Ancient ales at Penn Museum

Posted: October 02, 2009

Beer experts - among them the author of the new book Uncorking the Past - will bring ancient ales to life Thursday at the Penn Museum, with a lively discussion accompanied by ample quaffing.

"If people want to taste the oldest chemically attested alcoholic beverage in the world, 'Chateau Jiahu' from 7000 B.C. China, this may well be one of their few chances," said Patrick McGovern, biomolecular archaeologist at the museum and a leading authority on ancient fermented beverages.

He will be joined by Sam Calagione, founder and president of Dogfish Head Brewery in Rehoboth Beach, Del., maker of Chateau Jiahu, which won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival last week in Denver.

McGovern also will sign his new book at the event. In the book, McGovern explains the archaeological and chemical trail of ancient brews. He looks at the rice wines of China and Japan, the corn beers of the Americas, and the millet and sorghum drinks of Africa.

He and Calagione will discuss the findings at the beer event, including modern efforts to duplicate the formulas of ancient brews. The pair recently collaborated to make a corn chichi, a traditional Latin American beer.

Along with Penn associate anthropology professor and museum curator Clark Erickson, they chewed Peruvian purple corn and basically spit it out. The natural enzyme in human saliva breaks down the starches into sugar, which is then used in fermenting beer.

It's then sterilized by boiling.

All three of the re-created ancient ales from Dogfish - Midas Touch, Chateau Jiahu, and Theobroma, plus a surprise beverage - will be served at this event.

Dock Street Brewery's sorghum Sudan Grass and Williams Brothers Brewing Co.'s Fraoch Heather Ale and Alba Scots Pine Ale also will be served. Wine and hors d'oeuvres will be available, too.

"Uncorking the Past," 6 p.m. Thursday at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 3260 South St. Tickets: $60 advance, $45 for Penn Museum members; at the door, $75. Must be 21 to attend. Tickets can be purchased online at the Museum's Web site,, or at Information: 215-898-4001.

Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or

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