A perfect article about ancient beers and a project to bring them back to life.
Myles Karp – http://munchies.vice.com/
University of Pennsylvania molecular archaeologist Patrick McGovern has devoted much of his academic career to the study of prehistoric alcoholic beverages. Using some technical wizardry involving something called “Fourier transform infrared spectrometry,” Dr. Pat (his preferred moniker) chemically analyzes residues found in ancient pottery from archaeological excavation sites around the world, detecting evidence of former ingredients.
In perhaps the world’s first commercial application of a PhD in archaeology, the professor then passes his ancient recipes to Delaware’s Dogfish Head Brewery, where the drinks are brewed and bottled.
King Midas was Dr. Pat’s first beer re-creation muse. Although he’s better known as the protagonist of the “Golden Touch” fable, Midas was an actual monarch who ruled over Phrygia in modern Turkey in the 8th century BCE. In 1957, Penn Museum researchers excavated his tomb, in which they found the corpse of an old man, a heap of fancy textiles, and a collection of bronze drinking vessels from the funerary feast. Thirty years later, Dr. Pat studied the vessels and found that they contained a beverage that mixed fermented barley, grapes, and honey, as well as a bittering agent that was likely saffron rather than hops.
Dr. Pat wanted to re-create Midas’s funerary feast, complete with the spicy barbecued lamb and lentil entrée culled from different vessels, at a fundraising dinner for Penn’s molecular archaeology program. But first, he needed a brewer to make the beer.
He initially pitched the idea at a beer tasting that happened to be held at the Penn Museum in 2000. “I said if anybody among the microbrewers would like to try to do a re-creation, they could come to my laboratory at 9 AM the next morning,” he said. “And so I had like 20 or 25 microbrewers show up. I couldn’t believe it.”
Samples began to arrive in Dr. Pat’s mail. “My job was to taste them and think about the parameters of how this ancient beverage might have been made,” he said. “It was a pretty tough job, but somebody had to do it.” Ultimately, Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head returned the best product. It was so well received, in fact, that Calagione decided to release it to the public. Midas Touch remains Dogfish Head’s most awarded beer.