Ancient brew

Dogfish Head concoction based on 9,000-year-old recipe

July 19, 2005 - Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware has brewed another ancient beer, this time replicating one made in China about 9,000 years ago.


The brewery turned a previous one, which was based on a 2,700-year-old recipe found in Turkey, into Midas Touch Golden Elixir, a regular beer in its portfolio. The most recent historic brew, Chateau Jiahu, was served only in the brewery's restaurant-pub and special dinners but a larger batch may be brewed in the fall and eventually go into regular production.

The recipe for Chateau Jiahu included rice, honey, and grape and hawthorn fruits. Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione started with a formula from archaeologists who derived it from the residues of pottery jars found in the late Stone Age village of Jiahu in northern China.

"We can't prove that an alcoholic beverage was definitely produced in the jars - the alcohol is gone - but it's not that difficult to infer," said Patrick McGovern, an archaeochemist at the University of Pennsylvania's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia.

Mike Gerhart, distillery manager at Dogfish Head's brewery in Milton, Delaware, led the Chateau Jiahu project. It presented particular challenges, including how the ancients began fermentation of the rice. The brewers could use a mold cake traditionally used in Chinese rice wines, or they could chew and spit the rice into a bowl and let the saliva enzymes go to work - a rustic East Asian technique.

"Sam was definitely all about chewing the rice," Gerhart said. "He really wanted saliva to be one of the ingredients on the label. But you've got to pick and choose your battles."

So mold cake was imported directly from the University of Beijing. Once that became "funky and began to grow," Gerhart added other ingredients, including water, honey, grapes, hawthorn fruit, and chrysanthemum flowers. To comply with U.S. federal brewing regulations, Gerhart had to add barley malt, though he said he mashed and fermented out most of the barley flavor.

Gerhart said the final product is hard to describe. "It wasn't a beer, it wasn't a mead, and it wasn't a wine or a cider. It was somewhere between all of them, in this gray area," he said.

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