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Monday, June 8, 2009

9,000-year-old brew hitting the shelves this summer

By Brendan Borrell in 60-Second Science Blog

This summer, how would you like to lean back in your lawn chair and toss back a brew made from what may be the world’s oldest recipe for beer? Called Chateau Jiahu, this blend of rice, honey and fruit was intoxicating Chinese villagers 9,000 years ago—long before grape wine had its start in Mesopotamia.

University of Pennsylvania molecular archaeologist Patrick McGovern first described the beverage in 2005 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences based on chemical traces from pottery in the Neolithic village of Jiahu in Northern China. Soon after, McGovern called on Sam Calagione at the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, Del., to do the ancient recipe justice. Later this month, you can give it a try when a new batch hits shelves across the country. The Beer Babe blog was impressed, writing that it is “very smooth,” and “not overly sweet.”

But that’s not the only strange brew Dogfish is shipping out this summer. Next week, the brewery will be bottling up the first large batch of Sah’tea for the general public—a modern update on a ninth-century Finnish beverage. In the fall, The New Yorker documented the intricate research and preparation that went into making the beer, which was first offered on tap at the brewery in May. In short, brewmasters carmelize wort on white hot river rocks, ferment it with German Weizen yeast, then toss on Finnish berries and a blend of spices to jazz up this rye-based beverage. Reviewers at the BeerAdvocate universally praised Sah'tea, comparing it to a fruity hefeweizen. One user munched on calamari as he downed a pint and described the combo as “a near euphoric experience."

And Dogfish is also bringing back one of their more unusual forays into alcohol-infused time travel. Called Theobroma, this cocoa-based brew was hatched from a chemical analysis of 3,200-year-old pottery fragments from the Cradle of Chocolate, the Ulua Valley in Honduras. Archaeologist John Henderson at Cornell University first described the beverage in 2007 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, pushing the first use of the chocolate plant back by 600 years. Dogfish first sold Theobroma in May 2008, and the next batch—made from a blend of cocoa, honey, chilies, and annatto—will be on shelves and in taps in July. The chocolate beer was apparently too sweet for Evan at The Full Pint, who writes that it contained “a ton and a half of sugary sweetness” with “an insane amount of gooeyness left behind on the roof of your mouth."

Image of woman drinking beer courtesy a4gpa on Flickr