The evening at Joslyn Art Museum was broken into a lecture and a reception that followed. The lecture was given by Patrick McGovern, Ph.D. (Scientific Director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum’s Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory), the leading authority on ancient fermented beverages. The reception, which was sponsored by our own Lucky Bucket, allowed attendees to sample 3 ancient brews made by Dogfish Head with the help of Dr. McGovern: Midas Touch, Chateau Jiahu, and Ta Henket.
Dr. McGovern started thinking about the idea of recreating ancient brews after the discovery of King Midas’ tomb (or it may have been King Midas’ father’s tomb…this is still being debated). Sometime thereafter, he solicited the help of brewers during a beer festival he attended. He stated if anyone was interested in the project to meet him at 9:00 a.m. the following day. To his surprise, approximately 26 brewers turned up. Ultimately the project proceeded with Sam Calagion from Dogfish Head.
Dr. McGovern’s previous analysis of similar archeological finds determined a road map for identifying what liquids were once contained within a vessel: e.g., tartaric acid = grape wine, beeswax = mead, and calcium oxalate (beer stone) = beer. He determined the chemical composition of the contents found within the porous clay vessels in the King Midas tomb based on these previous observations. The vessels’ clay had absorbed chemicals present in the liquid and retained them over thousands of years. In regards to the Midas Touch brew, it was determined to be grog of wine, mead, and beer, which was spiced with saffron. The saffron couldn’t be definitively proven, but the residue was yellow in color, and saffron was widely available during that time.
The lecture lasted a little over an hour, but I’m certain Dr. McGovern could have easily spoken for another 2 or more hours on the subject…and I would have contently listened. After the reception, Dr. McGovern accompanied a few of the South Omaha Brewers and Lincoln Lagers to Benson. There we visited Krug Park and Jake’s, so he could experience some of the local beer scene. We did our best to keep Nebraska-brewed beers in front of him, but a few regionals he never had sneaked in there too.
It was a joy meeting and sharing beers with Dr. McGovern. I can’t wait for the next ancient fermented beverage project, which he and Sam are already working on. I would recommend picking up one of his books at Joslyn: