5,000-Year-Old Beer Recipe Found In China

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:



Beer Birthday: Sabine Weyermann

Today is the 58th birthday of Sabine Weyermann, co-owner of Weyermann Malting in Bamberg, Germany. If you’ve visited any of the Craft Brewers Conferences, you’ve no doubt seen the bright yellow and red of the specialty malting company, which is sold in the U.S. by the Brewers Supply Group. Sabine’s family began the Weyermann Malt company in 1879, although she can trace her family back at least as far as 1510. She’s an amazing person, and her malt has helped fuel many a small and large brewery. Join me in wishing Sabine a very happy birthday.

Sabine giving a presentation at their offices in Bamberg when I visited there in 2007.

CBC_San Diego_ 2012
Sabine and her husband Thomas Kraus-Weyermann at CBC in San Diego, 2012.

You can see the Weyermann Malting Brewer’s Star that Weyermann’s starting making at the top of my home office/guest house, which we call “The Brewhouse.”

Patent No. 3085945A: Malting Process

Today in 1963, US Patent 3085945 A was issued, an invention of Wayne W. Luchsinger and John G. Fleckenstein, assigned to the Kurth Malting Company, for their “Malting Process.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes this summary:

According to the present invention there is provided a novel malting process which gives greatly increased malt recoveries and with other benefits which will be disclosed hereinafter. There is also provided a novel malt produced having substantially retarded, and/or essentially free of rootlets. This novel malting process broadly comprises acidulating a cereal grain, as well as contacting the cereal grain with a growth-stimulating amount of gibberellic acid, in the period from initial steeping to the growth or germination stage prior to any significant growth or germination, viz, usually within about 6 hours, and as much as 1 day, or slightly longer, after steep out, and thereafter completing the germination.

By acidulating is meant applying an acidic substance to the grain, such as by spraying or immersing the grain in an aqueous solution of the acidic substance to inhibit growth. Thus, the acidic substance can be incorporated in the steep water at any stage of the steeping operation or it can be applied to the grain at steep out or thereafter and before any significant growth or germination has resulted, viz, within about 6 hours and as much as 1 day or slightly longer after steep out. However, malt recoveries are generally progressively lowered as the acidulation treatment is delayed after steep out. Nevertheless, the malt recoveries generally obtained after such tardy or deferred acidulation are higher than without such treatment.

Acidulation without the addition of gibberellic acid to the grain inhibits growth but the grain is not converted to usable malt, especially at low pH values below 3.8. Gibberellic acid alone without acidulation promotes growth but losses due to respiration and rootlets are excessive.

Surprisingly, the combination of acidulation and gib- 4 untreated malt and, in fact, almost reaches the ultimate object of going from grain to malt without loss. The 1% loss in the aciduiated-gibberellic acid treated malt due to steeping and abrasion is presently considered unavoidable but negligible compared to the reduction in other losses.

The avoidance of wasteful rootlet formation in the process of this invention is particularly significant since the germinating grain (barley) is more readily stirred and because matting is avoided. The barley thus requires less volume during germination so that more barley can be malted with existing equipment than when rootlet growth takes place. For example, instead of germinating 250i) bushels in a bed, from 3500 to 4000 bushels can be germinated. The increased productive capacity leads to lower costs. Furthermore, the essentially rootlet-free malt produced according to this invention requires much less storage volume and transportation space than conventional malt with rootlets. In addition, this malt has a higher bushel weight than conventional malt after the rootlets are removed.

The reduction in loss due to respiration is also highly important, not only because of the waste of the kernel constituents which is avoided, but also because of the reduced amount of heat developed in respiration. This heat must be removed to maintain the grain at a proper malting temperature. Since less heat is evolved there is less to remove. Turning of the malt to avoid overheating thus can be reduced. There is also less expense involved in refrigeration since less cool air is needed to maintain the malting temperature.


Patent No. 1299379A: Wild-Oat And Barley Separator

Today in 1919, US Patent 1299379 A was issued, an invention of Robert J. Owens, for his “Wild-Oat and Barley Separator.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes this summary:

The object of my invention is to provide a separator which will dispense entirely with fans and air currents and wire sieves and of such devices as flannels, carpets and the like, frequently found in machines of this type for separating and grading grains.

A further object is to provide a machine by means of which not only wild oats but small, imperfect kernels of grain can be separated from the full, plump kernels that are suitable for seed.


Patent No. 4112: A New Or Improved Method Of Drying And Preparation Of Malt

Today in 1817, British Patent 4112 was issued, an invention of Daniel Wheeler, for his “A New or Improved Method of Drying and Preparation of Malt.” According to one account, “Black patent malt changed the game in beer history, as it allowed darker beers to be brewed without the use of adjuncts that would adulterate said brew. By 1828, Guinness had replaced their entire stock of brown malt with black patent malt, and their own stout porter started eliciting competition from other notable breweries such as Beamish, Crawford, and Murphy’s.”

Here’s a short description of his patent, from an 1881 book, “Abridgments of Specifications Relating to Brewing, Wine-Making, and Distilling Alcoholic Liquids.”


Here’s more of the background to Wheeler’s patent, from Ron Pattinson, in a post entitled Patent malt in the early 19th century:

When all forms of colouring were made illegal in 1816, Porter brewers had a big problem. How could they brew a beer of the right colour when using mostly pale malt? The answer was provided by Daniel Wheeler, who, by roasting malt in a way similar to coffee beans, created a malt capable of colouring a large quantity of wort. Pale malt was roasted at 360 to 400º F in metal cylinders, which revolved over a furnace. (Source: “The Theory and Practice of Brewing” by W.L. Tizard, London, 1846, page 90.) Wheeler acquired a patent for the process, hence the name patent malt. It was also known as black malt, porter malt or roast malt.


And here’s another account of his patent, and its effect on the history of brewing.

In 1817, Daniel Wheeler obtained British Patent No. 4112 for a “New or Improved Method of Drying and Preparation of Malt.” His invention of the Drum Malt Roaster allowed maltsters to roast malt to the point where a small amount of malt could darken a large amount of beer without imparting an overly burnt or tarry taste to the entire brew. Before Wheeler’s invention, brown ales were made exclusively from brown malt, but the advances in kilning technology gave way to the use of pale malts, which became a cheaper and more reliable alternative. Therefore, the color and flavor profiles of brown ales were subsequently determined more by modern style dark malts, crystal malts and caramelized sugars.

And one more, partially from H.S. Corran’s A History of Brewing:

The malt bill is a combination of new and old but truly british malts (minus the 6-row). Black Patent Malt leading the way to the creation and evolution of porters by helping differentiate it from brown ales. From H.S. Corran’s A History of Brewing (1975), “On March 28, 1817, he obtained British Patent No. 4112 for “A New or Improved Method of Drying and Preparation of Malt. The adoption of malt made according to Wheeler’s patent, and called ‘patent malt,’ marked the beginning of the history of porter and stout as we know it today, and put an end to the period during which the term ‘porter’ was probably applied to any brown beer to distinguish it from pale ale. The new process was effective, economical, produced a palatable product and freed brewers from charges of adulteration. It was quickly taken up throughout the British brewing industry. Whitbread’s Brewery recorded stocks of Patent Malt in 1817, as did Barclay’s in 1820, and Truman’s showed stocks of ‘Black Malt’ in 1826.”

Historic Beer Birthday: Louis Camille Maillard

Today is the birthday of French physician and chemist Louis Camille Maillard (February 4, 1878-May 12, 1936) who was the Doogie Howser of his era, joining the faculty of the University of Nancy when he was only sixteen. He rose to prominence thanks to his work on kidney disorders and later taught medicine at the prestigious University of Paris.


But his biggest contribution, especially to brewing, was an accidental discovery he made in 1912, which today we call the Maillard Reaction, or Browning Reaction.

Here’s the basic description, from Wikipedia:

The Maillard Reaction a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned food its desirable flavor. Seared steaks, pan-fried dumplings, biscuits (widely known in North America as cookies), breads, toasted marshmallows, and many other foods undergo this reaction. It is named after French chemist Louis-Camille Maillard, who first described it in 1912 while attempting to reproduce biological protein synthesis.

The reaction is a form of non-enzymatic browning which typically proceeds rapidly from around 140 to 165 °C (284 to 329 °F). At higher temperatures, caramelization and subsequently pyrolysis become more pronounced.

The reactive carbonyl group of the sugar reacts with the nucleophilic amino group of the amino acid, and forms a complex mixture of poorly characterized molecules responsible for a range of odors and flavors. This process is accelerated in an alkaline environment (e.g., lye applied to darken pretzels), as the amino groups (RNH3+) are deprotonated and, hence, have an increased nucleophilicity. The type of the amino acid determines the resulting flavor. This reaction is the basis of the flavoring industry. At high temperatures, a potential carcinogen called acrylamide can be formed.

In the process, hundreds of different flavor compounds are created. These compounds, in turn, break down to form yet more new flavor compounds, and so on. Each type of food has a very distinctive set of flavor compounds that are formed during the Maillard reaction. It is these same compounds that flavor scientists have used over the years to make reaction flavors.

It was, and is, for food science and understanding how heat and cooking create flavors. If you want to dive deeper, the Warwick Medical School has an article on the Historical Development of the reaction, and NPR’s Food for Thought on the centenary of Malliard’s discovery posted 100 Years Ago, Maillard Taught Us Why Our Food Tastes Better Cooked.

But it was also very important to brewing, too, especially when it comes to malting and roasting malt to get different flavors and colors in the beer. For example, here’s UC Davis professor Charlie Bamforth writing about the Malliard Reaction in his book Grape vs. Grain.


Not surprisingly, John Mallett, in his recent book Malt: A Practical Guide from Field to Brewhouse, mentions Malliard’s contributions to brewing science.


The chemistry website Compound Interest has a good explanation with their post, Food Chemistry – The Maillard Reaction.


And finally, Popular Science’s BeerSci series discusses the Maillard Reaction in How Beer Gets Its Color.

Patent No. 513694A: Apparatus For Drying Barley, Malt, Etc.

Today in 1894, US Patent 513694 A was issued, an invention of James White, for his “Apparatus For Drying Barley, Malt, Etc.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes this summary:

My invention has reference to apparatus for drying barley, malt, oats, wheat or other substances of a granular or pulverulent nature.

The invention mainly consists in the construction within a kiln or drying house of an inclined or vertical channel formed with foraminous sides and divided transversely at suitable intervals into chambers the bottoms of which contain cross passages, which passages When the barley or other material which is supplied to the upper end of said channel is allowed to run or flow from one chamber to that next below, transfer the material that was at and near the respective sides of the upper of the two chambers to the opposite sides of the lower chamber, whereby the material gets well mixed and turned over and is consequently more uniformly dried than if it were merely allowed to slide bodily from chamber to chamber.

The invention further consists in the combination with the said cross passages at bottom of each compartment of a central tongue or board projecting up from between said cross passages, and of a central tongue or board projecting down from between said cross passages, the said tongues serving as guides or dividers for the material as it respectively enters and leaves said passages. The lowest chamber does not require cross passages at bottom but has a slide or shutter at top and another slide or shutter at bottom.- When the apparatus is inoperative the bottom slide is normally kept closed and the upper one open, and the two slides are worked at intervals to allow the material in the several chambers to move down one stage, that is to say to the extent of one chamber. To effect this the upper slide is first closed and the bottom slide is then opened to allow the lowest chamber to empty itself into a chute or receptacle. The bottom slide is then closed and the top slide opened, when every chamber (except the lowest) will empty itself through the cross passages into the chamber next below and become filled from the chamber next above, the top chamber receiving its supply from a hopper or otherwise.


Patent No. 1084943A: Process Of Manufacturing Malt

Today in 1914, US Patent 1084943 A was issued, an invention of John Von Der Kammer, for his “Process of Manufacturing Malt.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes this summary:

I have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Processes of Manufacturing Malt,

ing substances in a tightly closed tank for the purpose of obtaining preliminary germination, and after the discharges of the solution, it is left to itself in the tank which is again closed, until the greatest possible quantity of water has been absorbed. Thereupon the barley is continuously moved in the closed tank until the formation of enzymes and conversion into a complete state of mealiness, without any further addition of nourishing substances in order to prevent an over-germination.

A sectional view of an apparatus preferably employed in carrying out the present process is illustrated in the accompanying drawing.

A rotatable drum is preferably used as a germination tank, the. wall of which may consist, as shown in the-accompanying drawing, of a casing a of perforated sheet metal surrounded by a corrugated;-sheet metal casing b with the casing a resting on the corrugations. In that way, on the one hand, the casing a is strengthened, and, on the other hand, conduits 0 are formed through which the liquid escaping from the drum may be discharged.

The process is carried out in the following manner: The barley, without having been previously steeped, is placed in the drum, and then moistened with such’a quantity of nourishing substance liquid that the said liquid submerges the barley. The impurities contained therein, rise to the surface, and are discharged through an opening 12 in one of the end walls of the drum. After a short action, for instance up to half an hour, it is discharged through the conduits 0, and the apparatus is closed, so that air cannot enter from the outside. After the grain has been left to itself for several hours, nourishing liquid is again added. The moment for the supply of new nourishing liquid is indicated by the fact that the barley appears dry. This process is repeated three or four times or as many times until 30-36 hours have passed. Then no more nourishing liquid is supplied, but the barley is left to itself in the closed apparatus for 6268 hours, according to the nature of the barley and to the kind of the nourishing substances, and then at once brought into the drying kiln. With the exception of short intervals for the supply and discharge of the nourishing substance solution, the drum is rotated during the Whole of the process.

Owing to the barley which is to germinate, not having been previously steeped, as has been the rule hitherto, the substances of the grain intended for the germination and formation of enzymes are retained and utilized in the germinating process. Owing to that, the germination begins more quickly, and therefore enzyme are formed earlier. Both processes are assisted by the supply of nourishing solution, whereby the consumption of endosperm substances for nourishing the germs is limited or entirely avoided. Owing to the omission of steeping as a process separate and distinct from the process of germination and development of the enzymes, a considerable economy is moreover effected in the first cost and the cost of maintenance. Moreover, a complete swelling up of the barley and therefore a proper. loosening up of the endosperm substance, is obtained. During the first six hours of the process there takes place, as shown by practical experiments, such ‘a strong absorption of water that the increase in weight of the barley amounts to about 45%. After another six hours, it’ amounts to about 50%, and after the first period of the process, that is to say, during the first 30-36 hours,’during which nourishing liquid added, to about -70%. During the first period, a germination takes place with the formation of roots, the said. germination being completed in the next 14-18 hours of the second period. At the same time, an over-germination is prevented not only by the complete suppression and consumption ‘of nourishing substance solution and moisture, but also by the continuous movement of the barley. At the same time and during the next 418 hours, the multiplication and, the activity of the enzyme continuously increase, and a conversion to a complete state of mealiness and therefore a better quality of the green malt is insured, and a higher yield of malt is obtained than with the known processes.


Patent No. 2295931A1: A Method For Identifying A Barley Variety And A Barley Having A Brewing Property

Today in 1999, US Patent 2295931 A1 was issued, an invention of Makoto Kihara, Takafumi Kaneko, Kensuke Fukuda, and Kazutoshi Ito, assigned to Sapporo Breweries Ltd., for their “A Method For Identifying a Barley Variety and a Barley Having a Brewing Property.” Here’s the Abstract:

A method for identifying barley with good brewing properties using the thermostability of the barley .beta.-amylase as an indicator. The thermostability of the barley .beta.-amylase significantly affects the degree of the apparent attenuation limit. A method for determining the enzyme activity of an extract solution from one barley seed, an indirect method by an isoelectric point, and an indirect identifying method by DNA polymorphisms of the region containing the .beta.-amylase structural gene have been developed as a method for determining the type of thermostability for a barley .beta.-amylase. The selection method is not affected by environmental or climatic conditions.


Patent No. EP2258828A2: Improved Grain Kilning Device

Today in 2010, US Patent EP 2258828 A2 was issued, another invention of Denis Julien, assigned to Malteurop Groupe, for his “Improved Grain Kilning Device.” Here’s the Abstract:

The device (1) for kilning grains in a chamber (3) having controlled atmosphere, comprises a kilning tank (5) having a grid bottom for receiving the grain, and a unit for holding kilning tank inside the chamber so that the grid bottom is raised with respect to a floor of the chamber. The floor of the chamber is made in the form of a floor slab (7). The holding unit comprises legs supported on the floor slab. The grid bottom of the kilning tank rests on each of the supporting legs. The kilning tank has a cylindrical shape and the grid bottom has a circular shape. The device (1) for kilning grains in a chamber (3) having controlled atmosphere, comprises a kilning tank (5) having a grid bottom for receiving the grain, and a unit for holding kilning tank inside the chamber so that the grid bottom is raised with respect to a floor of the chamber. The floor of the chamber is made in the form of a floor slab (7). The holding unit comprises legs supported on the floor slab. The grid bottom of the kilning tank rests on each of the supporting legs. The kilning tank has a cylindrical shape and the grid bottom has a circular shape, while the chamber has cylindrical shape and the floor slab is rectangular or square. The chamber has a sidewall (11) along the floor slab and rising vertically from the floor slab to top of the kilning tank. A platform and a unit for holding the platform in the chamber are arranged in the kilning device so that the platform extends transversely from the side wall to the vicinity of the kilning tank. The kilning tank comprises a sidewall along the grid bottom, in which sealing elements are arranged between the sidewall of the kilning tank and a proximal end of the platform. The grid bottom comprises slab grids each floating with respect to underlying supporting legs. The supporting legs comprise a telescopic body. The chamber further comprises a side wall made in the form of a building wall or a partition, where the side wall has stiffening ribs.