During the 4th millennium BCE, the Central Plain experienced a period of rapid social development, and that may have been facilitated by the widespread adoption of beer brewing.
In what may be huge news for lovers of craft beer and ancient history buffs around the globe, a team of Chinese researchers have successfully re-created the world’s oldest beer - a 5,000-year-old concoction that was uncovered in an ancient pot in the Central Plain of China.
Li Liu, a professor in Chinese archaeology at Stanford, together with doctoral candidate Jiajing Wang and a group of other experts, provided the earliest evidence of beer production in China so far. The team of archaeologists uncovered ancient beer-making implements, as well as a recipe for beer, dating back some five thousand years. The 'brewing rooms' were constructed underground between 3400 and 2900 BCE, and during excavations, various "beer-making tool kits" were discovered. The items' shapes indicate they could be put to use in a variety of brewing, filtration, and storage capacities. The ancient beer recipe was uncovered by analysing residue found on the inside of these pottery vessels.
In China, beer is thought to have at least five hidden health benefits, including reducing the likelihood of arthritis and promoting brain health (to some extent).
The main challenge for this unprecedented experiment recreating the ancient brew was acquiring appropriate raw materials and finding ways to process them without the use of any modern machinery or tools.
Here’s how the researchers recreated the 5000-year-old brew:
Broomcorn millet, barley, and Job's tears, a chewy Asian grain also known as Chinese pearl barley, were all used in the recipe as fermented grains. Beer was sweetened and flavored with tubers, the starchy and sugary plant parts called for in the recipe. They used a technique called malting, wherein they submerged grain in water and allowed it to germinate. When the grain sprouted, the seeds were crushed and rehydrated. The mashing process entails placing the container with the mixture in an oven heated to 65 degrees Celsius for an hour. After that, they put the lid on and left it at room temperature for a week to ferment.
So, what was the flavor of this ancient brew? Chief researcherJiajing Wang correctly predicted that "it would taste a bit sour and a bit sweet."
But why is this discovery significant?
The discovery is significant in three ways. Firstly, looking at the leftover starch granules, it was found that many of them had been damaged (in a way that occurs during beer-making), corroborating earlier findings. Secondly, the presence of millet and barley were also discovered. Third, chemical analysis revealed that the residue includes oxalic acid, which is attributed to the byproduct of beer brewing called calcium oxalate, also known as "beerstone."
During the 4th millennium BCE, the Central Plain experienced a period of rapid social development, and that may have been facilitated by the widespread adoption of beer brewing. Alcoholic ritual feasts likely organised by elite individuals were common during the late Yangshao period in the Wei River region, as were hierarchically organised settlement patterns, interpolity competitions, and the construction of large public architectures at regional centres.
Beer, like other alcoholic beverages, has been used to negotiate various types of social relationships, making it one of the most widely used and versatile drugs in the world. A rise in competitive feasting may have coincided with the rise in beer production, as the two go hand in hand. The Central Plain is often referred to as "the cradle of Chinese civilization," and it is possible that the production and consumption of Yangshao beer contributed to the development of hierarchical societies in the area.
Archaeologists have long wondered about the Neolithic Revolution, a time when humans shifted from a nomadic lifestyle of hunting and gathering to a settled one of farming. According to Liu, studying the history of food and drink production can shed light on how ancient people behaved. Since organic molecules easily degrade with time and make it difficult to determine how ancient people made alcohol and food, Liu points out that experiential archaeology is more crucial than merely examining artefacts.
According to Patrick McGovern, the "Indiana Jones" of ancient fermented beverages and a biomolecular archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, the Chinese became brew masters early on, making barley beer at the same time as "the earliest chemically attested barley beer from Iran," "the earliest beer-mashing facilities in Egypt," and "the earliest wine-making facility in Armenia."
Now, who knows what other fascinating discoveries might be in store for future researchers? Let’s drink to that!