beverages, history lesson, newport, ohio

Brewing and distilling the old-fashioned way

Turns out cooking from historical recipes isn’t the only way to play with food and history. There’s a new trend brewing in the alcoholic beverage world (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Cleveland’s Great Lakes Brewing Company, maker of some of the best craft beers around (not like I’m biased), is now working with archaeologists from the University of Chicago to replicate 5,000-year-old Sumerian beer. Hoping to discover what the first beer in the world tasted like, the Great Lakes brewery is using Sumerian hymns and other cuneiform texts supplied by the archaeological team to brew their concoction. The archaeologists also help the brewery use the appropriate equipment, like clay pots and wooden spoons. Unfortunately, Great Lakes doesn’t plan on selling the results to the public…but it doesn’t sound like Sumerian beer would appeal to modern tastes. Sour, warm, with a distinct vinegar flavor? Not what I like in my beer.

However, Coastal Extreme Brewing (or the Newport Storm brewery, as they’re popularly known) in Newport, RI, is taking a decidedly more palatable approach to old alcoholic beverages. In 2006, the brewery began distilling Thomas Tew Rum, named after a notorious pirate from the 18th century. The company uses traditional methods, equipment, and ingredients to distill rum the way it was originally made in Newport, back in the 18th century. Turns out Newport was the center of the sugar and slave trade when the colonies were young, so naturally a number of rum distilleries sprang up around the city to make good use of the molasses coming into port. Today, Coastal Extreme prepares its rum in traditional copper stills, then lets the rum age for years in barrels, just like the original Newport distilleries of old.
Unsurprisingly, I’m fascinated by the idea of referring to old recipes (some ancient!) for brewing as well as cooking. Just as I can learn a lot from historical recipes, these two breweries have their own motivations. They want to…

  • Find out first-hand what ancestral brews were like
  • Try out slower brewing methods that produce small-batch beverages
  • Recall our nation’s history (however unsavory it may have been)
  • Play around with ancient ingredients, like cardamom, honey, and dates

What do you think? Would you ever try Sumerian beer or colonial rum?


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