Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Beer and the Arc of Civilization

One of the many reasons I like Dogfish Head Brewery is their Ancient Ales series, a fascinating series of beers produced by the partnership between pioneering brewer Sam Calagione and molecular archeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern. Two beers from this series were featured in Discovery Channel's Brew Masters program, Episode 5, Ancient Ales. The episode offered insights into the process of creating Ta Henket, based on a recipe and brewing process described in hieroglyphics in an Egyptian pyramid. The secondary story described some challenges in brewing Chateau Jiahu, an American interpretation of a 9000 year old recipe discovered at an archeological site in China.

The Ancient Ales series began in 1999 with Midas Touch, a beer that captured my imagination when it was released. According to the Dogfish Head website, Midas Touch Golden Elixir "is an ancient Turkish recipe using the original ingredients from the 2700 year old drinking vessels discovered in the tomb of King Midas." The idea of recreating an ancient beverage by performing spectral analysis on the dust in a funerary chalice is absolutely fascinating. When I drank Midas Touch Golden Elixir from a chalice, I felt connected by a liquid time machine to brewers and beer lovers across the ages.

The Ancient Ales series has grown over the years: Midas Touch, Chateau Jiahu, then Theobroma, and now Ta Henket. In addition to ales reconstituted using archeology, Sam has brewed other "ancient" beers using traditional ingredients and methods that flaunt the Reinheitsgebot: T'ej, Sah'tea, and Chicha, to name a few. Then there's the whole list of off-centered concept brews such as Pangaea and others too numerous to mention here.

Bottom line: I am a fan of Calagione’s idea of exploring culture, history, art, tradition, and innovation through the medium of imbibable bliss. The whole history of civilization can be traced in beer. Can humanity’s future be seen in the bottom of a glass?

More information about these intriguing beers is here:

More information about the Ancient Ales series itself is here:

A comprehensive list of Dogfish Head beers is either here:

… or here:

More about the Discovery Channel’s Brew Masters series is here: