Sunday, April 27, 2014

Beer Archaeologist Coming to Beervana

Hipster brewers in the Northwest, you are about to get schooled by some old dudes. And by old dudes I mean really old dudes.

Think adding coriander, coffee or even chocolate to your tanks is a revolutionary advancement in the art? I'm here to tell you that ship sailed, oh, like 9,000-plus years ago. Brewers in ancient civilizations in China, Sumeria, Egypt and other parts of the world were using "olive oil, bog myrtle, cheese, meadow­sweet, mugwort and carrot, not to mention hallucinogens like hemp and poppy" in their products, according to biomolecular archaeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern.

From his lab at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, Dr. McGovern, also known as Dr. Pat, has taken the desiccated remains of the contents of ancient vessels and sussed out the "fingerprint compounds," the telltale clues to what they might have contained. Based on his findings, he's recreating some of those long-lost beverages through collaborations with present-day distillers and brewers, including Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales in Delaware. The beers they've made together, a series called "Ancient Ales," with names like "Midas Touch," "Theobroma" and "Chateau Jiahu," have won medals at the prestigious Great American Brew Fest and gained a following among aficionados of fermented beverages.

Dr. Pat will be bringing samples of Chateau Jiahu when he comes to Portland on Friday, May 16, for a lecture titled "Uncorking the Chinese Past: The Archaeological and Chemical Discovery of the World’s Oldest 'Wine'." The first in a series of three events presented by the Northwest China Council, his lecture will will illustrate the biomolecular archaeology behind the discovery of what he believes to be the most ancient alcoholic beverage in the world, recovered from a Neolithic tomb site in Jiahu, in China’s Henan province, dating to about 7000 B.C. He'll also describe the historical background and analysis of Shang and Western Zhou Dynasty bronze vessels, which still held millet and rice "wines" from 3000 years ago.

So young dudes, get ready to meet your forebears. You might even get a few new ideas from them.

Details: "Uncorking the Chinese Past: The Archaeological and Chemical Discovery of the World’s Oldest 'Wine'" lecture and booksigning with Dr. Patrick McGovern. Fri., May 16, 6-7:30 pm (lecture), 7:30-8:30 (reception); lecture is free and open to the public, reception is $20 and includes samples of Chateau Jiahu and appetizers. Tickets online. Event at University of Oregon White Stag Building, 70 NW Couch. 503-973-5451.


Laura said...

Why "hipster brewers?"

Kathleen Bauer said...

According to, "Hipsters are a subculture of men and women, typically in their 20s and 30s, who value independent thinking, counterculture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie rock, creativity, intelligence and witty banter."

I would add "flavored beer" to that category. Though, admittedly, most beer is flavored to some degree by adding hops.