Esoteric Online

Two Ancient Brews

Author:  Betsy ParksIssue: November 2007

What's old is new again. Dogfish Head Brewery has been brewing Midas Touch, a beer based on the residue found in an ancient urn, for years. Now they've added a second historically-recreated brew to their lineup - Chateau Jiahu. Learn how to clone these "archaeobeers."

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, known for their innovation and esoteric beers, have proven that what’s old is new if you go back far enough in time.

Through their brewing experiments with ancient fermented beverages, they’ve introduced the modern world to the tastes and methods of primitive brewers, and infiltrated the craft brew market with a very different genre. And although you may not be able to time travel, they’ve also proven that anyone can drink (and brew) a little history — even at home.

“My intention was to stay accurate to the archaeological findings while appealing to modern, sophisticated tastes in beer,” Sam Calagione, founder and president of Dogfish Head, said of his reasons for creating the brewery’s two historically-inspired “archaeobeers,“ Midas Touch and Chateau Jiahu.

These brews, both based on the chemical analysis of trace residues in ancient drinking vessels, isolated by University of Pennsylvania Professor and molecular archaeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern with the university’s Molecular Archaeology Laboratory in the Museum Applied Science Center for Archaeology, have managed to bridge the gap between ancient history and brewing innovation.

Starting with the release of Midas Touch, Dogfish Head became one of the world’s few breweries to commercially produce a beer based on an historical recipe. The experiments began in 1997 when archaeologist Elizabeth Simpson asked McGovern to analyze a dry yellow powder and brown residue that was scraped from the interior of drinking vessels found in the tomb of King Midas, who ruled over Phrygia, which is now central Turkey, around 700 B.C.

Simpson was researching the original dig by archaeologist Rodney Young, who first excavated the tomb in 1957, for a book about the excavation of King Midas’ tomb.

Through extensive chemical testing, McGovern and his team of researchers found evidence of beeswax, calcium oxalate (or beerstone) and tartaric acid, which they concluded was chemical evidence of an ancient cocktail of grape wine, barley beer and honey mead or evidence that the vessels stored different fermented liquids. To satisfy their curiosity about what the ancient beverage might have tasted like, McGovern consulted Calagione.

From there, Calagione and Dogfish Head developed a recipe for a brew to resemble (or at least include the main ingredients of) the beverage served at King Midas’ funeral feast more than 2,700 years ago. The first batch of the recreated brew, known as Midas Touch, was a formulation of 2-row pale malt, Italian thyme honey and white Muscat grape, flavored with Indian saffron and fermented with mead yeast.

Midas Touch made its debut (at room temperature) at a banquet at the University of Pennsylvania in 2000 featuring food and drink all based on McGovern’s chemical evidence from the original funeral feast. But once the feast was finished, Dogfish Head decided to continue brewing it as a commercial beer.

To make Midas Touch, Dogfish Head brewers mash pale malt to make up around 60% of the total sugars. Then they boil the wort and add honey to make another 20%. In place of most of the hops is saffron, which is native to Turkey, although there is a small amount of Willamette hops. After the wort and honey is cooled, the final 20% of fermentable sugars is added as white Muscat grape juice to bring the original gravity to about 1.075—1.080.

With a little experience under their belt, Dogfish went back in time again in 2005 to develop Chateau Jiahu, a brew based on 9,000-year-old reside from pottery jars found in the Neolithic village of Jiahu, in Henan province in Northern China. Based once more on McGovern’s chemical findings, Chateau Jiahu is formulated from chemical evidence found on shards of pottery of a fermented beverage made with rice, honey, Muscat grapes, barley malt, hawthorn fruit and chrysanthemum flowers. This time around, Calagione and his brewers recreated the brew using pre-gelatinized rice flakes and barley malt in the mash and used honey, grapes, hawthorn fruit and chrysanthemums — just as the original — also adding some Simcoe hops. The mixture was fermented for a month with shoji sake yeast, which was used as both a nod to tradition as it was a better match for the yeasts available to the ancient brewers, and also for its affinity for rice.

Although certainly not the only brewery to dabble in historical beverages (see sidebar on page 31), Dogfish Head has set themselves apart from other projects by developing their ancient recipe adaptations to appeal to craft beer drinkers and for commercial production — to be beers that you would actually want to drink.

“I wanted to make beverages that were both romantic and historical,” Calagione said. “Fritz Maytag’s Ninkasi was faithful to the historical information, but it was awkward. Of course there’s a lot of room for interpretation — things we really don’t know, or some liberties we can take.”

These liberties include filtering and carbonation, as the original beverages were likely cloudy (or even chunky!) and if they were carbonated, probably lost their fizz rather quickly. Differences also include refrigeration, basic measurements, color and alcohol by volume.

“We don’t know what the colors were of the ancient brews,” said Calagione. “We don’t know what alcohol levels they attained, and while we know what the main ingredients were, we don’t know what proportions they used. We don’t even know for sure if grains, honey and grapes were fermented together, or if these were blends of beer, wine and mead.”

But while there’s no way of knowing how the original beverages looked or tasted, interest in Dogfish’s archaeological experiments has intrigued both brewers and drinkers alike. Midas was well received — both historically and commercially — and these days the brewery produces their “golden elixir” in limited monthly batches in 12-ounce bottles year-round.

The success of Chateau Jiahu remains to be seen, but the fact that a beer based on a 9,000-year-old recipe can sit on a shelf next to a New World IPA is a signal that innovation can be more than new hops or malts — it can also be reinvention.

So, what about an ancient homebrew? Is it possible to recreate one of these beers in your own brewpot? After all, the earliest brewers certainly never heard of a conical fermenter or a RIMS. So not surprisingly, the brewers at Dogfish Head say that brewing ancient beers at home is very possible. In fact, brewing one of these recipes can be nearly as simple as most other brews, with the exception of a few distinct ingredients (see clone recipes on page 35). That’s because thankfully when you’re homebrewing you don’t have to tackle with issues the Dogfish Head brewers face in their commercial brewing facility.

“When one of these specialty brews comes up on the schedule, the brewers either cringe or sigh,” Dogfish Head’s Lead Brewer Bryan Selders said, explaining that beers like Midas and Jiahu (and many of Dogfish Head’s specialty beers) involve more labor and ingredients than the average ale. But that doesn’t mean, in his opinion, that you’ll encounter the same problems. You won’t have to dump buckets of honey or grapes into your fermenter, for example. Selders does recommend, however, following their recipes very carefully, paying close attention to timing. Some special ingredients need certain conditions to shine.

“When adding Muscat grape juice, we try not to add it too soon or the volatiles will be driven off in the boil,” said Selders. “We add it when there’s about 4 °P (1.016 SG) left.” Chateau Jiahu also calls for using sake yeast, which he says shouldn’t scare anyone off, as long as they feel comfortable making a yeast starter. (Read more about making a yeast starter on page 51 of the July-August 2007 issue of Brew Your Own). Otherwise, the brewing procedures are pretty straightforward.

As for more archaeobeer experiments in the future, Selders says Dogfish Head is always up for something different, especially when challenged with ingredients they don’t use on a daily basis. And because of their relationship with McGovern, he says there is always a chance for another collaboration.

“We’re certainly open to it and we’re excited about new challenges and flavors,” Selders said. “But we can let the historians and archaeologists worry about the other parts.”

Interest in the ancient beers and their recipes, especially from fellow brewers, also always inspires, according to Calagione.

“Homebrewers are the real beer champions,” said Calagione. “I still think of Dogfish Head as a 100-barrel homebrew kit!”

Dogfish Head Midas Touch

(5 gallons, extract with grains and adjuncts)

OG = 1.078 FG = 1.010 IBUs = 10 
ABV = 9.0%


  • 3.3 lbs. Briess light malt extract syrup
  • 1.5 lbs. Briess light dry malt extract
  • 3 lbs. honey (do not boil)
  • 2 lbs. Alexander’s Muscat grape concentrate (do not boil)
    0.5 teaspoon dry saffron (boil 15 minutes)
  • 2.5 AAU Willamette hops (bittering hop) (0.5 oz. of 5.0% alpha acid)
  • 2.5 AAU Willamette hops (flavor hop)
  • (0.5 oz. of 5.0% alpha acid)
  • 1 tsp. Irish moss
  • White Labs WLP500 (Trappist) or
  • Wyeast 3787 (Trappist) yeast
  • 3/4 cup of corn sugar (for priming)

Step by step:

Heat 2.5 gallons of water to a boil, add malt syrup and powder and return to a boil. Add Willamette hops, Irish moss and boil for 60 minutes. Add 0.5 ounce of Willamette hops and the Saffron for last 15 minutes of the boil. Add honey at the end of the boil after you turn off the heat. Let stand for 5 minutes to sanitize the honey.

Strain out the hops, add wort to two gallons cool water in a sanitary fermenter, then add the Muscat concentrate and top off to 5.5 gallons. Cool the wort to 80º F, aerate the beer and pitch your yeast. (For a high-gravity fermentation such as this, be sure to make a yeast starter.) Allow the beer to cool to 68-70º F, and ferment for 10 to 14 days. Bottle your beer, age for three to four weeks and enjoy!

All-grain option

Replace the light syrup with 6.0 lbs. two-row pale malt. Mash your grains at 155º F for 45 minutes. Lower the amount of bittering hops to 0.4 ounces.

Chateau Jiahu clone

(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)

OG = 1.088 FG = 1.014 
ABV = 10%


  • 11 lb. 6 oz. (5.2 kg) two-row pale malt
  • 3.0 lbs. (1.4 kg) orange blossom honey
  • 2.0 lbs. (0.91 kg) rice syrup
  • 1.0 lb. (0.45 kg) Alexander’s Muscat
  • grape juice concentrate
  • 0.5 lbs. (0.23 kg) Hawthorn berry powder
  • 0.25 oz. (7.1 g) Simcoe hops (60 mins)
  • Wyeast 4134 (Sake #9) yeast

Step by Step

The day before brewday, prepare a 1 qt. (~1 L) yeast starter. Mash with 3.5 gallons (13 L) of water to achieve a temperature of 149 °F (65 °C). Rest for 30 minutes. During the rest, heat 4.5 gallons (17 L) of water to 170 °F (77 °C) for sparging. After the 30 minute rest, vorlauf until wort of acceptable clarity is obtained. Begin collecting wort in the brew kettle. Sparge as normal. Collect 6.25 gallons (24 L) of wort. Once the kettle is full, add rice syrup. Boil 15 minutes. Add Simcoe hops. Boil for 60 minutes. Turn off heat and stir in honey and hawthorn berry powder. Stir to create a whirlpool. Chill, aerate and pitch sake yeast starter. As fermentation starts to subside, add Muscat grape juice concentrate. Cool the beer after 12–14 days. Cold condition for 21 days. Keg or bottle as normal. Allow whatever time you deem necessary for proper conditioning and enjoy!

Chateau Jiahu clone

(5 gallons/19 L, extract with grains)

OG = 1.088 FG = 1.014 
ABV = 10%

  • 2.0 lbs. (0.91 kg) two-row pale malt
  • 2 lb. 2 oz. (0.96 kg) Muntons light dried malt extract
  • 4.0 lbs. (1.8 kg) Muntons light liquid malt extract
  • 3.0 lbs. (1.4 kg) orange blossom honey
  • 2.0 lbs. (0.91 kg) rice syrup
  • 1.0 lb. (0.45 kg) Alexander’s Muscat grape juice concentrate
  • 0.5 lbs. (0.23 kg) Hawthorn berry powder
  • 0.25 oz. (7.1 g) Simcoe hops
  • (60 mins)
  • Wyeast 4134 (Sake #9) yeast

Step by Step

Place crushed grains in a nylon steeping bag and steep (in a separate pot) in 2.5 quarts (2.4 L) of water at 149 °F (65 °C) for 45 minutes. (This is actually a small mash, so follow temperatures and volumes as closely as is feasible.) Bring 2 gallons (7.6 L) of water to a boil in your brewpot while grains are steeping. After steep, place grain bag in colander over brewpot. Pour “grain tea” through grain bag (to strain out grain husks), then rinse grain bag with 1.5 quarts (~1.5 L) of 170 °F (77 °C) water. Bring this wort to a boil, then add dried malt extract. Boil 15 minutes. Add Simcoe hops. Boil for 60 minutes.

Stir in liquid malt extract with 15 minutes left in boil. Turn off heat and stir in honey and hawthorn berry powder. Chill wort in brewpot, then transfer to fermenter. Bring fermenter volume to 5 gallons (19 L) with water, aerate and pitch sake yeast starter. As fermentation starts to subside, add Muscat grape juice concentrate. Cool the beer after 12–14 days. Cold condition for 21 days. Keg or bottle as normal. Allow whatever time you deem necessary for proper conditioning and enjoy!

Betsy Parks is the assistant editor of Brew Your Own. To read more about the science of beer archaeology, check out Dan Mouer’s “Archaeobeer” story in the September 2007 issue.


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