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Ancient Brews    by Patrick E. McGovern order for
Ancient Brews
by Patrick E. McGovern
Order:  USA  Can
W. W. Norton, 2017 (2017)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Dr. Patrick E. McGovern, author of Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture and Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages, now turns his attention to extreme fermented beverages ('made by mixing and fermenting together the ingredients at hand, no holds barred') in Ancient Brews: Rediscovered and Re-created.

In this ultimate travelogue, Dr. Pat takes us all over the world - and deep into the past - to offer insights into our ancestral tastes in cocktails. And, though some of the ingredients might be challenging to acquire, he even gives us the opportunity to prepare our own, with both brewing and meal pairing recipes.

Innovative brewer Sam Calagione's Foreword explains how he started his Dogfish brewery and partnered with Dr. Pat in creating these 'liquid time capsules', based on civilizations through the ages that 'have long made beers limited only by their creativity and the range of natural ingredients that grew in the lands that they called home.' This investigative duo combined organic residue research on archaeological remnants with anthropological data and modern experimentation to come up with the recipes in the book.

Where did it all start? In deep space, says Dr. Pat, whence came molecular fragments to Earth as precursors of alcohol, which flourished in the Cretaceous Period. It was savored by animals, monkeys and early hominids, for whom Dr. Pat argues alcoholic beverages would have been 'the universal medicine and elixir of humankind', abounding in ancient pharmacopoeias.

What was the first liquid time capsule investigated? Our travelogue starts at the late 8th century B.C. Midas Tumulus in central Turkey. Bringing the Midas funerary feast back to life included Dogfish's Midas Touch brew (a delectable combination of wine, beer and mead). Moving further back in time to Neolithic China, we follow the recreation of Chateau Jiahu (a rice beer), based on archaeological evidence found at a site of the oldest rice domestication and musical instruments near Xi'an.

Of course, humans first began making alcoholic beverages in Africa, so Dr. Pat takes us next to Egypt, where tree resins where used. That discovery resulted in the unveiling of Ta Henket's intense flavors. On across the Mediterranean to Italy for an Italian grog, Etrusca (think pomegranate, hazelnut and myrhh). Next we have a Nordic beverage, Kvasir, made with bitter herbs; a Mesoamerican chocolate brew, Theobroma; South American corn beer, Chicha (paired with Peruvian Ceviche!); and Mexican Two-Rabbit concoctions.

Whether you're interested in archaeology, anthropology, the process of scientific discovery, or simply enjoy a relaxing drink with friends at the end of a hard day, Patrick E. McGovern's Ancient Brews is a thoroughly fascinating read. I found particularly interesting the research into chocolate drinks, and also the brief mentions of the Digging for Drug Discovery project and the compounds of medicinal value, e.g. artemisinin, already found. Highly recommended!

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