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9,000-Year-Old Beer Tastes Great


A Delaware brewery known for its specialty beers has created a new one based on a 9,000-year-old recipe. VOA's Liu Enming recently traveled to Dogfish Head Craft Brewery to taste Chateau Jiahu beer. Jim Bertel narrates.

Of the more than 1300 breweries in the U.S., Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Delaware stands out for its uniqueness.

Owner Sam Calagione says the 26 kinds of beer brewed at his microbrewery cater to different people's tastes, but have one thing in common.

"Our motto since the day we've opened has been 'off-centered ales for off-centered people',” says Calagione. “Just by virtue of that definition it's obvious that we are not planning on brewing light lagers, boring beers. The ideas for beers that come out of our brewery Dogfish Head either usually come from my own inspiration; a feeling for a style that doesn't exist yet that I think it would work well."

Calagione's latest concoction, Chateau Jiahu, made headlines in the National Geographic News and other media. But more importantly, it is a hit with many of the brewer's customers.

"It was very tasty, the honey-suckle almost flavor to it, tastes of a little bit of white grape in the background; very smooth, very mellow, very tasty," said a customer.

"It was good; it was, like, buttery but also sweet, honey, a little bit (of) crispness to it going down. It was good," says another.

"I am glad that they found the recipe; this is the type of beer I can drink," says a third customer.

The ancient brew was rediscovered in pottery dating back thousands of years at an excavation site in the Neolithic village of Jia Hu in Northern China

Dr. Patrick McGovern, an archaeochemist at the University of Pennsylvania's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia, derived the recipe from residue found in pottery jars. Careful research shows the ancient brew included rice, honey, grapes and hawthorn fruit.

"If you have pottery vessels, they are very useful in making a beverage and also storing and serving and drinking it,” says Dr. McGovern. “Often the beverage will be absorbed into the pottery and it will be held in the pottery by the clay matrix, the pores. The Jia Hu mixed beverage is so far the earliest chemically attested alcoholic beverage or wine from anywhere in the world. I think it's really quite remarkable that it doesn't come from Middle East. People often assume the first wine and first beer has to be from the Middle East, but it comes from China."

Bryan Selders, the lead brewer at the brewery explains how the ancient beer was resurrected.

"This is our first step brewing Chateau Jiahu, this vessel here is called 'mash tun',” says Selders. “In the mash tun what we do is mix up the mash. And what a mash is is a combination of crushed malted barley and hot water."

In addition, the recipe calls for rice flakes. The rice and barley malt are combined to make the mash for starch conversion and degradation.

"In the boil kettle we collect the full volume of wort that we need and we boil the wort,” explains Selders. “What that accomplishes is it concentrates sugars and sterilizes the wort. Then we are able to spice the wort with hops. We also add honey and hawthorn berries."

The liquid is then mixed with a fresh culture of sake yeast to ferment. The result is a golden colored, fragrant Chateau Jiahu beer. Calagione believes his new take on the ancient brew probably tastes better than the original.

"I am sure the original wines and beers back then had infections of bacteria and wild yeast, whereas today in our modern brewing facility with our lab and high tech equipment, we can make sure that no wild yeast and bacteria gets into the beer,” adds Calagione. ”So it will be a lot cleaner tasting."

And beer lovers will tell you it is all about the taste.

"Man, I will tell you what. For an old beer that's good stuff, very good; I enjoyed it very much," says a customer.

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