Technology discovers the taste of ancient ale

 

Ancient ale

“For a quart of ale is a dish for a king.” (William Shakespeare, “A Winter’s Tale”) Yes, but how ale taste 400 years ago? Technology enables us to find out. PHOTO: 123rf

“Fill with mingled cream and amber,
I will drain that glass again.
Such hilarious visions clamber
Through the chambers of my brain.
Quantist thoughts – queerest fancies,
Come to life and fade away:
What care I how time advances?
I am drinking ale today.”

— Edgar Allan Poe

Ah, but knows exactly how the ale tasted when Poe’s mind swam about it in in the early 19th century?

Even more mysterious is exactly why Shakespeare’s King Henry V would “give all my fame for a pot of ale and safety.”

That must have been some ale.

Now technology may give beer connoiseurs a true taste of history. While scientists may not be able to resurrect dinosaurs a la “Jurassic Park,” the Columbia Chronicle reports they could re-create the beer of the past.

The paper reports that Patrick McGovern, the scientific director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Project at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, uses beer residue from ancient painstakingly re-create old beer recipes.

It’s all the name of (burp) science.

According to the Chronicle, McGovern runs samples through an infrared spectrometer. This passes light through the residue sample and produces a visible record of what went into the ancient ale.

McGovern tells the paper a sample’s compounds are separated and fed into a mass-spectrometer to determine the compounds’ weights. The information allows him to identify the residue’s compounds and recreate the beers, he added.

We are talking very old beer.

McGovern got the idea after finding some beer-soaked pottery from an excavation of the Midas Tumulus tomb in Turkey.

“When we took a look at that we just said, ‘Ew,’” McGovern tells the paper. “That’s when we got the idea to do the experimental archaeology to see if we could make such a beverage — and something you’d actually want to drink.”

Human beings first started drinking beer in Mesopotamia around 3,200 BCE.

“The methods of micro-brewing today have a huge similarity to what was done in ancient times,” McGovern tells the Chronicle. “So we don’t necessarily have to use ultra-primitive methods.”

However, the paper reports Great Lakes Brewing Company in Cleveland uses replicas of ancient vessels to brew a Sumerian beer with traditional methods.

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