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Ancient Ales

 

You might not know it, but medieval Germans nearly ruined beer forever.

In 1516, a purity law called the Reinheitsgebot mandated that beer be made with only water, hops and barley. (The role of yeast hadn't yet been discovered.) Thanks to that bit of brewing censorship and the bastardized recipes of modern brewing conglomerates, beer drinkers have been subjected to bland lager for a long, long time.

In 1995, Dogfish Head broke the shackles and started brewing extreme, exotic, extraordinary beers, and we've been thumbing our noses at the Reinheitsgebot ever since. We experimented with whatever ingredients we found in our brewpub pantry, things like chicory, licorice root, maple syrup, honey, pumpkin, raisins and brown sugar. People called us freaks, but we loved those full-flavored beers and so did our customers, so we stuck to our guns.

Turns out, we were the ones making traditional beers.

In 1999, Dogfish Head started working closely with Dr. Patrick McGovern, one of the world's leading experts in ancient beverages. He helped us uncover the traditions of ancient brewers. Like us, those ancient brewers made the most of the ingredients they had on hand, and their beers were as colorful and creative as their cultures.

  • The first beer we created with Dr. Pat was Midas Touch. Somewhere between wine and mead, Midas Touch is based on molecular evidence found in a Turkish tomb believed to have belonged to King Midas. It's a sweet yet dry beer made with honey, white muscat grapes and saffron.
  • Next up was Chateau Jiahu, whose ingredient list was unearthed from a 9,000-year-old tomb in China. Made with hawthorn fruit, sake rice, barley and honey, Chateau Jiahu is based on the oldest known fermented beverage in history. (That's right: Beer is older than wine!)
  • Theobroma, a celebration of chocolate, was the next Dogfish Head collaboration with Dr. Pat. Based on the chemical analysis of 3,000-year-old pottery fragments found in Honduras, Theobroma is brewed with artisanal Askinosie cocoa, honey, chilies and annatto.
  • For Ta Henket, we used ingredients plucked from Egyptian hieroglyphics. We started with an ancient form of wheat and loaves of hearth-baked bread and added chamomile, doum palm fruit and Middle Eastern herbs. To ferment Ta Henket, we captured a native Egyptian yeast strain from the night air of Cairo.
  • Birra Etrusca Bronze, proves that beside the wine on every Italian's dinner table, there should also be a place for beer. The backbone of this 2,800-year-old recipe comes from two-row malted barley and an heirloom Italian wheat. Specialty ingredients include hazelnut flour, pomegranates, Italian chestnut honey, Delaware wildflower honey and clover honey. A handful of whole-flower hops are added, but the bulk of the bitterness comes from gentian root and the sarsaparilla-like Ethiopian myrrh resin.
  • The recipe for Kvasir was developed with the help of chemical, botanical and pollen evidence taken from a 3,500‐year‐old Danish drinking vessel. The vessel, made of birch bark, was found in the tomb of a leather‐clad woman Dr. Pat says was probably an upper-class dancer or priestess. The analysis pointed to the ingredients used in this unique brew: wheat, lingonberries, cranberries, myrica gale, yarrow, honey and birch syrup.
  • Besides our collaborations with Dr. Pat, Dogfish Head also has made an African tej with honey and tree roots, medieval gruits with grains of paradise and a chicha in the traditional South American style.
  • We also brew Sah'tea, based on a 9th century Finnish recipe that includes rye, juniper and black chai tea.

All these beers are part of the longer tradition of creative brewing Dogfish Head has focused on since the beginning, and for this reason, we just might be the most traditional modern brewery in the world.

 

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