Digging for Booze

I am a lazy drinker.  Thankfully, beer and whisky need only to be poured into a glass to be enjoyed.  There is no measuring, mixing, blending, or shaking required.  Yet not all things are simple and not all drinkers appreciate simplicity.  On the contrary, there are individuals who thrive on complexity, even when it comes to drinking.

The University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Patrick McGovern is a drinker who thrives on complexity, as is Sam Calagione, Dogfish Head Brewery’s Founder and President.  Both were profiled in a Smithsonian Magazine article titled The Beer Archaeologist, which detailed their collaboration in producing a number of modern beers based on ancient recipes.

McGovern “is the world’s foremost expert on ancient fermented beverages,” an expert in a field known as experimental archaeology.  “He has identified the world’s oldest known barley beer (from Iran’s Zagros Mountains, dating to 3400 B.C.), the oldest grape wine (also from the Zagros, circa 5400 B.C.) and the earliest known booze of any kind, a Neolithic grog from China’s Yellow River Valley brewed some 9,000 years ago.”

But the doctor doesn’t just deal with history – no, he applies science to inspire and create a pre-historical foundation for creating modern beers and wine.  He’s worked with Dogfish Head Brewery to help create Midas Touch, a beer based on “refreshments recovered from King Midas’ 700 B.C. tomb” as well as to recreate an ancient Egyptian ale based on “the residues of libations interred with the monarch [Pharaoh Scorpion I] in 3150 B.C.”

Using history and science to create new varieties of beer is both fine and good, but I think there’s a bit more to the story.  I took McGovern’s research more philosophically, focusing on the fact that ultimately, drinking is part of human civilization’s very foundation.  In McGovern’s words, “Partaking is important…because drinking in modern societies offers insight into dead ones.  I don’t know if fermented beverages explain everything, but they help explain a lot about how cultures have developed.”  And a colleague of Dr. McGovern agrees: “I keep telling people that beer is more important than armies when it comes to understanding people.”

So I applaud Dr. McGovern’s work and hope he continues consulting for Mr. Calagione’s brewery, which continues to push the envelope of American craft beer experimentation.  And I thank them both for enabling a simple drinker like me to easily enjoy the fruits of their careful, complex, and historically-inspired creations.

Published in: on July 5, 2011 at 10:28 pm  Comments (1)  
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One Comment

  1. Yo THF!

    It’s not that you’re a simple drinker, it’s more like you let others do the hard work so that you can kick back and enjoy the fruits of their labor.


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