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Mengapa peramu bir pertama Skotlan di Jaman batu

Sekitar 30 tahun lalu, Bruce Williams memiliki kedai anggur domebrew  di Alloa, Skotlandia. Kini, pelancong dapat menyambangi tempat semacam the Outer Hebrides atau bagian tertutup dari dataran tinggi Scottish, membawa balik kisah tentang anggur kuna kenangan dari leluhur mereka – terbuat dari racikan yang telah diwariskan dari generasi ke generasi.

Many were hoping to use all sorts of ingredients that Williams had not thought of putting in beer before. One was heather. It gives the beer a sort of astringency – a dryness, especially when you open your mouth after taking a sip – dan membubuhkan suatu rempah pada cita rasa. Millions of acres of heather have blanketed the country’s moors since the Stone Age, so it is quite conceivable that, jika para peramu anggur bereksperimen dengan tanaman setempat dan bahan lainnya sejak ribuan tahun lalu, mereka masih melakukannya kini.

Few would dispute that heather ale telah dibuat selama berabad-abad di Scotland. It has even been diromankan dalam puisi oleh Robert Louis Stevenson. We are also more or less certain that British brewing of some form was going on as far back as the Romans and that mead – minuman madu berfermentasi – has been quaffed here for hundreds of years.

 

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But how far back, specifically, does beer-making go in Britain? Do archaeological records reveal what beverages Britons were drinking as far back as the Neolithic – the era roughly between 6,000 and 4,500 years ago?

Brewing beer was an ancient practice

Brewing beer was an ancient practice, as this Egyptian tomb model of a man brewing beer, which dates to 2160BC, shows (Credit: Getty Images)

Famously, one 1980s archaeological dig at Kinloch on the Outer Hebrides’ Isle of Rhum found apparent residue from a long-evaporated beverage. The pottery it came from dated back about 4,000 years. Chemical analysis detected pollen grains, which suggested high levels of heather, and some meadowsweet and royal fern.

Meadowsweet may simply have been added in order to counteract the smell of decaying flesh

“If you regarded them as a recipe, then you can ask ‘what would they make’,” says Caroline Wickham-Jones, one of the excavation’s archaeologists. “And one of the things was heather ale as a fermented drink – but it might easily have been a mouthwash or something.”

Still, Wickham-Jones and her team enlisted the help of a Glenfiddich distillery to brew a new ale inspired by this potential recipe. “It was fabulous,” she says.

Traces of meadowsweet have also been found in Neolithic beakers at Aberdeenshire and Fife. Still, the Fife specimen was found in a burial site and Alison Sheridan, the early prehistory curator at National Museums Scotland, notes that meadowsweet may simply have been added in order to counteract the smell of decaying flesh.

Meadowsweet, shown here, has been found in Neolithic beakers

Meadowsweet, shown here, has been found in Neolithic beakers and may have been an ingredient of prehistoric British ale (Credit: Alamy)

Meanwhile, large pots and evidence of heat-cracked stones have been found at Skara Brae, a 5,000-year-old settlement in the Orkney islands just north-east of Scotland.

Local archaeologist Merryn Dineley believes that bits of the pottery were once used for heating malt – the germinated and heated cereal grains that ferment to produce alcohol. Dineley has experimented with Neolithic-style equipment and argues that malting of grains could have occurred in this period.

If you’ve got sprouted barley, that’s good evidence for beer production

But proving, conclusively, that specific alcoholic beverages were drunk as far back as the Neolithic is extraordinarily difficult if not impossible, says Jessica Smyth, an archaeologist and chemist at the University of Bristol. For example, chemical analysis of residues can never provide complete proof that an alcoholic beverage was once held in a vessel. Alcohol can evaporate within days or weeks, never mind millennia.

“You get lots of generic molecules, lipid compounds for example, but you find them in everything – you can’t generally say it comes from this specific product,” says Smyth. Sometimes barley lipids appear to be present in old earthenware, for instance, but Smyth says the concentrations are so small that tying the lipids to that specific plant becomes tricky.

Consider calcium oxalate, which is often cited as evidence for alcohol because it is a by-product of the brewing process. “Mineral salts are extremely common,” says Smyth. “You just can’t say that that is definitely part of an ancient brewing process.”

Other finds are more persuasive.

One of the homes excavated at Skara Brae, a village that dates back to 3200BC

One of the homes excavated at Scotland’s Skara Brae, a village that dates back to 3200BC and where people may have malted grain (Credit: Alamy)

“If you’ve got sprouted barley, that’s good evidence for beer production,” says Oliver Craig, an expert in biomolecular archaeology at the University of York. But such confirmation is difficult to find at pre-Roman sites in Britain.

The find has been described as the first written record of brewing in London

There is even a theory that during the Neolithic period, Britons had a shortage of cereal grains for several hundred years due to climatic changes between 5,300 and 4,400 years ago. This is according to University College, London archaeologist Chris Stevens.

But aside from ales brewed with fermented grain, it is entirely possible that early Britons were fermenting honey to make early forms of mead.

In fact, the heather “ale” that may have been drunk at Kinloch would more likely have been of this type, Wickham-Jones says.

Once the Roman era arrives, more evidence begins to crop up to support the idea that ales were widely brewed in the British Isles.

A 2nd-century Roman relief from Ostia, Italy

A 2nd-century Roman relief from Ostia, Italy shows patrons drinking at a tavern (Credit: Getty)

At a building site in London, 2,000-year-old wooden writing tablets have been discovered. They mention a “maltster” or “brewer” named Tertius. The find has been described as the first written record of brewing in London.

A lot of time, effort and wealth were put into these vessels – they clearly just weren’t drinking water out of them

There are also references to brewing at a famous Roman site, Vindolanda, in the north of England.

“There’s a letter from an officer asking for more ale for his troops – it’s hard to tell whether he’s drinking with them or not,” says Joshua Driscoll, a PhD student in anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. It is widely believed that Romans were importing wine to British forts in amphorae.

“Some people might extrapolate from that that you had officers drinking wine and soldiers drinking ale,” says Driscoll.

The design of drinking vessels also hints that Roman and Medieval Brits were drinking alcoholic beverages, says Jonathan Horn, an archaeologist at the University of Edinburgh.

Men sip from vessels similar to tankards in this medieval drinking scene

Men sip from vessels similar to tankards in this medieval drinking scene from Scandinavia (Credit: Alamy)

Horn has studied tankards dating from the British Iron Age, the period from roughly 2,800 to 1,900 years ago. The tankards have interesting forms. Some are like little barrels, for instance, and are often ornamented with intricate metalwork and small handles.

It is easy to imagine why early societies would have made the effort to produce alcoholic drinks

“A lot of time, effort and wealth were put into these vessels – they clearly just weren’t drinking water out of them,” says Horn. “We see basically an uptake of these native vessels, specifically, within the Roman army. They’re clearly taking on the native drinking culture.”

By about 1,600 years ago, ale drinking was widespread. Excavations have revealed the remains of 800-year-old malting ovens and other brewing apparatus. And alcoholic beverages are routinely mentioned in some of the great poetry of the era – including the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf, written over the period from 1,300 to 1,000 years ago.

As part of his home-brewing experiments, Bruce Williams spent hours poring over records in Glasgow University’s Scottish Brewing Archives, getting inspiration for other types of beer. The earliest recipes he could find dated back to the 12th and 13th Centuries. He says heather is mentioned in some of the oldest records.

But it was only at the very end of the medieval period that hops began to be widely used for the drink that we recognise today as beer.

Selama ribuan tahun, other ingredients must have provided the basis for flavour. Even if we cannot be sure what they were, it is easy to imagine why early societies would have made the effort to produce alcoholic drinks in the first place.

Alcohol has been intimately tied to celebration and feasts for centuries (Credit: Credit: Getty)

Alcohol has been intimately tied to celebration and feasts for centuries, as shown in this illustration from a 1475 manuscript (Credit: Getty)

“Alcohol was intimately tied up with celebration,” says journalist and beer historian Martyn Cornell.

It was only at the very end of the medieval period that hops began to be widely used

There are records of specialty brews being made for weddings, birthdays, harvest festivals, Christmas and other social events. Medieval poetry that references ale frequently associates it with feasting paraphernalia – such as the “ale-benches” described in Beowulf, which could have hosted many revellers.

“One of the things I’ve come across in the last few years is the idea of the coming-of-age ale,” Cornell says. This was brewed on large estates from the early 18th Century. “Very often, when the heir was born to the lord, a hugely strong beer was brewed to be drunk 21 years later at his coming-of-age party,” he adds.

This tradition, along with many others, was eventually lost. But it is a good example of how alcohol gained a ceremonial status within the culture.

This drinking horn was found in a Celtic burial grave

This ceremonial drinking horn, along with a large cauldron that held mead, was found in a Celtic burial grave from 530BC (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The mists of time lie thick around the earliest booze once drunk in these islands – whatever it might have been. But the successful marketing of historic ales in the 21st Century suggests we have an innate fascination with our ancestors’ drinking habits. As well as Williams’ brewery, Innis & Gunnhave also tried it, and a handful of Manchester breweries made special edition historic ales for a festival in June 2016.

There is also a growing trend for beers with an aura of being somehow traditional and local, notes Cornell. “Brewers are literally walking into fields near the brewery and pulling out plants, putting them into the beer,” he says.

That is just what their ancestors would have done.

 

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