Ancient Ales - Dogfish Head Brewery
The Reinheitsgebot, in addition to being a long and funny word, is the name of the Bavarian Beer Purity Act created in 1516. It made it illegal to brew with anything other than barley, water and hops. (Yeast had yet to be identified by Louis Pasteur.) Flash forward to today and the vast majority of commercially available beer is brewed in accordance with, or with deference to, this arcane law. And yet, long before the law existed—thousands of years earlier—every culture brewed beer with whatever was flavorful, bountiful and delicious and grew beneath their land. American craft brewers are bringing this adventurous spirit back to the brewing landscape.
My brewery, Dogfish Head, has built its reputation for brewing extreme, exotic, extraordinary beers with “nontraditional” ingredients like chicory, licorice root, maple syrup, honey, pumpkins, raisins and brown sugar. This may sound freaky—or perhaps rebellious to “traditional” brewing practices—but it turns out that history has proved these are indeed traditional beers. You may say this refers to ancient history, and you’d be right!
Since 1999 we have worked closely with molecular archeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern, one of the world’s leading experts in ancient beverages, bringing ancient brewing history back to life producing what we call Ancient Ales.
The recipe for Midas Touch, for example, is based on molecular evidence found in a Turkish tomb believed to have belonged to King Midas and brewed with honey, white Muscat grapes and saffron. The ingredient list for Chateau Jiahu was unearthed from a 9,000-year-old tomb in China. The Jiahu discovery represents the oldest known fermented beverage evidence in the history of civilization. That means that drinks made from fermented grain (beer) have a longer history than beverages made from fermented grapes (wine). Chateau Jiahu is made with hawthorn fruit, sake rice, barley and honey. Theobroma is brewed with honey, ancho chilies, ground annatto seeds, cocoa nibs and cocoa powder from the artisanal Askinosie Chocolate company, and Sah’tea is brewed with rye, juniper and Black Chai Tea—based on a 9th century Finnish recipe.
Beers such as these are truly liquid time capsules, transporting modern beer connoisseurs back to a time when our ancestor-brewers were unencumbered by style guidelines and laws such as the Reinheitsgebot, making beers with the indigenous, natural ingredients at hand. The artistry, creativity and diversity of these beers were as colorful and contrasting as the varied cultures in which they were brewed.
Americans are waking up to the fact that world-class beer is being made right in their own backyards and discovering how some modern brewing may just be the most traditional in the world.
So, I invite you to be promiscuous in your beer choices. Cheat on your go-to beer—your same old same old. Explore the full spectrum of vibrant, creative craft beers that are now available to beer lovers right here at Total Wine & More.
Sam Calagione is founder and president of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Milton, Del., and author of “Extreme Brewing and Brewing Up a Business” and co-author of “He Said Beer, She Said Wine”