Chinese May Have Been Brewing Beer 5,000 Years Ago

Beer seems to always be at the center of a party. No, not a children’s birthday party; more the quintessential fraternity “whoo hoo!” party filled with drinking games and rowdy unruly teenagers, or the Irish pubs packed on St. Paddy’s Day (all year round, really).

New research, however, suggests that Chinese drinkers may have been brewing beer as many as 5,000 years ago. Who knew?

A study published in the U.S. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences states that Chinese and U.S. researchers found traces of barley, millet, grain, and tubers used in fermentation.  

The components were found on pottery discovered in an archeological dig in Shaanxi province in northern China that occurred ten years ago.

This would be the earliest known instance of beer-making in the country, the study observed. It also suggested a sophisticated method, the article continued.

A fun fact for beer-fans: the research indicates that barley may have been used for making booze before it was ever used for food. What a concept!

The research findings are significant, for it reveals that Chinese drinkers may have developed a taste for the alcoholic drink around the same time as people in ancient Egypt and Iran – from where barley originated.

“The discovery of barley is a surprise,” lead author Jiajing Wang of Stanford University told the BBC in an email. It was previously thought to have arrived in China a whopping 1,000 years later than this, the new research unveiled.

Although the pottery fragments discovered were from an archeological dig a decade ago, they only had their residue analyzed in 2015. Late last year, a team of researchers from Stanford University confirmed earlier speculation that the pottery’s reside may have been used for brewing.

The dig uncovered pots and pottery funnels, coated with a residue of broomcorn millet, barley, a chewy substance known as Job’s tears, and tubers. Also included in the find were stoves that could have been used to heat and mash grains, and underground spaces that would have kept the brew at a cool, consistent fermentation temperature.

“This beer recipe indicates a mix of Chinese and Western traditions – barley from the West; millet, Job’s tears and tubers from China,” Mr. Jiajing wrote.

Bad news for history-buffs with a propensity for slugging back beers, though: while the scientists and researchers do know the ingredients used for making the ancient beer, they don’t know the specific quantities used. The exact taste of the 5,000 year old brew will remain a mystery.