5,000 years ago, Chinese people settled for lumpy beer. Yes, lumpy. This means the beer didn't quite go down fully smooth and liquid-like. You know, the way beer is supposed to taste.
But this find is significant. It is the earliest evidence of beer production in China so far, and it prompted students at Stanford University to attempt a recreation of the recipe.
Led by Li Liu, a professor in Chinese archaeology and coauthor of the study on the beer recipe published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the students were handed beakers and water bottles filled with yellow liquid.
Liu's interactive approach is designed to immerse her students in the process. It's a more effective teaching convention than simply lecturing them. Liu says, "Archaeology is not just about reading books and analyzing artifacts... trying to imitate ancient behavior and make things with the ancient method helps students really put themselves into the past and understand why people did what they did."
Chinese beer contained cereal grains such as millet and barley, plus an Asian grass called Job's tears. The infusion of barley is particularly noteworthy. Historians have maintained that the grain wasn't imported to China for another 1,000 years, meaning that beer makers must have received it from western Asia.
In recreating the recipe, students first covered their grain with water then allowed it to sprout in a process called malting. After the grain sprouted, students crushed the seeds and placed the container with the mixture in the oven.
During this time, students tried replicating making beer with a vegetable root called manioc, a process indigenous to many South American cultures. Called "chicha," this involves chewing and spitting manioc, then boiling and fermenting the mixture.
Around the same time period when China began making its first beers, Egypt and Mesopotamia were at it as well. A 3,900 year old Sumerian poem honoring Ninkasi, the patron goddess of brewing, describes the production of beer from barley via bread.
Beer would grow in vitality to the many grain-growing civilizations of Eurasia and North Africa. In Mesopotamia, clay tablets have indicated that the majority of brewers were likely women, as beer production fell under the same domestic umbrella as food.
Fast forward to today when beers of all varieties and flavors have taken over the planet. From microbreweries to multinational beer corporations, there's truly a type for everyone to enjoy—and it's not longer lumpy. Thank God.