Sunday, October 4, 2015

Beer Review: Dogfish Head Brewery Chateau Jiahu & Theobroma

Dogfish Head Brewery Chateau Jiahu & Theobroma

Patrick McGovern is an archaeologist and the scientific director at the University of Pennsylvania Museum's Bimolecular Archaeology Project. His personal specialty is finding alcohol in ancient sites. This isn't as easy as you would think because ethyl alcohol starts evaporating immediately, but you can use modern science and technology to find ingredients and put the pieces together. The presence of certain polyphenols and esters are indications of wine, while other organic molecules are indications of honey. You really need to know your chemistry.

When the tomb of King Midas was discovered, McGovern used the residue of a beer bowl to pin down what was used to make that beer: barley, honey and Muscat grapes fermented together. It was a common recipe back in those times because honey ferments quickly, grapes carry yeast on its skins and have antioxidants, while barley is high in nutrients. The mead-wine-beer hybrid was a brilliant way to avoid drinking unhealthy water, getting some useful substance in your stomach, and getting your buzz on.

Dogfish Head Brewery teamed up with McGovern to make Midas Touch, a delicious attempt to recreate the ancient brew. It was the very first of their Ancient Ale series and it's part of their regular line-up. The two hit it off and now combine their powers on a regular basis to recreate more history/science-geek beer.

Well I'm a history/science geek and I love Midas Touch. And now I'm about to try two of those other beers that Dogfish and McGovern have made together. Chateau Jiahu and Theobroma of the Ancient Ale Series. They both will cost you $15 for a 22 oz bottle.

NOTE: Most of the science and history information in this review, including McGovern's story, was referenced from the amazing book PROOF: The Science of Booze by Adam Rogers

Dogfish Head Brewery Chateau Jiahu

The oldest booze we have on record is from 7,000 BCE in Jiahu, China. Guess the name of the guy that figured that out? Patrick McGovern. In 2005 was asked to take a super-close look at some pottery pieces and expose what it once contained. He found rice, honey, indigenous Chinese grapes and hawthorn fruit. A fermentation powerhouse.

Enter Dogfish Head Brewery, trying to get this beer as close as they could to what was found in Jiahu. Of course, they couldn't get it EXACTLY right. There's no way to tell what Chinese grapes were used. Also, barley is a mandatory ingredient for American beer and barley wouldn't reach China for another 4,000 years.

Chateau Jiahu uses pre-gelatinized rice cakes, Wildflower honey, Muscat grapes, barley malt, hawthorn fruit, and Chrysanthemum flowers. Sake yeast is used in the fermentation process. It has a 10% ABV and 10 IBU. Per suggestion I've poured it in one of my stemmed tulip beer glasses.

The color is amber and it's hazy. There was a nice head but it was gone before I could take a picture. The nose is fruity and honeyed and it smells more like a dessert wine than a beer. No problem with that here in this house. The hawthorn fruit takes over on the palate but you still get notes of honey and some peaches from the Muscat. The finish is where the rice cakes and sake yeast show up because it totally leaves you with a sake taste in the mouth.

It's sweet but you need to remember that this is an ancient-style beer. For most of our existence we preferred sweet, especially our beverages. As I said in The Adventures of Aglianico, the Romans knew damn well the dangers of lead but they used it for cups and pipes and added it to their wine in liquid form because it's a sweetener. We humans and other animals are programmed to like sweet because sweet means sugar, sugar means energy, and we need energy to live. Why do you think we like soda, candy and maple syrup so much? We need that energy if we're going to be up all night on our Playstation!

I liked it, I'm glad I had it, I'm glad I liked it, and I think you should have it too. It's extremely expressive and unique but, for me, it's a one-and-done experience. Which, as I understand, really isn't a problem for the craft beer drinker. The whole excitement about being one is trying something new, right?

It'll only cost you $15 to drink the closest thing you'll ever have to a 9,000 year old beer. I say you should go for it.

Dogfish Head Brewery Theobroma

In ancient Honduras they'd pick the fruit of the chocolate tree and have to ferment the pulp to get down to the beans. BOOM! Chocolate booze! The drink became a staple of ancient South and Central America. The Aztecs and Mayans added flavoring and schtuff to enhance the experience, and this is what Dogfish's Theobroma draws its inspiration from. Although the Aztecs and Mayans possibly let the alcohol evaporate off before they drank it... but that's no fun, right?

This one is different because, as McGovern says in Proof: The History of Booze, "We were just trying to make something that's drinkable." Dogfish Head is a brewery, not a chocolate factory. They make ale. So consider this an Aztec/Mayan-fermented-chocolate flavored beer.

Theobroma is made from Aztec cocoa powder and cocoa nibs, honey, ancho chilis, and annatto tree seeds. It has a 9% ABV and 8 IBU. Per suggestion I've poured it into a stout glass.

Look at that head. Daaaamn. It hung around there too but it did eventually run down to random bubbles here and there. It's much lighter in color than I thought it would be. I was expecting it to be dark and chocolaty looking but this appears to be more like a grapefruit hefeweizen. There's big chunks of floaties in there. Not sure if I should drink it or make someone drink it to see if it's safe. Whoops, I drank it.

I was stunned by the smell because I was assuming the theme would be chocolate, but chili peppers was what sprung up. Other than that it smells like a beer. Just your typical, delicious beer. On the palate the theme of "this is a beer, dude" continues with the underlying flavor of chocolate and the tiniest, slightest touch of honey. But the finish is warm and comforting and it goes from the tongue down into the belly. Hello there, ancho chili.

Things are more subtle than Chateau Jiahu and it tastes more like a beer. Because of that and, being a big fan of chili peppers (I'm loving that little bit of heat on the finish), I will definitely be revisiting this beer. Theobroma is the winner for me.

The bottles used were purchased by myself for the purpose of this review.


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