the grut. Hops did become an allowed ingredient due to its superior qualities including its ability to keep the beer fresh as well as lower cost. The last holdouts towards hops were from Cologne and Dusseldorf (see beer styles, Kölsch and Altbier) northwards since the grut rights had made some influential people very wealthy.


A brief history of IPA

I f you’d said the initials “IPA” to a barman 10 years ago, he might well have looked at you blankly. Or he may have thought you were referring to a weak bitter called IPA made by Greene King. Real ale, in general, was a niche market. Live beer is hard to keep and few establishments, especially in London where I lived, seemed to have any interest in doing it properly. One time in a pub in Putney, I tried to return a pint that was a cloudy sludge of yeast and vinegar and was told by the supercilious French barman that it was English beer: it was meant to taste like that.

My friends all drank lager. I thought it odd that people so discerning when it came to hip-hop and sunglasses would have such little interest in what they poured down their throats. Since 2010, however, things have changed. Craft beer pubs are everywhere and their success has forced existing pubs to up their game. Bar staff now are positively evangelical about beer. Spearheading this revival is IPA – not weedy old Greene King – but beers of 5-7% packed with hops and flavour.

So what is IPA? The initials stand for India pale ale. It was the answer to the problem of providing beer for the British Empire in the east. It was too hot to brew in India, so what was needed was a beer that could survive the gruelling six-month journey from Britain intact. In the 1780s, a London brewer called Hodgson answered the call by sending out a strong, heavily hopped beer called October ale that would normally be aged like wine before drinking. The beer not only survived the journey, but was found to have improved immeasurably. This was the prototype IPA the beer gradually became paler and more refreshing to suit the Indian climate.

Hodgson’s beer was imitated by bigger brewers, such as Bass. It evolved into something weaker, just plain old pale ale, for the home market. With the coming of refrigeration, proper IPA itself began to die out. Until that is the Americans rediscovered their love of brewing some time around 1976. The craft brewers in the States merrily set about recreating forgotten British styles – including IPA. Being American, they didn’t do things by halves. These new ales were packed with alcohol and hops.

From America, IPA returned home across the Atlantic. It’s been a funny old journey: a beer that was invented in Britain for the Indian market, was revived by Americans and then copied by brewers in Britain. A fine example of the reborn IPA is Jaipur by Thornbridge. It positively zings with citric hoppiness, though I imagine it would taste even better after six months mellowing on a slow boat to India.

Henry Jeffreys is a drinks writer based in London. His first book, Empire of Booze, will be published by Unbound in 2016. Twitter: @henrygjeffreys


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