Beer Archaeologists Are Reviving Ancient Ales — With Some Strange Results

Beer Archaeologists Are Reviving Ancient Ales — With Some Strange Results

The closest that Travis Rupp came to getting fired from Avery Brewing Co. in Boulder, he says, was the time he tried to make chicha. The recipe for the Peruvian corn-based beer, cobbled together from bits of pre-Incan archaeological evidence, called for chewed corn partially fermented in spit. So, Rupp’s first task had been to persuade his colleagues to gather round a bucket and offer up their chompers for the cause.beer brewing equipment

Once he got to brewing, the corn-quinoa-spit mixture gelatinized in a stainless steel tank, creating a dense blob equivalent in volume and texture to about seven bathtubs of polenta. Oops.

In another go, Rupp managed to avoid the brew’s gelatinous fate, but encountered a new problem when it came time to drain the tank. “It literally turned into cement in the pipes because the corn was so finely ground,” says Rupp. “People were a little cranky.”

These are the kinds of sticky situations that come with trying to bring ancient flavors into modern times.

A self-proclaimed beer archaeologist, Rupp has traveled the world in search of clues as to how ancient civilizations made and consumed beer. With Avery Brewing Co., he has concocted eight of them in a series called “Ales of Antiquity.” The brews are served in Avery’s restaurant and tasting room.The one thing that we’ve been really quite surprised by is not a single one of them is undrinkable,” he says. “Every one of them has gotten done and we’re like, ‘That is so weird. That is just so cool.’ ”

There’s the Viking-inspired beer based on information gleaned from sagas and the debris of ancient shipwrecks. It’s made with juniper branches and baker’s yeast, which gives it a slight but surprising whiff of banana. (Rupp regrets that he had to ferment it in regular brewing equipment rather than a more historically accurate trough made from a freshly cut and hollowed out juniper tree.)

Another, called Beersheba, is based on references and artifacts primarily from Israel. It involves three types of grain and pomegranate juice, in the style of King Zimri-Lim, who, Rupp read, was known to send slaves into the mountains to get snow for his icehouse so that his beer could be served cold. It’s one of Rupp’s personal favorites, despite smelling a little like baby spit-up and tasting like a funky fruit rollup.

A beer called Benedictus came about when Rupp teamed up with a couple of Italian monks to re-create a monastic recipe calling for wormwood and lavender and dating to A.D. 825. It smells like a spicy men’s shampoo and tastes like drinking an herb garden. The Peruvian chicha, on the other hand, is sour and summery.