Fads Come and Go

By Christopher Zoukis

I don’t know if you know it or not, but way back when, before they even had home brewing kits or modern beer brewing supplies – as far back as 3400 B.C. – people were brewing their own beer.  The world’s oldest known barley beer comes from the Zagros Mountains in Iran, as does the oldest grape wine (5400 B.C.).  But the all-time winner is a Neolithic grog unearthed in China’s Yellow River Valley about 9000 years ago. 

There’s a brewery in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, called Dogfish Head, where they take these old brewing recipes seriously – they try to copy them.  Then they take the results and bottle it, distribute it, and sell it.  And surprisingly, some of the ancient-style beers they produce sell very well.    Dogfish Head’s brewery came up with a beer called Midas Touch, the recipe for which was based on old and decaying libations recovered from King Midas’ tomb (700 B.C.).

At the present juncture, the brewery is experimenting with an Egyptian beer.  The process is being filmed by Discovery Channel’s ‘Brew Master’s’ reality show.  Based on libations discovered by archaeologists in the tomb of Pharaoh Scorpion I, they are trying for a combination of savory, thyme and coriander.  To this medley of spices they added oregano and a number of others, such as doum-palm fruit and chamomile.

The brewers went to great lengths to reproduce the recipe as accurately as possible, including procuring yeast from the locality in Egypt.  Wild airborne yeast cells were captured in sugar-filled petri dishes, which were then sent to a lab in Belgium, where the yeast was isolated and cultured in large amounts.

Back in Delaware, the brewers went to work.  The spices were mixed with barley sugars and hops and simmered over a heat source insulated by bricks.  The aroma of toast and molasses rises from the kettle.  When the unfermented beer is poured out, it’s a light golden brown color.  To initiate the fermentation process, the brewers add a yellowish, opaque liquid, which is the Egyptian yeast. 

The plan is to make seven kegs of the experimental brew, which will be revealed at a special event in New York a few weeks later.  And since it will take the brew at least than long to age, they won’t know if it’s any good or not because they won’t be able to taste it prior to its revelation. 

The new beer was called Dogfish Head’s Ta Henket, which in ancient Egyptian means “bread beer.”  They unveiled it during the glitzy King Tut exhibit at Times Square.  The reviews ranged the spectrum from wonderful to “think citrus, herbs, bubble gum.”

Ta Henket is now available commercially, and represents the hardest of the hardcore home brewing fad, a fad that began thousands of years ago.