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Microbrews: Some Fads Have Been Around a Long Time

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I don’t know if you know it or not, but way back when, before they even had home brewing kits or modern beer brewing supplies – as far back as 3400 B.C. – people were brewing their own beer. The world’s oldest known barley beer comes from the Zagros Mountains in Iran, as does the oldest grape wine (5400 B.C.). But the all-time winner is a Neolithic grog unearthed in China’s Yellow River Valley from about 9,000 years ago.

There’s a brewery in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, called Dogfish Head, where they take these old brewing recipes seriously. In fact, they try to copy them. Then they take the results and bottle it, distribute it, and sell it. And surprisingly, some of the ancient-style beers they produce sell very well. Dogfish Head’s brewery came up with a beer called Midas Touch, the recipe for which was based on old and decaying libations recovered from King Midas’ tomb (700 B.C.).

The brewery is experimenting with an Egyptian beer. The process is being filmed by Discovery Channel’s Brewmasters reality show. Based on libations discovered by archaeologists in the tomb of Pharaoh Scorpion I, the brew is flavored with a combination of savory, thyme, and coriander. To this medley of spices they added oregano and a number of other ingredients, such as doum-palm fruit and chamomile.

The brewers went to great lengths to reproduce the recipe as accurately as possible, including procuring yeast from the locality in Egypt. Wild airborne yeast cells were captured in sugar-filled petri dishes, which were then sent to a lab in Belgium, where the yeast was isolated and cultured in large amounts.

Back in Delaware, the brewers went to work. The spices were mixed with barley sugars and hops and simmered over a heat source insulated by bricks. The aroma of toast and molasses rose from the kettle. When the unfermented beer was poured out, it was a light golden brown color. To initiate the fermentation process, the brewers added a yellowish, opaque liquid – the Egyptian yeast.

The plan was to make seven kegs of the experimental brew, which would be revealed at a special event in New York a few weeks later. And since it would take the brew at least that long to age, they wouldn’t know if it was any good because they wouldn’t be able to taste it prior to its revelation.

The new beer was called Dogfish Head’s Ta Henket, which in ancient Egyptian means “bread beer.” They unveiled it during the glitzy King Tut exhibit at Times Square. The reviews ranged the spectrum from wonderful to “think citrus, herbs, bubble gum.”

Ta Henket is now available commercially, and represents the hardest of the hardcore home brewing fad, a fad that began thousands of years ago.

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About Randall Radic

  • Jody

    Randall,
    I just looked up their website and they have more than 150 brews to choose from. I’m very interested in trying out these ancient brews since I love trying out all varities of microbreweries, especially in the oatmeal stout area. From all of my tastings, I cannot recall thinking bubble gum and herbs.
    Now it’s time for the local treasure hunt for these ancient brews. Thank you for the article.