VIU anthropology undergraduate student Melissa Ayling, left, and Marie Hopwood, archaeology professor, show off the byproducts of a research project that looked at the impacts brewing and consuming beer made on ancient communities. The research lead to a collaboration with a nano-brewery in Qualicum Beach to create to beers based on recipes from Mesopotamia and a dark ale base on a Viking grog. CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

Ancient beer recipes recreated on Vancouver Island

NANAIMO - Ancient beers revived from study into influence of brews on ancient cultures

Vancouver Island University professor Marie Hopwood and anthropology undergraduate student Melissa Ayling have turned to ancient brews to whet students’ appetites for what can be a dry subject.

Hopwood, an anthropological archaeologist specializing in Mesopotamiawants to show her students the birthplace of early civilizations aren’t just collections of static artifacts, but were homelands to people who traded, created, worshipped, sang, raised children, worked, fought, farmed and enjoyed a good brew.

“My whole thing with my career is to try to put faces onto the past … if we can’t imagine the past as people with faces, as archaeologists, ethically, we should stop digging because excavation is always destructive,” Hopwood said. “Once you dig it out you can’t put it back in … We have copious amounts of detail in terms of architecture and organized religion and warfare and empire … but they were also making beer and they were sharing it and they were using it in feasting. They were making food and they were doing all these things. So to understand the lives of all these people … beer and food is how I access that.”

There has been no shortage of beer-drinking songs, but likely none go back as far as a hymn to Ninkasi, Sumerian goddess of beer, from 5,000 years ago. Its verses detail a beer recipe and brewing instructions people likely sang in praise of her as they made it.

Women, it turns out, were the primary brewers of ancients beers, which were often crafted for nutrition and promoting good health, Hopwood said, and for thousands of years until the Industrial Revolution they were made “in every single household this is part of what it is to be a good woman in these societies. They were making their own beer.”

Ancient brews differed greatly from beers today. Ninkasi’s was made from mash fermented for a few days in clay pots that people drank with straws to avoid getting mouthfuls of mash floating on its surface.

Ayling, whose interest in archaeology was rekindled by one of Hopwood’s courses, wanted to know how ancient beers taste.

“As I did more research into ancient alcohols, it’s not a cut-and-dried beer made with barley and hops,” Ayling said. “It’s a beer that has honey in it or maybe some berries that were around, or there’s even hibiscus beers that sound delicious … that’s where I got really interested with putting faces on the past. I like to see the tastes of the past.”

The women’s common interests, coupled with inspiration from archaeologist Patrick McGovern’s book Ancient Brews: Rediscovered and Recreated, sparked the idea to embark on an ethno-archaeological research project examining the influence brewing had on ancient communities by recreating two ancient beer recipes from Mesopotamia and Scandinavia. They enlisted help from Dave Paul, owner Qualicum Beach nano-brewery Love Shack Libations, whom Hopwood met when Paul gave a presentation on the history of craft beer brewing.

“It was right up my alley and I’m always interested in trying new things, so away we went,” Paul said.

Paul stipulated the beers had to be drinkable and saleable, so they weren’t produced exactly as the originals, but were modelled on the ancient recipes.

The brews are called Midas Touch, based on a Mesopotamian recipe, and Odin’s Eye, a dark ale based on an ancient Viking grog flavoured with honey, birch bark and cranberries and other ingredients including lingonberries. An Incan Chicha brew made from Peruvian purple corn is also in the works.

“Half the fun is trying to track these things down … and trying to figure out, if you can’t get your hands on something, what would they have used back then or what’s the closest we can get nowadays,” Paul said.

READ ALSO: Vancouver Island Brewing puts Nanaimo bar on tap

The beers were unveiled at a recent tasting event at VIU and Hopwood and Ayling present their work at the Society of Archaeology conference in Albuquerque, N.M., this week.

Hopwood is fine-tuning her program for the fall, which will include researching and creating ancient foods and beer and is planning another tasting event in the spring.

“The plan is to do it again next year and maybe have this as an annual event, but have more beers and have it open to more of the public, but also have it as a knowledge-sharing event where we get to talk about ancient beer … put faces on the past … as we’re sharing these ancient beers and these ancient flavours,” Hopwood said.

READ ALSO: ‘Sour outage’ beer commemorates B.C.’s big power outage



photos@nanaimobulletin.com
Like us on
Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Gate House Theatre presents: A Suessified Christmas Carol

The play was an entertaining, amusing and engaging blend of the rhyme based story telling.

Bradshaw’s Photo Highlight: San Josef Bay

“I have always had an overwhelming desire to get to the sea stacks as soon as possible”

Port Hardy Rotary Club donates $8,077 to the Gazette Christmas Hamper Fund

The hamper fund raises food and donations for many communities in the North Island.

Oscar Hickes: The longest running hockey tournament on Vancouver Island has been cancelled

Patrick Murray, one of the organizers for the tournament, broke the sad news on social media.

Port McNeill council wants to see a plan on how to protect and invest tax dollars

“if we can make $40,000 or $50,000 in interest, why not, as it could reduce taxes”

‘Things haven’t changed enough:’ Ecole Polytechnique anniversary prompts reflection

Fourteen women were fatally shot by a gunman at the Montreal school on Dec. 6, 1989

B.C. pharmaceutical company’s stocks double in value after successful lupus drug trial

More than 40 per cent of patients using voclosporin saw improvements in kidney function

Second warning on romaine lettuce from California region as another E. coli case reported

Two cases of E. coli have been reported in relation to the illness in the U.S.

Six B.C. municipalities accepted as interveners in Supreme Court of Canada carbon-pricing case

Victoria, Vancouver, Squamish, Richmond, Nelson and Rossland have intervener status

Residents in B.C. city could face 133% tax hike in ‘worst case’ lawsuit outcome: report

An average home could see a tax increase of $2,164 in one year

B.C. Transit finds 28 used fareboxes online, saves $300,000

‘Someone joked maybe we can buy used fareboxes on eBay,’ CEO says

Many of Canada’s working poor can’t afford lawyers, don’t qualify for legal aid

One lawyer says many people earn too much to qualify for legal aid, but not enough to really live on

Economy lost 71,200 jobs in November, unemployment rate climbs to 5.9%

Jobless rate is at its highest since August 2018, when it hit 6%

BC Hydro reservoirs see record low rain across Vancouver Island

Hydro electric watersheds are at a third of their normal levels

Most Read