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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

That (Really) Old-Timey Beer

Forget about those Burton ales--those are trendy newcomers compared to this:

Dr. Pat[rick McGovern] ... 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.
That comes from a fascinating article in the latest issue of Smithsonian Magazine. It's pretty much a must-read for anyone interested in the roots of brewing.

Now, speaking of Burtons, is that what divers retrieved off a shipwreck in the Baltic Sea? Finnish researchers cracked a bottle and found:

The bottle contained a liquid that was a beautiful pale golden colour, identified as beer because of the presence of malt sugars, aromatic compounds and hops typical of the beverage. The beer in the bottle examined has not stood the test of time well, and it was contaminated by salt from sea water. Dead yeast cells were discovered in the beer, indicating fermentation that took place long ago. Live lactic acid bacteria were found in the beer. Especially in earlier times, lactic acid bacteria were often present in beer fermentation alongside brewing yeast.

The date of the shipwreck matters. Long before porters were shipped to Russia, Burton ales were the beer of choice. However, in 1822 (189 years ago), Russia enacted a massive tariff on most British imports, including Burton ales. (The Russians loved their porter, however, and since they believed they couldn't make it anywhere near as well as the London breweries it was granted an exception to the tariff.) Up until the tariff, Burtons were mostly brown; after it, the Burton breweries retooled the beer for domestic markets and got paler. I'm not enough of a scholar to know what that beer might have been. An example of IPA from the golden age of its export? Perhaps the real scholars will comment.

2 comments:

Seanywonton said...

Alright, come on though, who is going to buck up and TASTE the shipwrecked beer? I volunteer myself if the scientists wuss out. (I have probably tried worse).

Jack R. said...

Pete Brown reports the transition from Baltic Porter to Burton Ale to Raj India IPA in his book 2009 'Hops and Glory'.

It's a good read.

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