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

Cougars spotted in Sproat Lake neighbourhoods

ACRD director warns residents to keep children, pets close

Alberni Valley firefighters pass the boot for Muscular Dystrophy

Annual fundraiser started in 1967 with Port Alberni Fire Department

Who are the Frozen Franklins? Find out at the Alberni Valley Museum

The museum and Echoes in the Ice exhibit are open April 20 during Easter weekend

Former teacher returns to Port Alberni to lead Alzheimer’s Walk

Jory Mitchell celebrates his journey with late wife and her Alzheimer’s diagnosis

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve issues cougar warning at Kennedy Lake

Cougar encounter reported between Tofino and Ucluelet.

Dashcam captures close call between minivan, taxi at busy Vancouver intersection

To make the footage more nerve-wracking, a pedestrian can be seen standing at the corner

Waste not: Kootenay brewery leftovers feed the local food chain

Spent grains from the Trail Beer Refinery are donated to local farmers and growers, none go to waste

Deck collapses in Langley during celebration, 35 people injured

Emergency responders rushed to the Langley home

B.C. mom wages battle to get back four kids taken from her in Egypt

Sara Lessing of Mission has help from Abbotsford law firm

VIDEO: Fire guts Peachland home

Crews are still on scene pumping water onto the blaze in the Okanagan neighbourhood

$6K raised in one day’s time for family of woman gunned down in Penticton

GoFundMe launched for family of Darlene Knippelberg, to pay for funeral costs and other expenses

B.C. mountain biker sent home from hospital twice, despite broken vertebrae

Released in Maple Ridge to go home with three fractured vertebrae

Seven tips to travel safely this Easter long weekend

An average of three people are killed, and hundreds more injured, each Easter long weekend in B.C.

Seattle’s 4-20 ‘protestival’ enjoys tolerance, some support – and B.C. could do the same

Seattle’s Hempfest a large-scale occasions with vendors, prominent musical acts and thousands of attendees

Most Read