Billy and Dec’s Bronze-Age Beer!

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While beer drinking was common throughout the Far East nearly 5,000 years ago and growing evidence exists of the same dissolute behaviour across Bronze Age Europe, a record of brewing in Ireland began with the early monastic settlements where monks manufactured beer by the bucketload, as reported in the Irish Times.

Declan Moore runs The Moore Group archaeological consultancy in Galway city, Ireland. Along with colleague Billy Quinn, he set out to fill in this gap in the record and to pinpoint when and how the Irish started boozing. They believe the answer may lie hidden in thousands of fulacht fiadhs – horseshoe-shaped mounds with a subtle indentation which are dotted throughout the country. These mounds have puzzled archeologists for years but The Moore Group claims the proliferation of fulacht fiadhs in Ireland suggests ancient brewing on an unprecedented scale.

“It means that there were up to 4,500 breweries in Ireland in the Bronze Age, which means it was the most widespread brewing industry in prehistory in the world,” Mr Moore said.

Mr Quinn added: “We were not simply on a quest for beer. We were only interested in fulacht fiadhs and we were trying to find out what they were used for. It just so happens that they make an acceptable quality of beer.”

The Daily Telegraph was able to sample the fruits of this process.

The verdict? The cloudy, yellowish brew with no discernible head was dangerously drinkable with a yeasty taste reminiscent of weiss beer.

The brewers were unsure of its strength, but there was enough bite to suggest that a Bronze Age binge would be quite an event.

The most basic ingredients for ale are milled, malted grain water, yeast and herbal additives. In terms of facilities and equipment the brewer needs a preparation area for malting, a heat source, grinding equipment, a mash tun (a sufficiently large vessel or pit) containers and a stirrer. The fundamentals of brewing are relatively simple – starches are converted to sugar by heating a mash of milled malted grain to a temperature of approximately 67° Celsius, producing a glucose-rich syrup solution known as a wort. To maximise the sugar yield from the grain the wort is sparged (washed through with hot water). The end product is then transferred to a storage vessel, yeast is added to promote fermentation, flavourings introduced, and several days later the end product is an unhopped ale.

The Bronze Age brewer, after harvesting the barley crop, would have then begun the malting process by first winnowing the grain from the chaff. The next stage would have involved artificially promoting growth by placing the grain in a textile bag or perforated leather container. This would then have been placed in a stream to allow the grains to swell, resulting in the growth of a sprout or ‘acrospire’. The next stage in the process involved stunting this growth to maximise the nutritional value of the grain. This was done by adding gentle heat by rolling hot stones through the grain. The resultant malt is essentially a starch-rich roasted barley seed (grain which has been malted is far more suitable for grinding than unmalted grain).

Check here for details of how they performed the experiment.