9 Historic Brewers Who Were Way Ahead of the Craft Beer Craze


It’s only been in the last 30 years or so that commercial craft brewing has really been picking up steam—er, foam—and setting its beverages apart with unexpected flavors (pizza beer, anyone?) and lesser-known styles. But suds-masters have been getting creative with their products since brewskis first started appearing around 10,000 years ago. After new research published last month suggested ancient Chinese beer makers mixed their own and Western traditions, we were inspired to tap into some other kegs of yore and the historic brewers behind them.


Pottery remains recently uncovered at an archaeological site in China’s Shaanxi province were coated in some very interesting yellow gunk. The residue, it turns out, seemed to be left over from the site’s days as an ancient brewery. By analyzing it, researchers found the beer was made from a mix of wild and cultivated grain, with some extra ingredients like yam and lily tuber that would have made the suds sweeter. The finding suggests the Chinese were brewing barley beer nearly 1000 years earlier than previously thought, and the Chinese only started eating the grain after it was used for drinking.


Might as well call him the Founding Father of craft brewing: Our first president included a simple recipe for “small beer”—a lower quality, lower alcohol content brew typically consumed by soldiers, servants, and children—in the notebook he kept during the French and Indian War. The young colonel’s basic brew called for bran hops and molasses for sweetness. Later in life, Washington added a whiskey distillery on his plantation, too; apparently, after all the stress involved in founding a nation, a beer just wouldn’t cut it.


Ancient Egyptian big shots were known for stocking their tombs with all the treasured possessions they might need in the afterlife, and bespoke booze was no exception. The jugs of sorghum beer found in the tomb of pharaoh Scorpion I, who was buried around 3150 BCE, for example, were flavored with thyme, grapes and coriander. Even the tomb walls echoed the ruler’s penchant for imbibing: A prayer etched into the stone requests “beer that never turns sour.”


Dating back to the Middle Ages, Devon White Ale is closer to something you might bake than the hoppy ale we’re used to today. The drink is made with eggs, flour, and spontaneous fermentation—sounds refreshing, right? English physician and writer Andrew Boorde was the first to write about the unusual brew in 1542, noting it was “whyte and thycke,” but the ale remained popular until the end of the 19th century, when, presumably, people finally caught on to how gross the idea of eggs and flour in beer was.


Brewing was left to the ladies 1000 years ago at a mountaintop brewery in what is now southern Peru. A 2005 study concluded only the most beautiful and noble women were selected to create the pre-Incan society’s “chicha,” a beer made from Peruvian pepper tree berries and corn. And the brewery wasn’t the only place where women took the lead, beer-wise: Researchers think the task suggests that the modern Andean drinking culture, in which women drink just as much if not more than men, therefore has deep—and tipsy—roots.


Briny oysters and malty stout go way back. Accounts of brewers using the bivalve shells to clarify beer date back to Victorian England, but it wasn’t until circa 1930 that anyone decided to try adding actual oysters to the recipe. The craft style, pioneered in New Zealand, lives on today, with dozens of breweries making their own version of the mollusk-laden mix.


Of all the strange ingredients brewers of old tried adding to their brews, henbane is certainly among the stupidest. The herb is toxic, and can even be lethal in large doses. Nordic shamans liked spiking their brews with the stuff so drinkers could experience the hallucinations it was known to cause. The resulting trip was thought to make the beer more of a medicine or even a gateway to the spirit world.


Don’t let the borderline-vulgar name fool you: The English brewed this strange concoction using boiled chicken, though it was also thought to have “invigorating” effects as an aphrodisiac. One 17th century recipe called for a 6-month-old chicken, spices, and dried fruit.


Juniper-heavy sahti beer is so ingrained in Finnish culture that, traditionally, mothers would pass down their own farmhouse-style sahti recipes to their daughters. As they were in Peruvian society and elsewhere, women were the primary brewers throughout Finland’s history and depending on when and where they lived, the classic sahti might have contained raspberries, rye, oats, or other malts.

Bibo Barmaid
Bibo Barmaid Is Like a Keurig for Cocktails—and You Can Buy It Now
Bibo Barmaid
Bibo Barmaid

To make great-tasting cocktails at home, you could take a bartending class, or you could just buy a fancy gadget that does all the work for you. Imbibers interested in the hands-off approach should check out Bibo Barmaid, a cocktail maker that works like a Keurig machine for booze.

According to Supercall, all you need to turn the Bibo Barmaid system into your personal mixologist is a pouch of liquor and a pouch of cocktail flavoring. Bibo's liquor options include vodka, whiskey, rum, and agave spirit (think tequila), which can be paired with flavors like cucumber melon, rum punch, appletini, margarita, tangerine paloma, and mai tai.

After choosing your liquor and flavor packets, insert them into the machine, press the button, and watch as it dilutes the mixture and pours a perfect single portion of your favorite drink into your glass—no muddlers or bar spoons required.

Making cocktails at home usually means investing in a lot of equipment and ingredients, which isn't always worth it if you're preparing a drink for just yourself or you and a friend. With Bibo, whipping up a cocktail isn't much harder than pouring yourself a glass of wine.

Bibo Barmaid is now available on Amazon for $240, and cocktail mixes are available on Bibo's website starting at $35 for 18 pouches. The company is working on rolling out its liquor pouches in liquor stores and other alcohol retailers across the U.S.

[h/t Supercall]

Is There Any Point in Letting Red Wine Breathe?

by Aliya Whiteley

At the end of a long day, few things beat simple pleasures like watching a good film, eating a bar of chocolate the size of your head, or drinking a big glass of red wine.

By this point in the evening, most people don’t want to be told that they need to uncork the bottle and let the wine sit for at least 30 minutes before it becomes pleasantly drinkable. Yet that's (by the letter of the unwritten law) what you're supposed to do.

But why? Well, let's start with the assorted historical reasons.

Red wine has been around since the Stone Age. In fact, in 2011 a cave was uncovered in Armenia where the remains of a wine press, drinking and fermentation vessels, and withered grape vines were uncovered; the remains were dated at 5500 years old. Early winemaking often had a ritualistic aspect: Wine jars were found in Ancient Egyptian tombs, and wine appears in both the Hebrew and Christian bibles.

The concept of letting wine "breathe" is, historically speaking, relatively new and probably has its roots in the way wine was once bottled and stored.

Traditionally, sulfur is added to wine in order to preserve it for longer, and if too much is added the wine might well have an ... interesting aroma when first opened—the kind of "interesting aroma" that bears more than a passing resemblance to rotten eggs. Contact with the air may have helped to remove the smell, so decanting wine may once have been a way of removing unwelcome odors, as well as getting rid of the sediment that built up in the bottom of bottles.

It’s also possible that the concept springs from the early 1860s, when Emperor Napoleon III asked Louis Pasteur to investigate why so much French wine was spoiling in transit. Pasteur published his results, which concluded that wine coming into contact with air led to the growth of bacteria, thus ruining the vino. However, small amounts of air improved the flavor of the wine by "aging" it. In bottles, with a cork stopper, the wine still came into contact with a small amount of oxygen, and by storing it for years the wine was thought to develop a deeper flavor.

However, how much of that actually matters today?

Many experts agree that there is no point in simply pulling out the cork and letting the wine sit in an open bottle for any period of time; the wine won’t come into enough contact with oxygen to make any difference to the taste.

However, decanting wine might still be a useful activity. The truth is this: It entirely depends on the wine.

Nowadays we don’t really age wine anymore; we make it with the aim of drinking it quickly, within a year or so. But some types of wine that are rich in tannins (compounds that come from the grape skins and seeds) can benefit from a period of time in a decanter, to soften the astringent taste. These include wines from Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley, for instance.

If you really want to know if a particular wine would benefit from being given time to breathe, try your own experiment at home. Buy two bottles, decant one, and let it breathe for an hour. Do you notice a difference in the taste? Even if you don’t, it's an experiment that justifies opening two bottles of wine.

One word of warning: No matter where a wine comes from, it is possible to overexpose it to oxygen. So remember Pasteur’s experiments and don’t leave your wine out of the bottle for days. That, friends, would be one hell of a waste.

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