DRAFT PICKS: An impressive history of the art of brewing

It’s a bit hard to pinpoint when our illustrious ancestors began producing beer. For a long time, historians believed that the first beer was produced some 7,000 years ago - in an area that is now part of Iran. Before that discovery, there was evidence from 6,000 years ago when a picture etched into a Sumarian clay tablet depicted a group of people drinking beer through reed straws out of a communal serving vessel. Before that find, there was the record of a beer recipe tucked away in a 3,500 year old Sumarian poem. With each new archeological discovery, evidence takes us further and farther back into beer drinking history, and each discovery shows us that beer drinking has been around longer than we think. Beer is certainly an important part of mankind’s story. The history of the brewing arts is limited only by the limits we have on our own historical research and discoveries. Now, the 7,000 year limit has been breached. Late last year, archeologists revealed discoveries that prove there have been serious brewing operations as late as 11,500 years ago. We’re talking the Mesolithic age. Humans were brewing beer before they were smelting metals! At the ancient ritualistic site called Gobekli Tepe in what is now Turkey, scientists uncovered troughs that were almost certainly used for brewing beer. In the same archeological season, teams also discovered evidence of what would likely be the earliest commercial brewing operation in Cyprus - what would be called a brewpub today. Researchers believe the first use of beer was in cultic rituals since the gathering of enough wild grain to brew beer simply in order to get hammered would have certainly been pretty difficult. When humans finally began cultivating grains, there is quite an argument in the academic community as to whether the effort was to produce bread, or to brew beer. I’d suggest it was to brew beer! Both sites - in Turkey and Cyprus - were communal in use and purpose. A report in the journal Medical Daily notes: “Because it was so difficult to cultivate grains, beer would have been prepared for special occasions, like feasts. “Indeed, the sites at Cyprus and Turkey included feasting halls. In order to test the hypothesis, the team involved with the site in Cyprus recreated the kilns in order to malt barley. The end result was a cloudy beer with a bizarre taste. “The site at Turkey has been linked to a time period even further in the past - nearly 11,000 years ago. The site contained a kitchen with large troughs that could have held up to 42 gallons, or 160 liters, of liquid. Testing revealed that the troughs contained oxalates, a by-product of the fermentation from grain into alcohol.” The report also adds: “The people of the Bronze Age, it seems, were well aware of the relaxing properties of alcohol.” Beer may well have been the most important ingredient in encouraging the evolution from nomadic hunter gatherers, to a more stable agricultural society. “Production and consumption of alcoholic beverages is an important factor in feasts facilitating the cohesion of social groups, and in the case of Göbekli Tepe, in organizing collective work,” said Oliver Dietrich in an interview for Science on NBC News. Dietrich is an archaeologist for the German Archaeological Institute. In short, beer brewing and drinking has been around for a long, long time. The brews above have nowhere near the impressive history of some of their culinary ancestors, but they are well worth the investigation and discovery nevertheless.

Dark Horse Fore Smoked Stout Dark Horse Brewing Company Marshall

This simply seems to be the season for more thoughtful, well-bodied brews. Dark Horse’s wonderfully dark stout is really quite exciting. The smoky taste is just what is called for on a dark night, in front of a blazing fire as the snow falls outside. It certainly is a fine winter warmer at 8 percent ABV. When poured, a thin layer of rich brown foam forms but disappears quickly leaving an even thinner layer of lacing. This stout is deep and dark - black with no hint of light breaking through. At first whiff, the smokiness is most expressive. How does one escape from the smoky comparisons? Still, there are background hints of chocolate and the more usual malt scents - eloquently enhanced by each new wafting wave of smoke. This is an exotic brew - in an outdoorsy manner of thinking. Fore Smoked smells so seriously good, one is afraid to ruin the sensation with a taste of something that might be less than satisfactory. Happily, that does not happen. First wash simply overwhelms the palate with malty chocolaty sweetness and then ...then ...the smoke hits the back of the mouth and shoots forward. The folks at Dark Horse have got it down to a science. Nay! An art! The smoke is so very prevalent, and then it slowly disappears and one is left with a wonderfully sweet ending with a blast of espresso coffee. The mouth feel is simply creamy. Some may not like this stout, but it has everything I could ask for without being pretentious in the least. It will be absolutely glorious as a complement to almost any quality  cured meat. I repeat ...QUALITY cured meat. Not just a hunk of pickled baloney. It also will go wonderfully with more pungent cheeses. Honestly, I wouldn’t suggest this as a meal beverage. Leave it for a more leisurely sitting.  

Bell’s Midwestern Pale Ale Bell’s Brewery, Inc. Kalamazoo

Bell’s has created an interesting APA with their Midwestern offering. This somewhat intriguing brew pours an light orange, dark yellow in color and is quite hazy with a strong presence of light sediment floating in the glass. There is a decent amount of head that slowly settles leaving a thin line of foam throughout the sampling. (A light swirl with the bottle half full blends the sediment in decently. It is no threat to the drink.) There is a very interesting aroma to this APA. It demands a good number of return trips to the cup and some serious thought during the discovery process. There certainly are citrusy hops well to the fore-front with some light malts taking a back seat but still obvious in their presence. It can be a little fruity - apples of the Granny Smith variety. There is also a hint of wheat or bready yeasts. Midwestern really is a bit mysterious. Some may find the aroma a bit odd ...even mildly skunked. I think not. I thought it smelled nice. Different. I found Bell’s Midwestern APA to be a bit more balanced than some of this same category that I’ve tried in the not distant past. It is definitely a ‘dry’ brew. There is little sweetness supporting the other elements. It is certainly bready or even a touch biscuity in taste, but that has it’s place within the genre. I can readily understand that many explorers will not be too excited by this brew. I think there will be a tendency to think it has skunked. I’d suggest, however, giving Midwestern a careful and fair judging. I appreciated the uniqueness, but truth be known, I don’t know that I’d invest in this APA over others on the shelf.