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Brewing 3,400-year-old Mesoamerican beer

The Edible Geography blog has posted a cool story about brewing 3,400-year-old Mesoamerican beer made with ingredients determined through chemical analysis of pottery fragments.

Plain cacao alcohol is “an abundant liquor of the smoothest taste, between sour and sweet, which is of the most refreshing coolness,” according to early Spanish records quoted by McGovern. Later, Mayans switched to using the bitter, chocolate beans as the base for an elite beverage whose flavour was usually “improved” with honey, maize, chilli, annatto, and vanilla. It was apparently served with a thick head of foam, in vessels designed so that “one had the option to inhale the foam or drink directly from the mouth of the vessel.”

Not satisfied with simply gathering biomolecular evidence, McGovern then wondered what such a drink might have tasted like. As he admits early on in his book, we can never be sure how close to reality any reconstruction is, since “ancient fossils tell us nothing about the easily degradable sensory-organ tissues,” and thus “early hominids might have had much more acute senses than ours, like the macaque, which has exquisite sensitivity to alcohol and other smells.”

Nonetheless, in a section of his book titled “Theobroma for the Masses,” McGovern describes his collaboration with Dogfish Head craft brewers Sam Calagione and Bryan Selders to create a beer based on the core ingredients of early New World alcohol: chocolate beans (in nib form, as the cacao pods are too perishable to transport from Honduras to Delaware), honey, corn, ancho chillis, and annatto.

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