(Milton,DE) – Join Dogfish Head Founder and President Sam Calagione and University of Pennsylvania Museum biomolecular archaeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern on a heady tour of New and Old World traditions of fermented beverage-making, including the possible beginnings of distillation in pre-Hispanic times in Mexico.
The pair, whose World Science Festival session is 7-8:30 p.m. May 28 at Liberty Hall of the Ace Hotel in Manhattan, will be discussing and tasting their first Ancient Ale (Midas Touch,) their most ancient chemically attested re-creation from China (Chateau Jiahu), and a Nordic “grog” (Kvasir). They then travel to the New World to sample a modern interpretation of an Archaic-period beverage: a naturally fermented “pulque.” They’ll also discuss the earliest distilled beverage in the world, a “mezcal” distilled from the pulque.
“Early humans, who arrived from east Asia across the Bering Strait, were chewing on and probably making naturally fermented beverages from New World plants including agave, hog plum, chile, guava, maize prickly pear and others as early as 10,000 years ago at the beginning of the Archaic period,” Dr. Pat says.
His recent research focuses on the beginnings of distillation. Chemical analyses of ancient double-chambered pottery jars, from burials in Colima, Mexico, dating to as early as 1500 B.C., are now in progress, using solid phase microextraction and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Biomarkers for agave and other native American plants, which were likely naturally fermented initially, are sought and compared with the results from modern replica pottery vessels in which agave was distilled. Preliminary results suggest that agave was distilled in the ancient vessels to make a “mezcal.” More ancient vessels need to be analyzed before it can be said that these are the earliest distillation vessels ever discovered, predating the arrival of the Spanish and Filipinos by nearly 3,000 years, who brought the Mediterranean and Asian traditions of stills with them.
Armed with Dr. Pat’s chemical, archaeobotanical, archaeological and ethnohistorical findings and more than 15 years of experience resurrecting ancient fermented beverages, Dogfish created modern interpretations of an early Archaic pulque and two late Archaic pulque-based spirits or mezcals.
“Combining the best research available and our access to off-centered ingredients, we set out to create three liquid time capsules,” Calagione says. “According to early Spanish chroniclers, the ancient Aztec god for pulque is Ometochtli. Ometochtli means ‘two-rabbit’ in ancient Aztec, and he was often represented as a rabbit. Pulque was ceremonially served in double-headed rabbit jars, and drunk with long reed straws. The name stuck, and we chose ‘Two-Rabbit’ to represent our modern versions of the ancient beverages.”
To re-create the pulque, Sam and Dr. Pat mashed and fermented a combination of agave syrup, prickly pear, guava fruit, jalapeño chiles smoked and dried over mesquite wood as chipotle, mesquite pods and chewed maize (compliments of Sam and his Dogfish co-workers).
Two-Rabbit Pulque, which was fermented with a cocktail of wild yeasts, has an aroma filled with citrus, berries, pear and jam, with hints of smoke and pepper as it warms. The taste is fruity before notes of cocoa and nuts take over, then finishes with a bit of heat from the pepper.
The two Archaic mezcal re-creations were done on Dogfish Head’s pilot distillery. Using the Two-Rabbit Pulque as the starting ferment, or wash, Dogfish ran a single pass on its 200-gallon pot still. The result is a spirit with subtle smoked grains and hot pepper on the nose, backed by sweet fruit with undertones of bubblegum and pear. The taste is smoky up front, like traditional mezcal done over an open fire, with a mid-palate of corn (think unaged bourbon). It finishes with a lingering sweet richness from the corn and fruit, while a mild heat from the peppers cuts through. Dogfish bottled Two-Rabbit Spirit at a lower 60 proof to mimic its ancient cousin, which would have been unable to reach higher alcohol levels.
Native domesticated fruits and other natural products are to be expected in an Archaic beverage. They provided additional sugars and special tastes, offsetting any harsh flavors from a more “primitive,” less controlled distillation. Even today in Mexico, all kinds of traditional fruits and spices are added to pulque (curado) and to a more limited extent to mezcal (pechuga). By contrast, modern refined tequila and even traditional mezcal are more specialized, purer spirits.
To come even closer to what native Americans might have created in their double- chambered jars at Colima, Dogfish then produced a second version of this extreme spirit by further macerating and aging the distillate on prickly pear and
agave. Prickly pear and guava flavors take center stage in this second spirit, with more nuanced base flavors. The abundant sugars from the fruit help mask the heat of the spirit. Two-Rabbit Spirit Fruta is also bottled at 60 proof.
Two-Rabbit Pulque will only be available at the World Science Fair session and in limited release at Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats in Rehoboth Beach, Del. A limited amount of Two-Rabbit Spirit and Two-Rabbit Spirit Fruta will be served at the Delaware brewpub.
What: Cheers to Science
When: 7-8:30 p.m. May 28
Where: Liberty Hall – Ace Hotel, 20 W. 29th St., New York, NY Tickets: $50-$100, worldsciencefestival.com
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery makes off-centered ales for off-centered people. Since 1995, Dogfish has brewed with nonstandard ingredients such as raisins, chicory, maple syrup and grapes, changing the way people think about beer. Since 1999, Dogfish Head has worked closely with Dr. Patrick McGovern to uncover the traditions of ancient brewers with its Ancient Ales line. Dogfish Head has been making small-batch spirits from scratch since 2002 at its Rehoboth Beach brewpub. In 2014, Dogfish announced expansion of its spirits program and recently installed copper distillation equipment at its Milton brewery. Discover more at dogfish.com.