By Bill Howell, for the Redoubt Reporter
Now that we are finally seeing some real evidence of spring, it seems like it might be a good time to talk about beers made with fruit. Most fruit beers are better suited to the warmer days of summer, rather than the colder days of winter, so that’s when brewers tend to have them on offer.
The use of fruit in beer is an extremely ancient practice; it certainly dates to at least 7,000 B.C.E. We know this thanks to a remarkable archaeological find made at Jiahu, near the Yellow River in the central plains of China. Settled around 7,000 B.C.E. and then flooded and abandoned around 5,800 B.C.E., this Neolithic settlement was excavated in the 1980s. Among the many artifacts discovered were pottery jars. Chemical analysis of the jars showed they had been used for alcoholic fermentation.
Further detailed analysis of the residue in the jars allowed scientists to determine the ingredients used to make this ancient beverage — rice, honey, Muscat grapes and hawthorn berries. So at the same time that barley beers and grape wines were beginning to be made in the Middle East, the ancestors of today’s Chinese were brewing a sort of fruit-infused rice wine.
Fast-forward 63 centuries to Iron Age Asia Minor in 700 B.C.E. An extraordinarily wealthy king of the ancient kingdom of Phrygia is buried after an elaborate funerary feast. When his still-sealed tomb is opened by archaeologists in 1957, the riches it contained — including 157 bronze buckets, vats and drinking bowls — convinced them that they had found the inspiration for the mythical King Midas. Chemical analysis of the drinking vessels revealed that the mourners had been consuming a “Phrygian cocktail” made by fermenting a mixture of wine grapes, barley and honey.