Friday, January 8, 2010

What's the oldest drink you've ever tasted?

How about a 3,800 year old beer? In 1988, experts set about recreating an ancient beer after finding a loose recipe on an ancient clay tablet within a hymn to Ninkasi, the Sumerian goddess of brewing. Dr. Solomon Katz of the University of Pennsylvania and Fritz Maytag of Anchor Steam Brewery did manage to brew the ancient beer in 1989 after decoding the recipe full of vague ingredients such as "flowing water," which meant the salty waters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Goddess Ninkasi, whose name literally means "you who fill my mouth so full," must have been honored.

Now how about the elixir that mourners of King Midas drank at his funerary feast circa 8th Century B.C.? UPenn's Patrick E. McGovern, molecular archeologist and the leading authority on ancient alcoholic beverages, analyzed residue from the drinking vessels found in King Midas' tomb but could not determine which beverage those vessels had contained. Dr. McGovern found evidence of a mixture of barley beer, grape wine, and honey or mead which would have tasted awful all together without a bittering agent. Dogfish Head Brewery found the solution by adding saffron and reconstructed the historic beverage with barley, honey, saffron, and white Muscat grapes (because bonafide ancient stock from Turkish grapes wasn't available). This was marketed in 2001 as the Midas Touch Golden Elixir by Dogfish and you can read all about it in Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages.

You can now recreate the funerary feast of King Midas at home with your slow cooker. Get yourself some Midas Touch brew from Dogfish and the recipe for the lamb and lentil stew, which is available in The Gourmet Slow Cooker: Simple and Sophisticated Meals from Around the World, and you'll be golden (unfortunately, pun intended).

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