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

Port Alberni riders compete in Pony Club championships in Courtenay

Two riders earn ribbons at regional competition

Port Alberni contractor earns safety award

Mosaic Forest Management honoured 10 Vancouver Island contractors

Courtenay-Alberni Greens name Sean Wood as federal candidate

Nomination meeting took place June 15 at Hupacasath Hall in Port Alberni

Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District approves one cannabis store, denies another

Stores would have been located across the street from one another in Cherry Creek

UPDATED: Taylor Flats wildfire in the Alberni Valley under control

Fire is located close to Highway 4 near Sproat Lake

Protesters rally in Victoria over newly approved Trans Mountain pipeline

The Still No Consent! No Trans Mountain! 20 kilometre march will end at Island View Beach

Wildfire burning in coastal forest

A fire beside the Sea to Sky Highway is burning up a steep slope

PHOTOS: Event marks one year since soccer team rescued from Thai cave

Nine players and coach took part in marathon and bike event to help improve conditions at cave

Rock climber dies after fall at Stawamus Chief in Squamish

The man had fallen about 30 metres while climbing in the Grand Wall area

Five B.C. students taken to hospital after playing with vaping device

School district said students were taken to hospital ‘out of an abundance of caution’

Being a pot dealer is not what it used to be

Sunday Big Read: the business of selling marijuana in B.C. is a slow bureaucratic slog

VIDEO: Two more pride flags have been stolen from Langley woman

Lisa Ebenal was “angry” and “fed up” after the latest theft. Then people started showing suppport

B.C. couple who has raised 58 children turns to community amid cancer diagnosis

Family who raised, fostered and adopted many kids hoping to gain some precious together time to fight cancer

Canucks acquire forward J.T. Miller from Lightning

J.T. Miller, 26, had 13 goals and 34 assists for the Lightning last season

Most Read