Not that long ago, I learned something interesting about the earliest alcoholic beverages ever made. According to archaeologists, the earliest alcohol was to be found in a small Neolitic village named Jiahu, in the Chinese province of Henan. Interestingly enough, it was made from fermented honey, fruit and assorted grains, classifying it as a sort of mead. Based on the latest carbon dating, this alcoholic beverage was being made around 9000 BC, at roughly the same time that beer and wine first began to appear in the Middle East.
Not uncoincidentally, the Dogfish Head brewery (producer of the infamous 90 Minute IPA) released their own version of this beer back in 2005. Apparently, they did it at the behest of Dr. Patrick McGovern, a professor of molecular archeology who worked for the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archeology and Anthropology. Named in honor of the archaeological site, this beer is part of their Ancient Ale lineup (the more recent of which include Midas Touch and Theobroma).
And like the original, it is made using honey, brown rice syrup, muscat grape, barley malt and hawthorn berry, and then slow-fermented using sake yeast. The result is a most unusual drink that is part beer, part mead, and very unique. In fact, its so far off the beaten trail for beer that I think a categorical breakdown might be necessary. So here it is, in terms of the big four:
Appearance: A clear, deep golden amber hue with light foam and not a lot of carbonation
Nose: Jiahu’s scent comes across as very fruity, reminiscent of citrus and grapes. There is also just the slightest touch of floral bouquet that is reminiscent of orange fruit and blossoms.
Taste: Diverse and sweet, highly reminiscent of meads or strong honey beers. The palate is also malty and combines several kinds of notes, including honey, syrup, and a variety of fruits (I noted sweet melon, passion fruit, and pineapple in the mix)
Aftertaste: Very clean, light notes of honey and fruit
Serving Info: Best when served chilled, or, if you’re into historical accuracy, you could try it warm, as it would have been traditionally consumed. Also, best when enjoyed in a snifter or a specially designed Trappist ale or barley wine glass
The folks at the liquor store asked me to let them know what I thought. The bottle and label alone tend to draw the eye, and the description is certainly enough to pique some interest. However, the experimental look and price can tend to intimidate the average consumer. I will happy to report back to them that I enjoyed it’s unique, complex and experimental flavor just as soon as I’m back in their neck of the woods! Check out the company website for info on where to buy: