While many craft-beer trailblazers focus their attention on breaking new ground and developing new styles with modern ingredients, there’s also a faction of the brewing world that likes to look back into the history books to recreate—or reimagine—beers of the past. One of the most influential players in this arena (and many others, to be fair) has been Dogfish Head, which for more than a decade has been working with an archaeologist to research ingredients from ancient civilizations and resurrect them in new brews, released as part of the Ancient Ales series.
The background of the series is fascinating, especially given that when it launched, Dogfish was still struggling to get drinkers on board with its mission of making beers inspired by the culinary world, with ingredients many people weren’t used to seeing in the glass. When we interviewed Dogfish founder Sam Calagione about the 10 beers that have shaped his career, he gave us some insight into how the project came about:
Some people had this opinion that we were doing really wacky things, and it drove me to research the longer history of the brewing tradition. I started brewing ancient beers to prove that in every culture around the world, before that monochromatic light lager took over, was brewing—with sake rice in China, saffron in Turkey, et cetera.
[The beers in our Ancient Ales series are] liquid time capsules. We started working with Patrick E. McGovern [the Scientific Director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania], and he would find and describe residue discovered inside crockery in tombs, and Dogfish Head would bring [those ingredients] back to life. There’s Midas Touch, made with saffron, honey, and white Muscat grapes, and Sah’tea, made with juniper and rye from Finland. [The project] allows me to really travel the world and look at beer through the eyes of different brewers and cultures.
Now, you can dig into this story even further thanks to this video from Christopher Ottosen, who managed to snag some footage of Sam and Dr. McGovern together in Copenhagen,where they were working on a new brew and looking back on their collaborations over the years.