A group of students from Stanford University sampled their own homemade brews based on ancient beer-making techniques. A group of students from Stanford University sampled their own homemade brews based on ancient beer-making techniques. Madeleine Ota, a student in Professor Li Liu's Chinese archaeology class, samples a homemade brew based on ancient beer-making techniques. (Photo: Stanford University/Kurt Hickman)

This 5,000-year-old beer recipe tastes pretty good, once you get past the mold

Stanford researchers just unearthed the drinking habits of ancient human civilizations, proving you can drink your way through college.

Does beer get better with age? It certainly looks that way, judging by the amount of time and resources that archaeologists put into studying the beer-drinking habits of ancient peoples. You'll recall that less than two years ago, a group of archaeologists uncovered an ancient brewing vessel in Tel Aviv, Israel, surmising that the beer they stored there was at least 5,000 years old.

And just this week, researchers at California's Stanford University decided to take a hands-on approach to the study of ancient beer-making techniques – by brewing their own version.

As you can see from the above video, the results were a far cry from the smooth, hoppy brews of today. The yellow, foamy liquid produced by the Stanford team, led by Chinese archaeology professor Li Liu, was a bit harder to swallow and looked more like porridge than beer, since the ingredients (barley, millet, a type of ancient grass called Job's tears and traces of yam and lily root) were not filtered out. When it came down to actually drinking it, the Chinese-inspired mixture was actually quite pleasant; tones of citrus shone through, almost like a cider.

But back to the brew. If we know beer, we know that barley is used to make beer today. But millet? Yams? Job's tears?

The Stanford team said they created the recipe based on extensive research on the brewing techniques of early human civilizations. This one, in particular, was derived from residue on the inner walls of pottery vessels found in an excavated site in northern China.

A man studying a glass of beer.Have you studied your beer lately? (Photo: g-stockstudio/Shutterstock)

Despite its appearance in modern beer-making, the discovery of barley as an ancient brewing ingredient was most surprising to the team. Before this finding, the earliest evidence of barley seeds in China dated only to 4,000 years ago. Now, the researchers are rethinking that timeline, suggesting that barley was actually used much earlier.

“Archaeology is not just about reading books and analyzing artifacts,” said Liu, who teaches a course at Stanford called "Archaeology of Food: Production, Consumption and Ritual." "Trying to imitate ancient behavior and make things with the ancient method helps students really put themselves into the past and understand why people did what they did.”

The team's research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, reminding us that you can, in fact, drink your way through college and still make something of yourself.

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