Friday, January 25, 2008

The Ur-Guinness

In the December 2007 issue of Wired, Nadya Labi discusses the investigations being carried out by archaeologists Billy Quinn and Declan Moore into Ireland's ancient breweries.

Quinn and Moore got a crash course in ancient techniques by visiting breweries in Spain, Belgium, and Canada. Then they repurposed a cattle trough, filling it with water and placing it in a clay-lined hole. Using granite stones toasted in a nearby fire, the pair heated the water until it was steaming but not bubbling — according to the brewers they consulted, 153 degrees Fahrenheit is the ideal temperature for breaking down starch into sugar. Then they scooped in barley. After bringing the concoction to a boil, they transferred it to containers, added bog myrtle, meadow sweet, and, of course, yeast — all ingredients available to Bronze Age boozers. Three days later, the slightly fizzy copper-colored ale was ready for consumption.

Unfortunately, US restrictions on alcohol imports foiled Wired's efforts to get a taste. As far as Quinn is concerned, though, the beverage passed the only true test: At a party he and Moore hosted to share the fruits of their labors, people "drank it by the pintful."

Nice work if you can get it.

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