Monday, January 17, 2011

Iron Age Beer - Cloudy, Sour, and Hallucinogenic?

New evidence suggests early Celtic beer might have had an extra kick...
Early Celtic rulers of a community in what’s now southwestern Germany liked to party, staging elaborate feasts in a ceremonial center. The business side of their revelries was located in a nearby brewery capable of turning out large quantities of a beer with a dark, smoky, slightly sour taste, new evidence suggests...

...At the Celtic site, barley was soaked in the specially constructed ditches until it sprouted, Stika proposes. Grains were then dried by lighting fires at the ends of the ditches, giving the malt a smoky taste and a darkened color. Lactic acid bacteria stimulated by slow drying of soaked grains, a well-known phenomenon, added sourness to the brew.

Unlike modern beers that are flavored with flowers of the hop plant, the Eberdingen-Hochdorf brew probably contained spices such as mugwort, carrot seeds or henbane, in Stika’s opinion. Beer makers are known to have used these additives by medieval times. Excavations at the Celtic site have yielded a few seeds of henbane, a plant that also makes beer more intoxicating.

“These additives gave Celtic beer a completely different taste than what we’re used to today,” Stika says.
Not to mention a little extra "kick".  Mugwort produces the drug thujone, the active ingredient (other than alcohol) in absinthe, while henbane contains a number of psychoactive alkaloids, including scopolamine, and hyoscyamine.  Effect include confusion, agitation, rambling speech, hallucinations, paranoid behaviors, and delusions.Just the thing to get fired up before you go into battle with the Roman Legions.  And what did the Romans think of it?
Perhaps they’ll find out whether Roman emperor Julian, in a 1,600-year-old poem, correctly described Celtic beer as smelling “like a billy goat.”

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