A 5,000-Year-Old Beer Recipe from China Has Just Been Unveiled - Atlas Obscura
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A 5,000-Year-Old Beer Recipe from China Has Just Been Unveiled

The “Indiana Jones” of beer says it’s legit.

(Photo: Jeremy Keith/CC BY 2.0)

A very, very old beer recipe has been discovered in China, and it is notable for its use of barley, which scientists had previously thought ancient Chinese did not have access to, according to a paper published Monday

But let’s get to the important part first. How did it taste? ”A bit sour and a bit sweet,” Jiajing Wang, the researcher leading the study, told NPR.

In other words: drinkable enough. Its ingredients? Barley, Job’s tears, broomcorn millet, and tubers, which were fermented in subterranean rooms, sometime between 3400 B.C. and 2900 B.C., in central China. 

How was it brewed? Probably in very similar ways as we make beer today, Patrick McGovern, a biomolecular archaeologist and the so-called “Indiana Jones” of ancient beer, told NPR. That would include stringent controls on temperature—the Chinese brewery was underground, likely to keep conditions cool. 

Researchers also found tools that may not be out of place in a brewery today: a stove, a funnel, lots of jugs. 

The finding was also significant, the researchers said, because it shows that China had access to barley previously than initially thought. The grain is now common across the country.

“Our findings imply that early beer making may have motivated the initial translocation of barley from Western Eurasia into the Central Plain of China before the crop became a part of agricultural subsistence in the region 3,000 years later,” the researchers wrote

The Chinese beer is among the earliest documented beers to have been produced. McGovern told NPR that they weren’t the only ones, adding that, around the same time period, there’s evidence of breweries in Iran and Egypt, in addition to winemaking in Armenia. 

It’s safe to say the tradition has aged well.