Brew Masters – Recap and Thoughts on Season 1 Episode 5 – Ancient Ale
Synopsis, Ta Henket – We are at the fifth episode of Discovery’s Brew Masters, and I was sad when I found my DVR only recorded the second half of the show. Never fear, I went to the underground, and obtained the entire show, so I could bring you this recap. This show presents two main stories, Sam’s journey of making an ancient ale that was likely brewed in Egypt 4000 years ago, and the other story being the brewery trying to save a batch of Chateau Jiahu .
Sam and Floris travel to Egypt, where they meet up with their funny associate Ramy, as well as their go to archeologist Dr. Pat McGovern so they can trek to Saqqara to see the Tomb of Ti. With this team of smart and creative people, there’s hope that they can translate some of the hieroglyphics in the tomb to figure out how Egyptians made beer 4000 years ago, with the goal of translating that into a Dogfish Head Ancient Ale. Dogfish has had great success with their other ancient themed ales, and this was a notch Sam really wanted to put in his brewing belt.
After observing the tomb, the team opened up debate as to whether the hieroglyphics indicated that bread was in the actual brew or that it was something served along side of the brew. While there were good arguments for and against bread being in the beer 4000 years ago, it was decided that their representation will have bread in the actual mash.
As with previous episodes, we get the eye candy filled trip to the open market with Sam and company, where he picks out a few ingredients for his test batch of ta henket. They picked out this hard sugar dom-palm fruit , a spice mixture called Za’atar (oregano,thyme, and marjoram) and chamomile. We got to watch the team add these spices to already brewed beer to see how it would jive. Good old Ramy almost tossed his cookies when they added Za’atar to his beer.
The journey wasn’t quite over, as the team knew brewers yeast in its current form wasn’t discovered 4000 years ago, and fermented beverages relied on wild, airborne yeast. Sam and team went to a rural area with lots of yeast carrying plant life, and set out petri dishes to collect wild yeast. Luckily, they were successful and headed back to the states to make a batch of this beer. Once they got back, they had Bryan bake up some hearth fired bread, so they could add that to the mash as well. After brewing a small batch, Sam unveiled the beer at an exhibit in New York, without even tasting it first!! Like every other episode of Brew Masters, everyone on camera LOVED IT. We were left with a teaser by Sam, in which he high fived his Ancient Ale team and said, ok what’s next?
Meanwhile, back at the Milton brewery, Katrinka is in a familiar jam, as she is trying to figure out why their house yeast is not fermenting in their batch of Chateau Jiahu. While this lends a great opportunity for another session of yeast class for us viewers, I can’t help but notice a troubling trend. We see the brewers empty out the dormant yeast and pitch fresh yeast, we see them try and stimulate the yeast through aeration, and despite all efforts, this batch of Chateau has to be dumped. There really wasn’t much more to this story than that, but I see the importance of including this on the series. It demonstrates how challenging brewing can be even for a well seasoned craft brewery, and creates good tv drama. I also hope younger craft breweries take notice from a QA standpoint, and cut their losses on a beer, rather than pushing a low quality product to market. I know Dogfish is in a far better financial position than a very young craft brewery, but I would say releasing a product known to be less than stellar can hurt the brand in the long run.
The Vibe, Additional Thoughts and Questions
This was another good episode of Brew Masters. The science aspect alone is very interesting and thought provoking. There seemed to be far less focus on Sam, and more focus on the teams trek through Egypt, as well as the history of fermented drinking culture. Between the colorful HD eye candy, and the mic’d up beer pouring into the glass, I find myself getting excited about beer by the end of each episode. If you are a fan of the Food Network, you probably know what I’m talking about.
Sam sets the bar higher and higher for himself, by doing an artistic representation of what he believes was brewed and enjoyed thousands of years ago. I also feel this is his pet project, more than him listening to market demand. It’s a wonderful position to be in, where he can “play by his own rules” rather than being a zombie robot to meet certain numbers. I will be honest, I haven’t enjoyed all these ancient ales to the point where I want to buy them every time they come out, but I enjoy the fact they are not only taking your palate on a journey, but also making you think about life and whats most important: socializing and enjoying a fine beverage that takes the edge off a long day. It’s been going on far longer than the craft beer movement, and we shouldn’t forget that.
I’d like to part with some questions that I’d like you to answer in the comment section below:
- Do you think the Egyptians put bread in their brew, or served it up on the side of a brew?
- Do you think Dogfish Head really rushes pilot batches for public events, or is that just made-for-TV drama?
- Do you think Dogfish Head would be better off scaling down their batches of new beer (like Chateau) until they completely nail it a few times, or can they afford to take these risks?
- Do you enjoy their ancient ales? (Midas Touch, Sah’Tea, Theobroma, Chateau,Chicha, etc?)
- Do you think Sam really loves these ancient ales, or is it a bunch of genius marketing?