Thursday, August 23, 2007

Ireland's 'Ancient' Love Affair With Ale

Dateline Ireland - Sky News Service - By John Kelly Updated: 04:17, Sunday August 19, 2007

The Bronze Age Irish were as fond of a beer as their modern-day counterparts, according to new research.

The brewing process
The brewing process

Two County Galway archaeologists have put forward the theory that one of the most common ancient monuments across Ireland may have been used for brewing ale.

For years, fulacht fiadh (pits or recesses), were thought to have been used as ancient cooking pits.

But archaeologists Billy Quinn and Declan Moore disagreed with that widely-held view, arguing that it would surely have been easier to roast meat over an open fire rather than boil it.

They believe that the fulacht fiadh were, in fact, the country's earliest breweries - dating Ireland's brewing industry way back to 2500BC - somewhat earlier than Arthur Guinness, who began brewing his black stuff in Dublin in 1759.

Mr Quinn even admitted that the idea came to him one morning while he was nursing a hangover.

To prove their theory, the Galway boffins have recreated the brewing process, which involves using heated stones to boil the water in the pit. A wicker sieve is lowered into the water, and milled barley is then poured into the sieve.

After just 45 minutes, a thick syrupy liquid is skimmed off into a fermentation vat - with the final brew ready for drinking in a few days.

After their very first attempt, the archaeologists were convinced they were on the right track. "It tasted really good," said Mr Quinn.

"We were very surprised. It tasted like a traditional ale, but was sweeter because there were no hops in it."

Aidan Murphy, from the Galway Hooker Brewery, has also tasted the brew and he is in no doubt that the archaeologists have got it right. "It's really great," said Mr Murphy.

"It is really well balanced, with a very earthy flavour to it. I'm certainly convinced and I think any brewery would be happy with this."

Despite the glowing review, the archaeologists say they have no plans to brew the ale commercially.

But they will describe their experiment in detail in next month's Archaeology Ireland magazine for anyone who fancies having a go at a spot of Bronze Age home brewing themselves.

* Thanks for bringing this to my attention Steven!

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