February 15, 2017

I’m back. With alcohol.

Filed under: Alcohol — acagle @ 8:32 pm

Had something of an emergency trip to Wisconsin earlier this month. Not really an ‘emergency’ but my sister was supposed to go in February but her cat was taken quite ill and she stayed home to look after it so I went in her stead.


But I got used to it pretty quickly. Anyway, I’m back.

This is a good article: Our 9,000-Year Love Affair With Booze

Good overview of alcohol archaeologically. Note the map that has North America notably absent (save for Mexico, but we call that Mesoamerica anyway). I don’t know if it was totally absent, or whether it came up with maize agriculture only, but I suspect it was probably around in minor quantities. Why it never took off, well, I don’t know.

August 25, 2016

Beer: Is there anything it can’t do?

Filed under: Alcohol, Beer — acagle @ 10:11 am

Craft Beer Made With Prehistoric Yeast Is T-Rex Approved

They’re a bit off with the T-Rex reference though.

July 18, 2016

Back to beer

Filed under: Alcohol, Beer — acagle @ 7:24 pm

Did I mention the Maureen Ogle book Ambitious Brew here? Don’t remember if I just did that at Facebook or not. Anyway, I finished it a few weeks ago and thought it was excellent. Definitely worth reading if you’re interested in the history of American beer. Frankly, I never had much of a problem with the lightness of American lagers and am not particularly interested in slamming them. But I came across this quote a while ago and thought it was interesting:

Perhaps the difference stemmed from nothing more than scarcity and abundance: German beer culture was born and raised in a place that was overcrowded and where food was often in short supply. For centuries, Germans and other Europeans had prized beer as food—liquid bread. But the American experience relegated that idea to antiquity’s dustbin. The United States was the land of liberty, high crop yields, and protein-rich diets. No one need drink beer for food. No surprise, then, that Americans preferred a beer that sat light on the stomach, a beer more suited to the American way of life. John E. Siebel, the science editor for one of the first brewing trade journals, Western Brewer , and founder of the first American brewing school, understood this point. The old-world crowd would always prefer the “nourishing qualities” of full-bodied Bavarian lager, he reminded his readers, but Americans drank in order “to pass time pleasantly in jovial society.” They disdained old-world lager as too heavy, too filling, and entirely too brown, and demanded instead a light sipping beer, one that fell somewhere between “light wine and the heavy Bavarian lager.”

Brewers who planned to stay in business had to adjust to the times and the place. Thus the great wave of experimentation with beer styles. Improvement-minded inventors obtained patents on new methods of brewing with corn and other cereals in hopes of creating a lager that allowed brewers to cope with chronic shortages of grain and satisfy the tastes of non-German Americans. But in the early 1870s, the nation’s brewers encountered the answer to both problems: Bohemian lager, a light-bodied, low-alcohol, lemon-colored, translucent brew. On the tongue, it tasted and felt as different from Bavarian lager as lager did from English ale. Many brewers recognized that this style of beer would appeal to an American audience.

It’s a strikingly evolutionary explanation IMO. Like so many objects, the history is complicated and a lot of different selective factors went into the fixing of a suite of traits — in this case, light-bodied lagers — into a particular population. Part of the reason US brewers used adjuncts like corn and rice in their brewing was because the barley they had to work with packed more protein than the European varieties and thus the adjunct grain added carbohydrates to the brewing process, creating a less cloudy and cutting down on the particulates. In a lot of cases, that actually made the product more expensive to produce. Plus there was a history of alcohol consumption that was wildly different than in Europe, a much greater degree of industrialization earlier, and entrepreneurs who could experiment with consistency and quality from batch to batch. We often forget that back in the mid-late 19th century having a pure, consistent, and safe product wasn’t really the norm.

Anyway, read the book, it’s a good survey.

June 1, 2016

Beer: Is there anything it can’t do?

Filed under: Alcohol — acagle @ 7:20 pm

Archaeologists discover remnants of the oldest known beer brewery in China

Archaeologists have discovered the remnants of the oldest known beer brewery in China, unearthing an array of ancient pottery vessels including funnels, pots, and jugs containing residual traces of the beverage from about 5,000 years ago.

Uncovered at an archaeological site at Mijiaya in northern China, the beer vessels were found in pits dating back to between 3400 and 2900 BC. A faint chemical residue inside the pottery is what gave away the kit’s original purpose, with the researchers finding evidence of ancient grains used as ingredients in beer fermentation.

The researchers think the early evidence of barley suggests the grain may have entered China primarily for its use in making alcohol, before going on to find a home in other agriculture.

Some people have been arguing that for a while now, that much of cereal agriculture was intensified for making beer rather than as food, per se (beer was generally regarded as food until very recently).

March 9, 2016

A few online pubs

Filed under: Alcohol, Egypt, Online publications — acagle @ 5:02 pm

The Barbarian’s Beverage: A History of Beer in Ancient Europe

Plus I was, ummmmm, looking my name up in Google Scholar and found some things I’d been cited in:


Villages and the Old Kingdom

Kom Firin I: The Ramesside Temple and the Site Survey

January 13, 2016

Annnnnnd back to beer.

Filed under: Alcohol, Historic — acagle @ 1:37 pm

As promised, I’m providing a (temporary) link to the PDF of the paper for us to examine: A taste for temperance: how American beer got to be so bland by Ranjit S. Dighe. Here’s the abstract:

This article examines the historical origins of bland American beer. The US was not
strongly associated with a particular beer type until German immigrants popularised
lager beer. Lager, refreshing and mildly intoxicating, met the demands of America’s
growing working class. Over time, American lager became lighter and blander. This
article emphasises America’s uncommonly strong temperance movement, which put
the industry on the defensive. Brewers pushed their product as ‘the beverage of
moderation,’ and consumers sought out light, relatively non-intoxicating beers. The
recent ‘craft beer revolution’ is explained as a backlash aided by a changing consumer
culture and improved information technology.

So, one thing I kind of want to take issue with right off the bat is the premise:

Americans drink bland beer. Whether that is a good or a bad thing is subjective; one person’s ‘insipid’ is another’s ‘refreshing’. But compared with traditional beer-drinking countries like England, Germany, and Belgium, America is notable for the lightness, paleness, and relatively un-hopped character of its beer.

I don’t like the inherent negative connotations of “bland”. He even rather contradicts himself in the very next sentence. It’s probably just shorthand for “Light, pale, and relatively un-hopped”, but it strikes me as similar to bitching about water because it doesn’t taste like cranberry juice. So, having said that, onward.

January 6, 2016

I’m putting this out now. . . .

Filed under: Alcohol, Modern artifacts — acagle @ 8:27 pm

And will hopefully provide more commentary on it later:
Why Is American Beer So Bland?

Today’s discerning beer drinkers might be convinced that America’s watery, bland lagers are a recent corporate invention. But the existence of American beers that are, as one industry executive once put it, “less challenging,” has a much longer history. In fact, Thomas Jefferson, himself an accomplished homebrewer, complained that some of his country’s beers were “meagre and often vapid” nearly 200 years ago.

Jefferson never lived to see the worst of it. Starting in about the mid-1800s, American beer has been defined by its dullness. Why? The answer lies in a combination of religious objections to alcohol, hordes of German immigrants, and a bunch of miners who just wanted to drink during their lunch break, says Ranjit Dighe, a professor of economics at the State University of New York at Oswego.

I downloaded the paper and may put it up for downloading so y’all can read it as well (for Educational Purposes). Having gone through the paper — which this article does a decent job of summarizing, in the main — and still haven’t made up my mind on it. The underlying assumption seems to be that, well, “Americans have this funny taste for bad beer just because of various historical things and if they’d (we’d) just get used to it we’d ignore all those nasty light pilsners and take up hearty ales and porters and such like Civilized People.” It seems like an awful long time for us to be liking these things to just lay it at the foot of economics. I wonder if there isn’t something more biological involved. Or perhaps sociobiological. I dunno. Perhaps he’s right and there’s a whole mess of historical reasons. But I found it fascinating.

BTW, I tried a new beer to brew yesterday: Chief Oshkosh.

Desert Fox

I never actually drank any of it, but I do remember seeing the signs around Wisconsin when I was a kid. I think there’s even a silo between Fond du Lac and Oshkosh that still has the logo on it. It went out in the early 1970s so it was before I was of age. Don’t think my relatives drank it either. But I wanted a simple recipe to try and I’ve been meaning to try one of the mid-century regional beers. The recipe is at the link above. Will find out in a couple weeks how it worked. If it’s reasonably decent, I may use it as a base to experiment and make it my Signature Brand, if you will.

I also watched Strange Brew this weekend, and so whenever I get the recipe down I think I shall call it Chief Elsinore Beer/Bier. Heh.

September 27, 2015

Beer: Is there anything it can’t do?

Filed under: Alcohol, Experimental archaeology — acagle @ 6:29 am

Staten Island Students Brew Chicha Beer To Learn About Ancient Peruvian Migration

Chicha was an important element of the ancient Moche diet, but as with most alcoholic consumption through time, it also helped cement social alliances. ”People drank prodigious amounts of chicha at social events,” Gagnon and colleagues write in a new article in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. By one estimate, the average ancient Moche person drank 2 liters of chicha daily, and even more during feast times. ”The production of chicha was a site of power negotiations at the local level,” they explain, and chicha production is often identified by archaeologists based on their finding of special vessels for fermentation of the drink.

Brewing a drink like chicha is relatively simple: take water and sprouted corn, boil for hours, cool, strain, add yeast, and let ferment for a few days. But what excessive drinking of chicha does to the human skeleton is much more complex. Our bodies contain a lot of oxygen in several different forms or isotopes. The relative abundance of oxygen isotopes in our skeletons is mostly due to what we drink. So a person who lives in one place during childhood, when their teeth and bones are forming, will have an oxygen isotope ratio related to the groundwater in the geographical area. Testing skeletal tissue for oxygen isotopes is one way that bioarchaeologists can discover whether a person was local or a migrant to an area. Brewing water results in evaporation, so the oxygen isotope value of the brewed beverage is different from the water that went into it. Since the ancient Moche were drinking more chicha than groundwater, though, this almost certainly changed their oxygen isotope ratio.

So it really wasn’t (at least based on Kristina’s summary, I didn’t go to the paper yet) about the beer process, it was about isotopes for a change. I’ll need to read the article, but I’m wondering how widespread the chicha consumption was across the population. One would think that it or some form of it would be common through all classes as it usually is, functioning as something of a dietary staple.

September 7, 2015

Answering the important questions

Filed under: Alcohol — acagle @ 6:35 am

How Long Can You Survive on Beer Alone?

How long could a man survive on beer and water?

Not more than a few months, probably. That’s when the worst effects of scurvy and protein deficiency would kick in. (Liver disease is a serious risk of chronic alcohol use, but it takes longer to arrive.) If you kept to a strict beer diet—and swore off plain water altogether—you’d likely die of dehydration in a matter of days or weeks, depending on the strength and volume of beer consumed. There’s plenty of water in beer, of course, but the alcohol’s diuretic effect makes it a net negative in terms of hydration under most conditions.

Beer is a very good food product but it’s not a cure-all. Principally it’s a good source of safe calories. Remember, however, that what we think of as beer and what really pre-industrialist people drank as beer are very different things. Staple beer was much more gruel-like and lower in alcohol than today’s recreational brews so you wouldn’t have had the dehydration problems to that extent.

August 13, 2015

And now for something really important

Filed under: Alcohol — acagle @ 7:17 pm

‘Genomic Archaeology’ Reveals That Lager Yeast Was Born More Than Once

After millennia of ales, lagers joined the beer scene some six centuries ago. A hybrid yeast strain made it possible to brew in cold conditions — giving lagers the smooth, light flavor that has led them to represent 94 percent of the world beer market.

Until 2011, no one was able to find the species that combined with Saccharomyces cerevisiae – which brings us bread, ales and wines – to form this lager-brewing hybrid. Since the discovery of that elusive second species, named Saccharomyces eubayanas, scientists have sequenced its genome and begun to uncover the history of lager yeasts. This “genomic archaeology” has turned up evidence to settle a debate about the origins of lagers, according to a report in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.

I may have linked to something like this before. But hey, it’s beer so it’s important.

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