|Courtesy of Dock Street|
|Dr. Schuyler, lover of both
beer and rollerblading
Back in May '09, we first touted Science On Tap, a joint venture of scientific discussions held every second Monday of the month at National Mechanics (22 S. Third St.) by the Academy of Natural Sciences, the American Philosophical Society Museum, the Chemical Heritage Foundation, the Mï¿½tter Museum and the Wagner Free Institute of Science.
Now this consortium is venturing into our territory with a Jan. 11 talk by Dr. Ernie Schuyler, Curator Emeritus of Botany at The Academy of Natural Sciences. His topic? The Origin and Evolution of Beer.
Schuyler's talk, which is free and begins at 6 p.m., will examine the possibility that the first humans who cultivated barley did so with the intention of making beer, rather than simply eating grain-based foods. We got in touch with the fine doctor to find out more.
Meal Ticket: How do you know that humans cultivated grains primarily for the production of beer, rather than for food?
Dr. Ernie Schuyler: The driving force for cultivating grains could have been beer. We do not know for sure. I think human consumption of beer preceded the cultivation of grains. I will present two hypotheses: (1) the wet grain hypothesis and (2) the gruel-bread hypothesis.
In the first scenario, a hunter-gatherer went to a wet storage bin and tasted ï¿½a fermented beer porridge. A similar thing happened in the early 1980s in northwestern Montana when there was a grain spill on the Burlington Northern Railroad at the southwest edge of Glacier Park. The grain eventually fermented into a beer porridge and grizzly bears got intoxicated on it. They kept coming back for more, which made for many delays on trains running between Chicago and Seattle.
The second scenario involves soup (gruel) thickened by heating barley. One day somebody came back from the grain bin with barley that had germinated (malt) and discovered that the gruel was sweeter. From that day on malt was used ï¿½for gruel instead of grain. Somebody (Mel Brooks?) may have left the soup sit for awhile and wild yeast went to work. Wild yeast could have been on fruit added to the gruel, possibly figs. Wild yeast may also have been present on the ceiling of the structures that housed hunter-gatherers. Gruel may have been baked into bread that could be stored and eventually mixed with water and fermented. It is possible that we made bread to brew beer, not to eat. Bread beer is still made today in some places.
MT: Since beer was brewed long before humans understood the effects of a microorganism such as yeast, how were the first beers fermented? Was fermentation viewed as a sort of "magical" transformation?
ES: Your query about yeast is interesting because as recently as 1837 some reputable scientists thought fermentation was a chemical reaction that had nothing to do with yeast despite evidence to the contrary. Louis Pasteur eventually proved them wrong.
MT: Approximately what year were the first beers brewed?
ES: We know that beer was being brewed in the Fertile Crescent over 5,000 years ago based on chemical analysis of pottery vessels. ï¿½There also is a 6,000-year-old seal from northwest of Nineveh showing people drinking something, presumably beer, through straws out of a large pot. On 3,800-year-old Sumerian tablets we have the "Hymn to Ninkasi," that describes making beer.
MT: What is your favorite beer?
ES: I have about 20 or so favorite beers. The search for the perfect beer is endless, but I keep trying.
|Photo | Carolyn Huckabay|
|Chicha: A schematic.|
Thursday night at Penn's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology ï¿½ among the stone sculptures and priceless artifacts ï¿½ Sam Calagione, founder and president of Delaware's Dogfish Head brewery, and Patrick McGovern, a biomolecular archaeologist at the museum, threw a kegger.
The event, a lecture and tasting entitled Uncorking the Past: Ancient Ales, Wines and Extreme Beverages, was a lecture and sipping detailing Calagione and McGovern's work recreating ï¿½ from analysis of archaeological evidence ï¿½ what are believed to be the oldest known recipes for alcoholic beverages. Much of this information is contained within McGovern's fascinating (and, as per CP food critic Trey Popp, beautifully written) new book, Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages, which McGovern (aka, adorably, Dr. Pat) signed last night, as well.
The results of the duo's archaeological sleuthing was also on hand in liquid form, as Calagione brought samples of four of his recreated beverages:
- Chateu Jiahu (based on examination of pottery jars found in the Neolithic Chinese villiage of Jiahu)
- Theobrama (an alcoholic chocolate beverage based on pottery fragments found in Honduras)
- Pangaea, more of a theoretical ancient ale that culls ingredients from all seven continents in an attempt to imagine a drink from the supercontinent
- and a "mystery beer" that pretty much everyone in the packed house knew to be Dogfish's purple corn Chicha, aka "the spit beer" (see Calagione explain it here), a recreation of an ancient meso-American beverage whose production involved the chewing of corn as a means of kickstarting the conversion from starch to fermentable sugar.
Chicha's a tough beer to explain, and it's a lot of work for Calagione to present it in a way that makes people want to drink it (with the main focus being on it being sanitary, as alcohol kills off the nasty micro-organisms). It's also a tough beer to make ï¿½ "we had palate fatigue" admitted Calagione of all the chewing. These two facts make it an unlikely commercial viability. But it sure is an interesting idea.
|Photo | Carolyn Huckabay|
|This is literal mouth watering: Calagione dispenses the Chicha.|
During the lecture, Calagione spoke often of the Reinheitsgebot: the German beer purity law that's led to the mass homogenization of beer in the world, and which is essentially the antipode to Dogfish Head's world view. One of the main themes of the lecture, and of the pair's work, is to rediscover methods and processes for creating alcoholic beverages that predate the more modern and rigid definitions of beer.
After the lecture, attendees got to sample the Dogfish brews (including the very last keg of the Chicha) as well as other like-minded beers including Dock Street's Sudan Grass, a gluten-free beer made with Sorghum (which had a nifty grassy note) and Fraoch's venerable Scottish Heather Ale and Viking Alba Scots Pine ale.
So how was the Chicha? Well, it did not taste like spit, which I suppose is a decent baseline for any beer, but especially encouraging for this one. It was served cold, which I think is probably a best practice for serving spit beers and a disarming first sensation ï¿½ though the beer's foamy head had me thinking of, well, spit. It had a fruity taste (from the strawberries) and a nutty, or woody, or earthy (am I just trying to not say corny?) aftertaste that was actually pretty pleasant. The mouth feel was, I guess, a little on the thick side, but not in the way you're thinking.
I don't know if I'd order a full pint, or a full goblet ï¿½ and I suspect that's not a situation I'll ever find myself in given the slim market for this beer and the labor-intensive production process ï¿½ but having tasted it, it's now something I'd consider.
Michael Callahan, the bar manager of San Francisco's Gitane Restaurant & Bar, will be visiting Philadelphia this Monday to teach a class on the art of building and balancing a list of high-end "artisanal" cocktails.ï¿½ Though the $50 class, which includes a tasting of high-end liquors and hors d'oeuvres to counteract the booze, is geared towards bar professionals, home enthusiasts are welcome.
Sip on new and revived classic liquors (St. Germain elderflower liqueur, Canton ginger brandy, for example) and learn how to pair their flavors with foods.ï¿½ Callahan will also get down to nuts and bolts on pricing and cost controls, as well as how to implement organic and farm-to-table cocktail programs.
Class begins at 5 p.m., Monday, Sept. 28 at Beautiful Blooms (1021 N. Third St.).ï¿½ Space is limited to 20 students, so RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
|Preparing a flamed orange garnish|
You may know bartender extraordinaire Christian Gaal by his impeccably turned-out classic and original cocktails at boï¿½tes like APO and Noble American Cookery; or you may have spotted his sleeve garters and the twirly terminus of his waxed mustaches flying about as he shakes your drink to chilly perfection.
Either way, the man knows booze. Though tending bar professionally for a mere 2.5 years, he can spout both interesting historical trivia and lessons on the science of creating memorable cocktails.ï¿½ Our first lesson from MixMaster Christian is a fiery finishing move: flaming an orange peel to add a touch of aromatic essential oil to your cocktail.
Step One: Cutting a proper peel
"When I cut a peel to flame, I like to make it big enough to add an optimum amount of oil to the surface of the drink," says Christian.ï¿½ "One inch by three to four inches is ideal.ï¿½ Cut the peel, including plenty of the inner white pith, which will give the peel spring when you squeeze it to ignite the oils."
Step Two: Warming inner oils
Christian holds the peel high above the drink in a springy C-shape and warms the skin of the orange with a butane lighter for about 5 seconds. "Exposing the peel to the flame brings the oils to a high temperature and prepares them to ignite."
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
|Cut a large twist for flaming purposes|
Step Three: ACTION
After warming the peel for a few seconds, pinch the curl of peel firmly and the oils will spray out into the lighter flame, causing a quick flash. This takes a bit of practice. Sacrifice a few oranges to getting it right before trying to impress a date.
Step Four: Applying the oil to the drink
Squeeze the flamed peel over the drink to coat the surface with oil droplets, then run the skin side of the peel around the edge of the glass.ï¿½ Discard the flamed peel; the pith will make the drink bitter.
Keep your oranges peeled for upcoming Lesson Two: Ice is what you make it.
Mistystix are a new product that adds some Halloween party-drama to your next cocktail. The Mistystix themselves areï¿½plastic swizzles that encapsulate a piece of food-grade dry ice.ï¿½Watch the demo video for the effect. Sure to be a fantastic hit at vomitous nightclubs the world over.
Four of Philadelphia's most venerable scientific institutions are bringing bigger brains to the people in the people's favorite venue ï¿½ the pub.ï¿½ Science On Tap is a continuing series of free, brief presentations by experts in their fields, followed by lively group discussion, all over a pint.
Science On Tap convenes the second Monday of every month at National Mechanics, with each of the four institutions (The Academy of Natural Sciences, the American Philosophical Society Museum, the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and the Wagner Free Institute of Science) rotating speaker responsibilities.
Tonight, the American Philosophical Society Museum hosts Scott Gilbert, professor of biology at Swarthmore College and a leader in the field of evolutionary developmental biology. Gilbert will present ï¿½How The Tortoises Got Their Shells And The Finches Got Their Beaks: The Role of Evo-Devo in Solving Darwinï¿½s Dilemmas."
Ponder Darwin's finches quietly over 22 ounces of Lagunitas Zappa Lumpy Gravy IPA, or see if you can start a nerd riot by leaping onto your table and howling, "Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, pencil-necks!"
Science on Tap at National Mechanics, Mon., May 11, 6 p.m., 22 S. Third St., 215-701-4883, nationalmechanics.com
Received an e-mail earlier this week signed "The Patron's of Bridgid's" with the heading "Beer Mugs ï¿½ Glass or Pewter?"
Bridgid's is the Fairmount tappy that is, for my money, the best neighborhood bar in the city, what with its combination of excellent handles and discerning customer base [full disclosure: it is not my neighborhood bar, alas].
The collected drinkerdom there put their heads together to settle a couple of things: Are pewter mugs better than glass mugs? Does beer in a pewter mug taste better the longer the vessel is held in one's hand? Does sex influence this? I'll let them take over now:
The patronï¿½s of Bridgidï¿½s restaurant in Philadelphia, PA are composed of people with sophisticated palates and an understanding of finer beers. Discussing the finer points of hops, barley and ingredients that makeup more flavored beers, the patrons wondered if the temperature of the beer influenced the taste. To further the question, they asked if the taste of the beer changed over time due to the handling of the beer as the warmth of the beer drinkerï¿½s hand warms the beer thereby altering the taste.
Based on these questions, the patrons started an informal clinical trial comparing glass beer mugs to pewter beer mugs. The purpose of the clinical trial was to determine if a pewter mug, which maintains temperature and insulates the beer from the warmth transferred by the drinkerï¿½s hand, provides a better drinking experience than traditional glass beer mugs. Specifically, Bridgidï¿½s compared the taste in a chilled glass mug and a chilled pewter mug at 1, 3, 10, 15 and 20 minutes. The results are as follows:
Total Group - Results
1 min ï¿½ 50% glass, 50% pewter
3 min ï¿½ 40% glass, 60% pewter
10 min ï¿½ 20% glass, 80% pewter
15 min ï¿½ 67% glass, 33% pewter
20 min ï¿½ 33% glass, 67% pewter
Men - Results
1 min ï¿½ 29% glass, 71% pewter
3 min ï¿½ 29% glass, 71% pewter
10 min ï¿½ 14% glass, 86% pewter
15 min ï¿½ 67% glass, 33% pewter
20 min ï¿½ 17% glass, 83% pewter
Women - Results
1 min ï¿½ 100% glass, 0% pewter
3 min ï¿½ 67% glass, 33% pewter
10 min ï¿½ 33% glass, 67% pewter
15 min ï¿½ 67% glass, 33% pewter
20 min ï¿½ 67% glass, 33% pewter
As indicated by the results, pewter was the favored mug among the total population. The results changed however based on gender. Men, almost consistently preferred the pewter mug and women preferred glass mugs. While no clear determination as to why women preferred glass, it is hypothesized that presentation was a factor. This hypothesis is based on comments made by the women during the trial and further supported by Tom Kehoe, founder and brewmaster of Yards Brewery in Philadelphia, PA.
Noted during the trial was that women commented on the aesthetically pleasing appearance of the amber beer served in a clear glass mug. This assertion was supported by brewmaster Tomï¿½s experience which, as stated, ï¿½the presentation often influences the drinkerï¿½s perception.ï¿½
The result leads us to a single question, can you separate taste from presentation?
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