5,000 Year-Old-Beer

Beer is pretty damn old – a quick Google search “when was beer invented?” tells me the earliest evidence of beer is in a 3,900-year-old Sumerian poem honoring Ninkasi, the patron goddess of brewing, and the oldest surviving beer recipe. But a few months ago, a research team from Stanford University one-upped Wikipedia and discovered a 5,000-year-old recipe in Shaanxi province in northwest China.

They found the recipe on ancient brewing artifacts during a project that began in 2006 with the Shaanxi Institute of Archaeology, ultimately identifying a 5,000-year-old brewery at the Mijiaya site. A yellow residue inside jars prompted further analysis, which revealed to be traces of barley, millet, yam, root vegetables and grain. Prior to these findings, experts had believed barley wasn’t introduced to the region until 1,000 years later. Used to make man’s first beer, the drink was most likely imbibed during rituals celebrating birth, marriage or death.

This boozy new discovery inspired two Beijing brewers, Alex Acker and Kristian Li of Jing A, to collaborate with a Hong Kong brewery, Moonzen, and recreate the beer. The two took a trip to the rural Shaanxi province to find ingredients that would be as similar as possible to the originals, including wild yeast from a hunjiu brewer. They used their modern brewing equipment in Beijing, and kicked up the flavor with honey and hawthorn berry – not present in the original recipe, but ingredients that would have been available at the beer’s origin.

Acker compared it to a Berliner Weiss, a kettle-soured light style of German beer. “I almost consider this a Neolithic Berliner Weiss.” He also says it has a “sour barnyard” flavor, but in a good way. “It’s an un-hopped beer and a unique recipe that we wanted to stay true to. Without the hops in there and with these other unusual ingredients, you get a starchy, grainy flavor and aroma with a bit of sourness.”

Jamie Fullerton of Munchies got to have a taste, and declares the beer “exceptionally dry, but refreshing – decent for summer sipping.”

If you happen to be in Beijing, you can sip on this ancient-inspired beer with a burger and some classic rock.


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