In-depth discussion on a lager brewed in the 1970s, with some good history of lager bier.
"Is lager beer aged two months vs. six or nine as in old times, just as good? What about beer given two weeks storage if that? I’ve asked that question of brewers many times. Most seem convinced long-aging isn’t needed and on the theory (which I’ve bruited myself) that fresh beer is best, aging time can be shortened."
"Rorabaugh writes that the Europeans who traveled to North America in the 1600s were already heavy drinkers. Because imported beer was expensive, colonists fermented peach juice and apple cider, and imported rum from the West Indies. In Virginia, barbecues, market days, and elections were a chance to pass around jugs of liquor. In 1770, many Americans opened the day with a drink and consumed rum or hard cider with every meal. People of all ages drank, even toddlers, who enjoyed the sugary dregs of their parents’ rum toddies."
"The Hubbard Amphora is a Cypriot vessel decorated with a drinking scene in which an enthroned individual drinks from a vessel using a bent straw. Th Early Iron Age amphora (ca. 800 BCE) is currently housed in the Cyprus Museum in Nicosia (1938-XI/2/3)."
Just a few miles from Bamburgh Castle in Northeast England, lies the Bradford Kaims: a once major marshland inhabited by humans from the Mesolithic to Late Bronze Age. The Bamburgh Research Project (BRP) began investigating the Kaims back in 2009, and discovered some exciting material from burnt mounds. First, an extensive timber platform which is thought to be an access-way to open water (more on that here). Second, a few stone-lined troughs were excavated. Given the proximity the troughs were to open water, it is possible these early inhabitants were using the troughs to boil water (via stones), hinting at the possibility of brewing.
Experimental beer brewing
Recently, the BRP ran an experimental brewing course to see whether brewing could be possible using these similar technologies found at the Bradford Kaims.
I reached out to supervisor Rebecca Brummet, a veteran field archaeologist with the BRP, who was kind enough to answer a few questions so I could learn more about this project.
How did you get interested in Archaeology, and what brought you to the BRP?
I have always been interested in Archaeology, but didn't pursue it as a career until I started University in the U.S. I am mainly interested in prehistoric northern Europe, specifically the British Isles, so when I did research on Field Schools as part of my degree requirements, I came across the Bamburgh Research Project, specifically the Bradford Kaims Project and decided I wanted to learn here.
How important is this plank structure found on site?
Excavation of the timber platform
According to Tom Gardner, Project Officer of the Bradford Kaims, "we believe it to be very important, possibly of international importance". Further work will need to be done to determine its relationship to the Burnt Mounds found on site.
Have you brewed before?
Our project has been brewing for three field seasons so far and have had success with barley in the past, so we continued to use it this year. I was a part of the beer brewing experiments last season and took on the mantle of Director this season to continue brewing beer and conduct other types of recreation processes in an attempt to understand how early humans used the resources around them.
As I understand it, the area has some modest evidence for human occupation in the late Mesolithic and early Neolithic, but no firm evidence of use til around the Bronze Age?
Burnt mound under excavation, revealing what is believed to be a trough for water boiling.
Is it safe to say that those living in the area were planting oats and wheat as suggested by the pollen record?
Per the public report, Bradford Kaims Wetland Heritage Project-Archaeological Report, "Firmer evidence for anthropogenic activity begins...with the first appearance of pollen from the Avena-Triticum group of cultivated cereal. Initial human activity does not appear to be within the immediate area. A more local presence only becomes likely in EB3a and above. Even then major changes to the vegetation caused by human activity are not supported by the evidence at Embleton within the centuries covered by the current pollen core."
Were there any signs of barley use or brewing? If there were no signs of barley, was there a reason you opted for a barley beer, rather than an oat/wheat mixture?
We don't have specific evidence at the site for barley use for beer brewing. The reason we used barley was because we were able to procure it from a local supplier. Beer brewing is quite fun and easy and our students often enjoy taking part in the processes and tasting the outcome. To be fair, we wouldn't win any awards for the taste of the beer, but it provides us a glimpse into the life of early humans and an interesting experience for our students.
It is often stated that brewing alcoholic beverages in the neolithic would more likely be a mix of fermentable sugars (honey, grape juice, barley etc). So the resultant beverage is more like a grog, rather than a modern beer. Would there be access to other fermentable sugars other than grains?
Honey would be found locally, but we don't have any indication of honey being used or for beer brewing taking place at the site.
What role do you think brewing and beer would play in early societies?
Personally, I think that brewing beer from grains allows multiple uses of the same resources, something early societies would have wanted considering the limited access to resources on a year round basis. Last season we used our leftover mash to pat into little unleavened barley cakes and bake on a large hot stone in the fire. This year we used some flour from the barley, mixed with an oil procured from sedge at our site to create more unleavened barley cakes. While not exactly the most palatable, they were edible, so I could imagine that with a little imagination and the addition of local herbs and spices, you could make something more palatable. I also think that beer brewing brings people together. One person could make beer, but it's easier, takes less time and is more fun with a group of people helping you out. We had a group starting the fire, another group gathering elderflowers and another breaking the barley husks. It's a community effort and it's quite enjoyable drinking the fruits of your labor after the fermentation process takes place.
Switching gears to more brewing related questions -
What’s the reasoning behind using unmalted barley? It served, I think, as a bit of a surprise for some, but you say it's been successful before?
It's my understanding that unmalted barley was used in the first season batch and I believe we used it in one of our batches last season so we wanted to replicate our experiment to see if it would work again.
Why separate the wort from the grain (i.e. lauter)? It is what modern brewing tells us to do, but would it necessarily been done in Neolithic times?
We separated the wort and grain because that's what we had been directed to do.
What are you hoping to learn from experiments like this?
Since this was not a scientific experiment with controls put in place, we were more or less just having a go at beer brewing to see how difficult it may be and to give our students a fun, hands on experience as part of the learning process. We have many burnt mounds at the Bradford Kaims, so we know that early human groups used that area over a long period of time to heat up stones, presumably for heating up water. One of the uses of heated water includes brewing beer, so we thought we would try it out. We have not found any indication in our troughs that beer brewing was in practice at the site though.
All the best and cheers!
I think the statement “[beer brewing] provides us a glimpse into the life of early humans and an interesting experience for our students” perfectly sums up why this effort by the Bradford Kaims team is simply awesome.
Some more fascinating research on beer additives in the 1800s.
“In this collection of documents from the State Assembly of New York in 1886, it was said brewers try to shorten 8-12 weeks of aging time by artificially clarifying and carbonating the beer. This was done by adding bicarbonate of soda and if the acidity in the beer was not high enough, cream of tartar or another acid was added. It was not just to mix with isinglass: some brewers added cream of tartar to help carbonate the beer faster.”
Further on, Gary postulates an interesting (and fairly convincing) idea on the origins of ‘cream’ in ‘cream ale / cream beer / cream soda’.
Not the most in-depth article (there are no tasting notes, for one), but it at least highlights some sahti brewers. “This used to be the pigsty,” says Petteri while offering me a glass of sahti in a small tasting room. “I worked in the military at the time and was looking for a change of scenery. I read in the paper a story about retiring entrepreneurs who didn’t have anyone to continue their business. That’s where I saw Finlandia Sahti. I had some experience with brewing beer at home and after talking with my wife I decided to leave from the Finnish Defence Forces and become a sahti brewer.”
A new Bell Beaker (2,600 to 2,200 BCE) ‘earthwork enclosure’ has been discovered in southern Spain. There have been some evidence (and strong arguments for) the Bell Beaker culture were brewing, and I wouldn’t be very surprised if some evidence for brewing was found in future digs, Especially given that:
[the site] “...consists of several circular trenches with entrance-like openings at regular intervals. In the center was a deep, circular hole some 19 meters wide. In it, the archaeologists found large clay bricks with burn marks on it which may have served a ritual purpose. But they did not find human remains or indications of continuous settlement after the Copper Age -- suggesting the site was used intensively for a relatively short period.”
Sounds like a potential malting and / or brewing facility, to me.
For this rendition of the session, we were tasked to put down our IPAs and seek out a few pilsners to compare and contrast. Something I can get behind since pilsners, I feel, don’t get enough love. I would have written about the history of pilsner for this post, but that would be a disservice to Evan Rail’s work and expertise. Check out his Pilsner Urquell series if you’d like to read more on the topic.
I don’t know how I forgot to buy a Czech Pils, but I hope the beer gods forgive me due to the amount of Pilsner Urquell and other pils I have drank (drunk?) before.
Beer 1: Light golden color, lingering foamy head, with a faint green apple aroma. Not too much taste, but noticeable hop and biscuit flavor.
Overall: 3 / 5
Beer 2: Orange in color, a long lasting dense white head, with a nice orange marmalade aroma. Tastes almost of an orange soda with some grapefruit. Dry and bitter finish.
Beer 3: Light gold in color, rapidly dissipating head with not too much nose (but what I get is bready). Not too much flavor, but it has a faint pale malt taste with a hint of hops.
Overall: 3.2 / 5 So, Beer 1 was Schoenramer Pils, Beer 2 (no surprise) was To Ol’s Markedpils, and Beer 3 was Heidenpeters Pilz. All the beers here were solid representation of what Pilsners can be, but I am a bit surprised as I expected more from Heidenpeter’s. Still, these beers would all be nice on a hot day, like it should be in Berlin...despite all the rain this past week.
The tale of Burton IPA getting to India. Thoroughly enjoyed this one
"The London brewer Hodgson's owns the beer market in India. He has good links with the East India Company's sea captains and they make a lot of money by transporting and selling his beers. But Hodgson gets greedy and tries to hike prices, flooding the market with cheap beer whenever a competitor appears, then whacking them up again when the competitor backs off. "
A fascinating review on the techniques used to cool wine in Rome and the beer caves in 1800s America.
“Although we often overlook it, the temperatures of food and drinks could serve as indicators of wealth and luxury before the late 19th century. Mechanical refrigeration was actually a response to the needs of brewers, since the process of brewing and fermentation required natural cooling of the fermenting beer.”
The story of the rise of fresh beer (i.e. lager) in the United States. This is but one of the articles Gary Gillman has penned this week, and I encourage everyone to go have a look at what else he has written.
“But if the long-aged lager was so good, why did American breweries abandon it, something that happened in Europe too albeit later? Did they sacrifice the best quality for commercial convenience and profit? Why did they not sell some long-aged lager as a specialty? Most consumer products have different grades.”
Beer is proof that god loves us and wants us to be happy Benjamin Franklin
Except that Franklin never said that. Nor is it true that the IPA was invented to last the journey to India, the Pilgrims went ashore because they ran out of Beer, or that Ale-Conners sat on benches to test the strength of beer. But that is one of the joys of learning and especially with studying the history of beer, you get to re-discover the truth and learn how things really happened.
Brewing has been a part of human material culture ever since the Neolithic. It is intertwined with religious, culinary, and ethnic traditions. As such, studying the history of brewing not only covers the scientific/technical development of an industry but also ourselves, our political games, economies, rites of passage, and daily rituals. That is why I decided to start researching it.
My dissertation focused on the Faroe Islands, with a pre-viking era settlement. Incidentally, there were some pots with potential beer residue, so my adviser and I decided to have a look. The results were inconclusive, and we were unable to modify our experiments to increase resolution due to time constraints. Hopefully in the future we will be able to try again, but in the meantime, the materials will sit in the storage area of the archaeological department.
My fondest memory of my masters was sitting in the library with piles and piles of articles and text books on beer. Whether about beer in Africa, India, Asia, South America, drinking rituals to the legitimacy of residue analysis, it was really an endless exploration for more knowledge. An experience I never felt with biology.
This blog, then, serves as a continuation of my studies. So, here you will find my jottings on academic papers, investigations, interviews, and brewing. Topics I hope to cover are the current knowledge of brewing archaeology, the roles beer played in the past, and the people acting behind the scenes.
Firstly, I have the new spiffy timelytipple.com domain now! Plus, I know the RSS feeder wasn't working, but that should be taken care of (hopefully). Also spent a week in Italy vacationing and getting caught up on some reading and writing. So the next few blog posts are already in the pipeline!
Also working on a few other side project that I hope to announce soon.
I hope something good comes out of this, but it may already be too late. It’s pretty grim in the archaeological world (and science in general, if you dont study medicine / engineering related things).
An academic journal was recently published on the microflora of palm wine from Burkina Faso. They monitored the fermentation of two palm wines during the time theyre traditionally produced and consumed. Their results showed different yeast and bacterial populations. Saccharomyces cerevisiae remained the only yeast in one fermentation, but was outcompeted by Corynebacterium sp, and Lactobacillus. I’ll have to do a full review of this later on as it seems like an interesting read.
"Raised in Ghana’s once German-occupied Volta Region, Djameh was exposed to beer from an early age. His father was a German teacher, and often socialized with visiting Germans in need of translation services. They would drink German beer together, and it fascinated Djameh. He promised himself that he would learn to make it some day."
Story of Clement Djameh who recently opened Ghana's first microbrewery. Clement started his brewing career by attending TU Munich, then moving back to Africa to brew with some of the big names. The brewery's website states that they make some indigenous African beers as well, so I hope some day I get to visit.
Around 450 BC in Southern Germany, someone (probably an intern) burnt a special structure. Some thousand years later, a team of archaeologists uncovered this ditch, revealing a well-preserved Iron Age malting facility and a mass amount of germinated barley grain.
To figure out just how Iron Age man was malting their grain, Dr. Hans-Peter Stika set up a few experiments to see if he could artificially replicate these grain found at this archaeological site.
Photo of the ditch excavation, with barley at the bottom 
This malting facility is located in Eberdingen-Hochdorf, next to Stuttgart. The area was identified as a farm within the rural residence of a nearby fortified hill top, known as ‘Hohen Asperg.’ There was also a rich grave mound found located just half a kilometer to the east of the site. Given the other finds at the site (such as some fine ceramics and bronze material), it is assumed this farm belonged to a Celtic Prince, probably living at the Hohen Asperg hilltop fort.
Six ditches were found, each approximately 5 - 6 m long, 0.6 m wide and up to 1.1 m deep in a U-shaped profile. Since there was no evidence for erosion, Dr. Stika assumed the walls were supported with wooden boards, despite no such boards being excavated.
The site turned up three different groups of grains (assemblages). Two contained mostly hulled barley. Although the exact amount of barley isnt specified, it is said to be within the thousands of ‘multirowed barley’, which I'm assuming is six-row. The remaining assemblage had only around 266 individual grains and contained a few other species (wheat varieties and wild plants).
Recovered barley from Hochdorf trenches 
So to start the experiment, hulled and naked barley grains were germinated. This was done by soaking both grain types overnight, and then divided into three different groups. These were then exposed to different temperatures, light, and climate:
Dark environment with humidity control around 10 °C
Dark plus damp cellar around 14 °C
Daylight at room temperature
After the germination process, these subgroups were then compared to modern malts. The best results were under dark and cool conditions with constantly high humidity. Signs of germination began after five days.
These experimental grains were then exposed to charring, to make them suitable for comparison to the Hochdorf trench grains. Charring was done at two different temperatures: 250 °C and 350 °C. Grains which were still moist puffed up, whereas dry grains remained morphologically intact. As expected, sprouts from the germination process did not survive, and no sprouts were recovered at the archaeological site. Interestingly, grains which were left to germinate for seven days or longer did not preserve well.
So, in order to replicate the grains found at the Hochdorf site, barley grain had to dry, be evenly sprouted, and only in a slightly sprouted state. Thus, the authors conclude, that this was most likely a malting facility on a large scale. It is tough to say exactly how malting would have been carried out, but at least we can say that Iron Age man was able to produce a consistent and successful malt. Even when compared to modern standards.
To explain how this structure was destroyed (and thus ‘placed into’ the archaeological record), the following was proposed: a wooden support holding the dry malt accidently caught on fire, eventually collapsed thus scattering the grains over the bottom of the ditch where they were then covered by said wooden frame.
In theory, the ditches could have also been used to dry green malt as well as for germination. Soaked barley grains could easily be spread onto mats (made out of a woven material), and laid on the ditch floor. Then simply cover the top and a damp, cool environment would be created, providing optimal conditions to produce quality malt.
These could also be also used for drying the barley, if a small fire at one end of the ditch were started, and other infrastructure installed to create the necessary airflow to successfully dry the grain. But such objects were not found.
So what does this all mean? It seems to suggest that Iron Age maltsters knew what they were doing in order to create evenly germinated grain (presumably) for brewing. All there is to do now is to replicate these ditch frames and make some malt.
Stika, Hans-Peter. "Early Iron Age and Late Mediaeval malt finds from Germany—attempts at reconstruction of early Celtic brewing and the taste of Celtic beer." Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 3.1 (2011): 41-48.
Merryn goes over how the vast amounts of burnt mounds throughout Britain could be explained with trough style brewing. Would love to try brewing that way, seems like a lot of fun (but a lot of work at the same time).
The attempts at revival of a ‘45 million year old’ yeast found from fossilized amber discovered by Dr. Raul Cano in 1992. I’ll have to read the scientific article to see whether I trust his findings, but more yeast to brew with the better.