Today is the birthday of Michelle Wang, who is the editor of the only craft beer magazine I know of published in China, Hops Magazine. We had a chance to meet a couple of years during a press junket to Antwerp that we both attended, along with some other beer journalists, and our paths have since crossed a few more times. It also great seeing her and hearing about the growing beer scene in China. Join me in wishing Michelle a very happy birthday.
There was exciting news yesterday about a find in China by a research team from Stanford University. According to one source, “Archaeologists have discovered what they believe to be the earliest direct evidence of beer brewing in China, a trove of beer-making equipment dating from between 3400 and 2900 BCE, discovered at the Mijiaya site in Shaanxi province. Along with this archaeological find, scientists conducted an analysis of residue on the ancient pottery, jars, and funnels found, revealing a surprising recipe for the beer.” Their findings will be published in the PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America).
Here’s the abstract:
The pottery vessels from the Mijiaya site reveal, to our knowledge, the first direct evidence of in situ beer making in China, based on the analyses of starch, phytolith, and chemical residues. Our data reveal a surprising beer recipe in which broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum), barley (Hordeum vulgare), Job’s tears (Coix lacryma-jobi), and tubers were fermented together. The results indicate that people in China established advanced beer-brewing technology by using specialized tools and creating favorable fermentation conditions around 5,000 y ago. Our findings imply that early beer making may have motivated the initial translocation of barley from the Western Eurasia into the Central Plain of China before the crop became a part of agricultural subsistence in the region 3,000 y later.
This research reveals a 5,000-y-old beer recipe in which broomcorn millet, barley, Job’s tears, and tubers were fermented together. To our knowledge, our data provide the earliest direct evidence of in situ beer production in China, showing that an advanced beer-brewing technique was established around 5,000 y ago. For the first time, to our knowledge, we are able to identify the presence of barley in archaeological materials from China by applying a recently developed method based on phytolith morphometrics, predating macrobotanical remains of barley by 1,000 y. Our method successfully distinguishes the phytoliths of barley from those of its relative species in China.
I’m not sure how that squares with Chateau Jiahu, the beer made by Dogfish Head based on a 9,000-year-old find in China, from Northern China. They also found preserved pottery jars “in the Neolithic village of Jiahu, in Henan province.” The difference, as far as I can tell is the ingredients themselves, although in both they do use barley. This beer recipe calls for broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum), barley (Hordeum vulgare), Job’s tears (Coix lacryma-jobi), and tubers to be fermented, whereas the earlier one from Jiahu used “pre-gelatinized rice flakes, Wildflower honey, Muscat grapes, barley malt, hawthorn fruit, and Chrysanthemum flowers.” So their claim that this is older seems suspect unless there’s some qualifier I’m missing. As is typical, academic papers are only available online if you’re already an academic or are willing to pay to look at it for a short period of time, so I’ve not been able to look at their full claims or at the recipe itself, except what’s been written about it by more mainstream news outlets.
According to Gizmodo’s coverage:
Step aside with your claims to long legacies, craft breweries! This reconstructed beer recipe is over 5,000 years old. It’s the earliest beer recipe—and the earliest known use of barley—in China.
Archaeologists at Stanford University, while digging along China’s Wei River, made an intriguing discovery: A marvelously complete set of brewing equipment. And at the bottom of that equipment was something even more wonderful: Residue from the drink it once brewed.
After scrapping that gunk from the pots, researchers analyzed it and confirmed that it was, indeed, leftover froth from a 5,000-year-old beer. They were also able to pin down the recipe of that beer to an unlikely, but delicious-sounding, combination of broomcorn millet, barley, Job’s tears, and tubers.
So they claim, or rather Stanford claims, this is “the earliest known use of barley in China.” I didn’t think that the Chateau Jiahu added the barley to the original recipe, which was developed with the Patrick McGovern from the University of Pennsylvania, and I have a call into Dogfish Head to find out. But failing that, there’s a 4,000-year difference in the two claims that it seems hard for me to believe the Sanford team wouldn’t have uncovered.
The report from CBS News calls the barley a “secret ingredient,” which seems really odd, but seems to reflect the surprise of the researchers on this project. But McGovern’s find in the Jiahu area of China is more than ten years old, and got considerable media attention when the modern version of the beer was first released in 2007, so again I’m not sure a) how they could have missed it or b) what makes this find different, and if it is why none of the news reports are addressing that difference. Some news outlets, such as IFL Science, do mention that beer is older than 5,000 years, which is fairly well-known. Whether it was known in China at the very beginning, as it was in the fertile crescent seems to be gaining ground as a theory.
Although most of the paper is unavailable, there is supplemental information that is available, and that does give some information about the brewing process:
A new study conducted in China suggests that “beer is good for the brain.” According to to an article in the Inquisitr, here’s why. “The beer draws its superpowers from hops, the female flowers of the hop plant Humulus lupulus, which are used primarily as a flavoring and stability agent in beer. However, apart from contributing to the signature taste of the beer, hops releases a chemical — Xanthohumol — that has the potential to fight off neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.” These findings come from a journal article, with the decidedly unsexy title Xanthohumol, a Polyphenol Chalcone Present in Hops, Activating Nrf2 Enzymes To Confer Protection against Oxidative Damage in PC12 Cells, which was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, published by the American Chemical Society.
Here’s the abstract:
Xanthohumol (2′,4′,4-trihydroxy-6′-methoxy-3′-prenylchalcone, Xn), a polyphenol chalcone from hops (Humulus lupulus), has received increasing attention due to its multiple pharmacological activities. As an active component in beers, its presence has been suggested to be linked to the epidemiological observation of the beneficial effect of regular beer drinking. In this work, we synthesized Xn with a total yield of 5.0% in seven steps and studied its neuroprotective function against oxidative-stress-induced neuronal cell damage in the neuronlike rat pheochromocytoma cell line PC12. Xn displays moderate free-radical-scavenging capacity in vitro. More importantly, pretreatment of PC12 cells with Xn at submicromolar concentrations significantly upregulates a panel of phase II cytoprotective genes as well as the corresponding gene products, such as glutathione, heme oxygenase, NAD(P)H:quinone oxidoreductase, thioredoxin, and thioredoxin reductase. A mechanistic study indicates that the α,β-unsaturated ketone structure in Xn and activation of the transcription factor Nrf2 are key determinants for the cytoprotection of Xn. Targeting the Nrf2 by Xn discloses a previously unrecognized mechanism underlying the biological action of Xn. Our results demonstrate that Xn is a novel small-molecule activator of Nrf2 in neuronal cells and suggest that Xn might be a potential candidate for the prevention of neurodegenerative disorders.
This is not the first time such findings have been studied, so this appears to be yet another confirmation in the growing body of positive health benefits of moderate beer drinking. What the team of Chinese scientists found was a “previously unrecognized mechanism underlying the biological action of Xn,” suggesting Xanthohumol “might be a potential candidate for the prevention of neurodegenerative disorders.”
The Inquisitr concludes:
Hops have been used in Chinese medicine for centuries. However, its efficacy to prevent Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s was discovered only recently. Neuronal cells — which are in the brain, spine, and nerves — are in limited supply over one’s lifetime. These cells are especially susceptible to stress. This stress is thought to be one of the ways brain-related disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s begin.
Beer, as I probably don’t need to remind you, is at least one great way to relieve stress.
Saturday’s ad is for Ewo Beer, from the 1930s. The Ewo Brewery was founded in Shanghai, China in 1935. Some sources claim this ad is from 1930 and another similar ad for the same beer claims to be from 1920, but that seems impossible, unless there was another brewery by that name earlier. Anyway, all I could think of was that if you added a “K” it would be Ewok. Nerd.
Here’s a hilarious marketing development, one that would absolutely never fly in the land of the free and the home of the “think about the children” neo-prohibitionists. If you’ve been the parent of a young daughter, you’re probably already familiar with the marketing juggernaut that is Hello Kitty and her legion of cute minions from Sanrio. It’s hard to think of another character with as much licensed tie-in merchandising as Hello Kitty. She makes Disney look like amateurs. So really, it should come as no surprise then, that Sanrio has licensed Hello Kitty for a series of four fruit beers, brewed by the Taiwan Tsing Beer Co.. The four initial fruit beers include Peach, Passion Fruit, Banana and Lemon and come in 330 ml cans.
Bloomberg Businessweek referred to the announcement as Zen and the Art of Crass Marketing, which is surprising since I never really thought of the business press, or indeed the business world generally, as having high moral standards if there was a buck to be made. When you consider that it was big business that sank the country, and the world, into a global recession, then getting a bailout from us, while still collecting their bonuses, I have had time swallowing Bloomberg’s assertion that this is the line that business dare not cross, that this is the one going too far into crassness. If anything, this is pretty harmless and funny.
The ABC News Report is slightly more balanced, and reveals that these “new fruit-flavored cans mark Hello Kitty’s second entry into the world of alcohol. Previously, Hello Kitty wines were licensed in Asia, Europe and the United States.”
I can’t say any of them look particularly good, but one thing most news accounts overlooked is that the beer is actually only 2.3% a.b.v., making them session beers, and actually the opposite of the evil Bloomberg makes them out to be. Also, Kotaku, reviewing the beers, describes them as “closest to Chimay but with stronger fruit flavorings. The fruit isn’t a note or a sense in these beverages but instead the overpowering star of it all.” That’s hard to swallow, but then I haven’t actually tried them and it’s likely I won’t ever have the chance to, not that it will keep me up at night. Still, an odd and twisted development.
Macau Brewery Guides
Guild: None Known
National Regulatory Agency: None
Beverage Alcohol Labeling Requirements: Not Known
Drunk Driving Laws: BAC 0.05%
- Full Name: Macau Special Administrative Region
- Location: Eastern Asia, bordering the South China Sea and China
- Government Type: Limited democracy
- Language: Cantonese 85.7%, Hokkien 4%, Mandarin 3.2%, other Chinese dialects 2.7%, English 1.5%, Tagalog 1.3%, other 1.6% [Note: Chinese and Portuguese are the official language]
- Religion(s): Buddhist 50%, Roman Catholic 15%, none or other 35%
- Capital: Macao City
- Population: 578,025; 169th
- Area: 28.2 sq km, 237th
- Comparative Area: Less than one-sixth the size of Washington, DC
- National Food: Minchee
- National Symbol: Lotus Blossom
- Affiliations: None
- Independence: A Macau Special Administrative Region was established, December 20, 1999, celebrated as Macau Special Administrative Region Establishment Day
- Alcohol Legal: Yes
- Minimum Drinking Age: None
- BAC: 0.05%
- Number of Breweries: 1
- How to Say “Beer”: pear zao / pi jiu / 啤酒
- How to Order a Beer: Ching gay woh ee bay pee joh
- How to Say “Cheers”: Gom bui [Cantonese] or Gan Bei [Mandarin] or Kan bei (“dry the cup”) / Kong Chien / Nien Nien nu e / Wen lie / Yam sing, Yung sing or Yum Sen (“drink and win”) / 乾杯 / 干杯
- Toasting Etiquette: N/A
Alcohol Consumption By Type:
- Beer: 44%
- Wine: 1%
- Spirits: <1%
- Other: 55%
Alcohol Consumption Per Capita (in litres):
- Recorded: N/A
- Unrecorded: N/A
- Total: N/A
- Beer: N/A
WHO Alcohol Data:
- Per Capita Consumption: N/A
- Alcohol Consumption Trend: Stable
- Excise Taxes: N/A
- Minimum Age: None
- Sales Restrictions: N/A
- Advertising Restrictions: N/A
- Sponsorship/Promotional Restrictions: N/A
Patterns of Drinking Score: N/A
Wednesday’s ad is a fairly recent one for the Chinese beer Tsingtao. It was created by artist Olly Howe. I love its rorschach-like quality and its amazing detail. It’s messy and organized at the same time.
The English version of the Chinese newspaper, The People’s Daily, had an interesting article about international breweries investing heavily in the world’s biggest beer market: China. Entitled, Big Brewers Fermenting Deals in Southwest, it details, for example, how MolsonCoors has “recently spent $40 million to buy a 51 percent stake in a new joint venture with the Hebei Si’hai Beer Company.” Coors Light “now accounts for 10 percent of China’s premium beer market.” Carlsberg is making similar investments, and Anheuser-Busch InBev “started work on a new brewery in Ziyang, Sichuan province, this year.” And that’s just in the southern part of China. It’s a big market.