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

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McGovern, the archeochemist, knew the ingredients of the ancient drink from Jiahu, "but he wasn't sure how to use them or how they would go into action," Gerhart said.

The trick for Gerhart was to mimic the brewing process used in China 9,000 years ago.

To get the fermentation started, McGovern imported a mold cake—traditionally used in making Chinese rice wines—from a colleague in Beijing. Gerhart mashed the cake into the rice. Once that became "funky and began to grow," he added other ingredients, including water, honey, grapes, hawthorn fruit, and chrysanthemum flowers.

"We also turned up the brew kettle much higher than we ever would today—we know back then they would have had some type of earthen pot with a fire burning directly below it—to replicate those flavors we know formed, somewhat burnt and caramelized," he said.

To comply with U.S. federal brewing regulations, Gerhart had to add barley malt, though he said he mashed and fermented out most of the barley flavor.

Defying Description

Given the requisite addition of barley malt to Chateau Jiahu, Dogfish Head's concoction is classified as a beer, Calagione said. However, McGovern said the beverage made in China 9,000 years ago defies description.

"We called it a mixed beverage, because we're not sure where it fits in," he said.

Gerhart too struggled to categorize the beverage. "It wasn't a beer, it wasn't a mead, and it wasn't a wine or a cider. It was somewhere between all of them, in this gray area," he said.

Visually, Gerhart described Chateau Jiahu as gold in color with a dense, white head similar to champagne bubbles. Calagione said the beverage most closely resembles a Belgian-style ale.

According to McGovern, the brew is "very intriguing" with a taste and aroma of the grape and hawthorn fruits. To better match the 9,000-year-old beverage, however, he said it should probably be sweeter.

"Sugar is relatively rare in nature, yet we're very much attracted to it. We're also attracted to alcohol—all animals are attracted to these substances. They [the ancient Chinese] would have wanted to retain as much sugar as they could. They would have had a sweet tooth," he said.

Dogfish Head sold out its first batch of Chateau Jiahu. Most was consumed at a May debut dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City, the remainder quickly drunk at the Milton brewery by beer fans of exotic beer.

Calagione hopes to brew up a larger batch this fall and, potentially, to market it widely, as he has Midas Touch.

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