How’s this for an Old Style Brew: Archeologists just uncovered a Chinese beer recipe that might be over 5,000 years old.
In a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of Stanford University scientists, describing the boozy treasures they found in the banks of the Wei River, outline their discovery of what was pretty much a microbrewery, complete with traces of the ingredients used to perfect the ancient pints.
Excavating at an archaeological site known as Mijiaya, dated to around 3400-2900 BCE, the researchers unearthed wide-mouthed pots, funnels, and amphorae — tall, urn-like jars with handles at its neck — that were once used to produce and hold the ancient ale. The interiors of these vessels held yellowish remnants of their boozy contents, which bear a pretty close resemblance to the ingredients that go into modern brews.
As far as we can tell, the ancient Chinese living on the banks of the Wei River, known as the Yangshao people, weren’t exactly hop freaks; their recipes involved standard grains like barley, another barley variant known as “Job’s tears” (Chinese pearl barley), and broomcorn millet as the basis for their drinks, but no flavoring agents were discovered. The researchers also found traces of tubers — starchy vegetables like potatoes and yams —which are known to produce largely flavorless booze.
Nearby in the pits, they also found stoves, which were likely to have been used for heating up the mash — the step in which sugars are pulled out of the grain — before the crucial boiling and fermentation steps.
Though long considered a linchpin of the ancient Chinese diet, barley’s appearance in the Mijiaya pits — now the earliest known occurrence of barley in the country by 1,000 years — suggests that the grain was a beer-brewing staple long before it made it to the kitchen table.