Watch These Students Drink Beer from a 5,000-Year-Old Chinese Recipe

published Feb 21, 2017
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Most college students enjoy cheap Budweiser — after turning 21, of course — but students at Stanford University have decided to think beyond the status quo and make their own using a 5,000-year-old recipe.

The beer was made under the guidance of Li Liu, a professor in Chinese archaeology at Stanford, as part of the final project for the course Archaeology of Food: Production, Consumption, and Ritual. The recipe used was discovered last year while Liu and a doctoral candidate Jiajing Wang were examining residue — the oldest evidence of beer — in pottery vessels from northeast China.

The students in Liu’s class used wheat, millet, or barley seeds to recreate the Neolithic beer. They also experimented with a vegetable root.

“We did two main experiments with traditional beer-making techniques,” says Madeleine Ota, an undergraduate student at Stanford University. “One was with manioc root, which has been grown for thousands of years in South America primarily, but other regions around the world as well. And the other was with different types of wheats and grains.”

The first step entailed a process called malting, where the students cover the grain with water to let it sprout for a week. Then they drained, dried, and crushed the seeds in lab in a process called milling; added water to it again; and warmed it at 65°C for an hour in a method called mashing. The concoction was then left to ferment at room temperature for two weeks.

The real question, however, is how the beer actually tasted after brewing.

Overall, all the beers had a “sour taste,” with some variation between ingredients: Ota found the red wheat to produce a cider-like citrus-flavored beer with a fruity aroma, while the manioc root produced a beverage with a “funky cheese” odor. The final product looked less like modern-day beer, as the ancient Chinese beer had the consistency of porridge. According to Liu, the fermentation ingredients were not filtered out back in the day and ancient people used straws to consume the drink.

Oh, and the students used lab flasks over red solo cups to taste test their beer.