Saturday, 9 December 2017

Ancient Brews by Patrick McGovern

Patrick McGovern is a biomolecular archaeologist who has been researching ancient beers and brewing beers inspired by them with Dogfish head for many years. His research and details of the beers made are recounted in Ancient brews.

It starts off covering some of the same ground in Uncorking The Past, though this time it's definitely written more with the beer geek in mind. Brewers will be pleased to hear that calcium oxalate plays an important role in the story as an indicator a vessel contained a fermented malt beverages. So next time you're descaling a fermenter think happy thoughts about the historical importance of beer stone.

Each chapter covers a beer from a different time and place, and comes complete with a recipe for the beer and historically appropriate food to go with it. The research is fascinating, but the recipes are a bit of a let down. After using the best modern analytical techniques they could to identify ingredients used to make drinks from residues found at ancient sites they then had to come up with recipes for Dogfish head. Due to legal, commercial and availability reason the recipes are more beers inspired by the research than attempts at genuine recreations. Surprisingly considering how advanced American homebrewing is they all start with a malt extract base too.

So modern malts and hops, as well as modern brewing techniques (e.g. everything is boiled) and pure cultures of yeast strains are all used. I found this a shame as homebrewers don't have the constraints that Dogfish head do so could go further in trying to be historically accurate. As it is you're given information about ancient brews but will have to go a lot further with the materials and methods that would have been used if you want to truly try and recreate something ancient. The book is certainly a big step in that direction though and it's definitely given me a few ideas about things I'd like to try.


  1. Great book recommendation - love that it provides the traditional foods each beer would have been enjoyed with! Certainly goes a long way to promoting beer as an all round experience!

  2. 'Everything is boiled' - I'm increasingly drawn to the conclusion that most if not all pre-hop ale was 'raw', ie not boiled. Why waste fuel when you didn't have to?