9,000-Year-Old Beer Re-Created From Chinese Recipe

July 18, 2005

A Delaware brewer with a penchant for exotic drinks recently concocted a beer similar to one brewed in China some 9,000 years ago.

Sam Calagione of the Dogfish Head brewery in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, used a recipe that included rice, honey, and grape and hawthorn fruits. He got the formula from archaeologists who derived it from the residues of pottery jars found in the late Stone Age village of Jiahu in northern China.

The residues are the earliest direct evidence of brewed beverages in ancient China.

"We can't prove that an alcoholic beverage was definitely produced in the jars—the alcohol is gone—but it's not that difficult to infer," said Patrick McGovern, an archaeochemist at the University of Pennsylvania's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia.

McGovern, an expert in the origins and history of alcoholic beverages, performed the chemical analysis on the pottery. He said fruit juices and liquid honey in a temperate climate would easily ferment, allowing for the production of alcohol.

In addition, he said, the setting of the Jiahu site suggests the pottery jugs likely held alcoholic beverages drunk at funeral or religious ceremonies.

McGovern's findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in December 2004.

Ancient Brew

In earlier research McGovern found evidence of a similar alcoholic beverage in a 2,700-year-old royal tomb in Turkey—perhaps that of King Midas. He then collaborated with Calagione, Dogfish Head's president, to re-create the drink.

The result was Midas Touch Golden Elixir, a brew that "put us on the map for historical beers," Calagione said. Based on the success of Midas Touch—it has won several beer-festival medals—McGovern again turned to Dogfish Head to brew up the ancient concoction from China.

"Hence Chateau Jiahu," Calagione said, referring to the new-old brew's brand name.

Mike Gerhart, distillery manager at Dogfish Head's brewery in Milton, Delaware, led the Chateau Jiahu project. "It was one of the more creative and exciting projects I've ever worked on," he said.

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