Tasting Ancient Beer

Right: Spruce beer awaits, while a mint julep lurks in the background.

I spent my memorial day weekend with friends in the rolling green hills of Akron, Ohio.  Since several of them have been working on home brewing projects, I had the unique pleasure of sampling some home-brewed beers.

Of interest to you may be Mark’s Spruce Beer.  Spruce beer is an old fashioned home brew of which there have been several attempts to recreate.  Mark’s was deigned “not bad.”  It was a little flat, but the taste was appealing.  Made with brown sugar, it was rich like a gingerbread cookie, and had a flavor that staid on your tongue.  I wasn’t a huge fan, but many people really liked it.  Here is his recipe: 

Begin with small pot of water, approximately 60 fl oz.  Bring to a

boil for 20 mins.  Sanitize remaining tools.
Sugars will be 1 brown sugar cone (6oz) and approzimately 2.5oz pure
maple syrup.
Hops will be Northern Brewer pellets, .15oz for bittering, .1oz for flavoring.
#1728 scottish ale yeast, 1/2 pkt.
3/8 tsp spruce essence
Once water temp hit 170 deg, added ‘buckwheat packet’ to steep for 15
mins (don’t know if this will have any effect.)  It was a tea bag
replaced with buckwheat flour to try to impart a grain flavor.
Bring back to boil, add bittering hops for 30 mins.
Add flavor hops for 10 mins to boil.
Add spruce essence for 5 mins to boil.
cool to 80 deg, slosh back and forth in fermenter.
Add yeast, cap.

-The hot break was seemingly endless, which was quite annoying.  The
small batch makes for a lot of water loss, so I had to keep a lid on
it.  But with a lid on it the pot foams up a lot, and then you take
the lid off and all the hops are stuck to the side of the pot.  Then I
stir them back in and get another hot break, ad nauseum.

There was still a tremendous amount of fluid loss, probably 3/4 of the
pot boiled away.  I used water that went through a pur filter and then
a britta pitcher to bring the volume full.

I used the scottish ale yeast because of its very forgiving
temperature range (55-75f.)  Estimated beginning SG is around 1.05, I
expect a 70%


Additionally, Mike brought some Midas’ Touch Beer, a commercially brewed beer made from a 2,700 year old recipe:

“It is an ancient Turkish recipe using the original ingredients from the 2700 year old drinking vessels discovered in the tomb of King Midas. Somewhere between wine & mead; this smooth, sweet, yet dry ale will please the Chardonnay of beer drinker alike. (from the Dogfish Brewery Official Site).”
Left: Mark and his Beard pour a spruce beer.
Midas’s Touch smelled a little like bud light.  And sometimes a little like vomit.  But despite that, the flavor was amazing complex.  Brewed with honey, the flavor was similar to a mead, but still dark and rich like a stout ale.  
We also discussed the Anchor Brewing Company’s Ninkasi beer, made from a 6,000 year old Sumerian recipe that is generally considered the oldest beer recipe.  If you read cuneiform, you can make it yourself.  Here’s the recipe:

Thanks to Mike and Mark for all the info, and all the beer.