The beers of yesteryear

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Give or take a millennium, brewing has been with us for the last 10,000 years. Grain, water, and yeast have been ever-present (although before Pasteur the yeast was a bit of a mystery), while the practice of adding hops for bitterness in beer has only been in general worldwide use for about 600 years. I've often wondered what the beers of 500 and 5,000 years ago tasted like, and now, with brewers looking to historic recipes and unfashionable ingredients for inspiration, it's becoming possible to find out.

Beers have, historically, been made with "the indigenous, natural ingredients at hand. The artistry, creativity and diversity of these beers were as colourful and contrasting as the varied cultures in which they were brewed." So say Dogfish Head, a brewery in Milton, Delaware, who have a range of ancient ales formulated by Dr Patrick McGovern, a molecular archaeologist.

Their Chateau Jiahu is based on evidence from a 9,000-year-old tomb in China, one of the earliest recorded finds of "beer". The Dogfish recreation contains sake rice, wildflower honey, Muscat grapes, hawthorn fruit and chrysanthemum flowers. Midas Touch contains honey, Muscat grapes and saffron and is based on "an ancient Turkish recipe using the original ingredients from the 2,700 year old drinking vessels discovered in the tomb of King Midas." Theobroma is based on "chemical analysis of pottery fragments found in Honduras which revealed the earliest known alcoholic chocolate drink used by early civilizations to toast special occasions." It contains Aztec cocoa powder and cocoa nibs, honey, chillies and annatto....

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