Tag Archives: Beer

Ale Through The Ages: Wisconsin Weizen Ale

Brewing Up Wisconsin History

The most recent Ale Through the Ages brewing series at Discovery World focused on Wisconsin and Milwaukee’s proud brewing heritage, as we recreated a traditional wheat ale.  During the late 1800s, Wisconsin was a major wheat trading state, with Milwaukee as the primary hub of commerce on the Great Lakes.  As a result of this lucrative grain trade, Wisconsin breweries had a steady and high quality supply of fermentable wheat and barley.  Wheat became a staple ingredient in the production of a popular German beer, Weiss /Weizen and “weiss breweries” sprung up all over the state and in particular in Milwaukee.  While the original recipes from the 19th century have yet to be publicly revealed, this recipe is an approximation of what these historic wheat beers may have tasted like. Therefore, we selected local wheat and barley malts, in addition to locally grown hops, as well as Wisconsin wildflower honey.  A total of 12 gallons were brewed, 5.5 of which was fermented with Bavarian Wheat yeast, 5.5 gallons was fermented with Weihenstephan Weizen yeast, and 1 gallon was fermented with a local wild strain of yeast collected by a Milwaukee home brewer and class participant, Matt Spaanam.

Wheat and Milwaukee

Wheat (Triticum spp) is a grass species from Western Asia that was originally domesticated least 10,000 years ago, yet is now cultivated worldwide. Since the beginning of the European influx into America’s heartland, wheat has been a major crop and commodity of export to the global market. Milwaukee was one city in particular that was once at the forefront of the American and indeed global grain market.  This is evidenced by the iconic Chamber of Commerce building, which still stands on the SE corner of Michigan St. and Water St.  Completed in 1879 by the esteemed architect Edward Townsend Mix, it was inside this Italian Renaissance style building that the main trading rooms of the Milwaukee Grain Exchange were housed.  It was here between1879-1935 that the price of wheat was set for the global market in the first “trading pit” in the country.  Sadly the octagonal pit no longer survives. However, restoration of the trading room in the early 1980s resulted in preservation of one of best examples of mural-ornamented Victorian commercial interiors in North America.

Wisconsin Pioneering Breweries

The earliest evidence of a commercial brewery in Wisconsin opened in 1835 in Mineral Point (Iowa Co.) by John Phillips (Apps, J 1992). This region of southwestern Wisconsin saw the earliest influx of Europeans, who principally arrived from Cornwall, England and were employed in mining lead.  These intrepid miners were given the nickname “badgers”, due to their burrowing tunnels, a moniker that eventually became Wisconsin’s mascot.  It is likely that this pioneer brewery, as well as Rablin & Bray’s brewery in Elk Grove (Lafayette Co.) that opened in 1836, were likely brewing ales rather than lagers.  Lagers would soon become the norm, once large numbers of German immigrants arrived in subsequent decades and opened their own breweries.  By the end of the 1840s there were at least 22 breweries in Wisconsin. That number rose to at least 190 breweries in Wisconsin by the end of the 1850s.  Towns and cities across Wisconsin would grow many industries, and breweries were no exception.

Milwaukee: “Brew City USA”

Without exception, Milwaukee’s brewing industry once stood head and shoulders above most American cities.   In total, at least 120 different brewing companies have been established in Milwaukee over the past 175 years, giving justification for calling Milwaukee America’s “Brew City”. The most brewing companies in operation at any one time was during the 1860s when at least 40 breweries were in the production of beer, ales, lagers and often distilled spirits.

Milwaukee’s first commercial brewery was established by Simon Reutelshofer in 1839/40, and was located at the southeast corner S. 3rd & Virginia Streets.  This kicked off a tidal wave of other brewing operations that ostensibly became family businesses and wherein certain families became extremely wealthy. Without going into the entire chronology of Milwaukee’s brewing history, instead I’ll discuss just two historic Milwaukee weiss beer breweries that highlight the evolution of the industry as a whole.

The Gipfel Weiss Beer Brewery

One of Milwaukee’s early breweries that produced primarily wheat based beers was established by David Gipfel in 1843 when he purchased a small wooden framed building on Chestnut St (modern Juneau Ave.) for $400 from Wolfgang Weiss, and constructed a brewing operation.  In 1851, David Gipfel’s eldest son Charles (Chas.) assumed ownership of the family brewery and renamed it the Union Brewery. In 1853 a four story Federal-Style cream city brick saloon and boarding house was built fronting Chestnut St. with the original brewery in the back.  By the 1880s, the brewery was known principally for brewing weiss beer and was called the Charles Gipfel Whitebeer Brewery.  However in 1890 the brewery closed due to increased competition among local breweries.  The building housed various businesses over the next century, until 2007, when the building was jacked up and relocated from 423 Juneau Ave. to a vacant lot along Old World 3rd St.  Sadly, in 2009 due to insufficient funding for redevelopment, the building which at the time represented Milwaukee’s oldest surviving brewery was demolished.  Today it is a pile of bricks in an architectural salvage yard along the Milwaukee River.


E.L. Husting Weiss Beer Brewery

One other historic Milwaukee brewery that focused primarily on brewing wheat-based beer was Eugene Louis Husting.  Like many brewers before and after him, Eugene began as a brewer at the Northwestern Brewery, which was owned by Phillip Altpeter.  After marrying Phillip’s daughter Bertha in 1872, E.L. Husting opened his own weiss beer brewery and soda factory on the east side of 5th St. between Cherry St. and Vliet St. in 1877.  By 1884 Husting was brewing weiss beer in an 8 barrel brew kettle and selling the product in stoneware bottles.  In 1897 the Husting Brewery expanded inventory to include ginger ale, soda water, cream and orange soda, raspberry wine, and cider. As a result of prohibition (1920-1933), brewing beer discontinued and instead soda was exclusively produced.  Following prohibition the company evolved into a beer and soda distributor until 1970 when the plant shut down.  Today, the main building is still intact and is now considered the oldest standing complete brewery in Milwaukee.  Its current tenants are a ribbon factory on the first level and Great Lakes Archaeological Research Center on the second floor, ironically the same  company this archaeologist used to work for!

Wisconsin Weizen Ale

The resulting Wisconsin Weizen ale that we brewed fermented quickly and will be bottled on Thursday, February 17th.  Currently, it has a delightful wheat aroma, slightly hazy with a nice hop finish.  In keeping with historic tradition, this wheat ale will be bottle conditioned, whereby adding a small amount of sweet wheat malt to each bottle in order to promote final carbonation.  It should be ready to drink in two weeks, but will only get better with age.  It is our hope that Milwaukee’s forgotten weiss beer brewers would be proud of this fermented concoction! Prost!

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Ale Through The Ages: Brewing the Oldest Known Fermented Beverage in the World

Now in the third season of the Ale Through the Ages brewing series here at Discovery World, the latest brew turned out to be one of the most challenging and unique fermented beverages we’ve attempted thus far. The challenge was to brew as authentic a version as we could of the oldest known fermented beverage in the world, found at the site of Jiahu in the Henan Provence of eastern China, which turned out to be at least 9,000 years old!

Henan Ancient Ale Recipe

The following recipe for a 5 gallon batch of Henan Ancient Ale as I’ve dubbed requires first malting the rice using Aspergillus mold (Koji) much like making Saki, followed by the use of Saki yeast to begin the  initial fermentation, followed by a basic ale yeast to complete the fermentation.  The use of three separate yeast strains was necessary to convert this high gravity ale in only two weeks of fermentation. Not surprisingly Dogfish Head Brewery has also previously recreated a limited batch based on this ancient beverage, which they call Chateau Jiahu.  While they stayed true to the research by using honey, muscat grapes, hawthorn fruit, and Chrysanthemum flower, they deviated by using barley malt as the primary fermentable.  I like to think this recipe without barley is an even more accurate recreation. Nevertheless, there is a great interview about Dogfish Head’s recreation on NPR that aired in July of 2010.


Archaeological Evidence at the Site of Jiahu

The modern world owes a great debt of gratitude to China for their contribution to civilization as we know it.  For instance at the site of Jiahu, in the Henan Province of eastern China (east of Fuliu Mountains in the fertile Huai River basin), some of the earliest playable multi-tone instruments, domesticated rice and oldest known alcoholic beverage have been discovered there.  The site was discovered in the 1960s, but only in the past 15 years have significant excavation activities begun. Jiahu is 55,000 square meters, yet only about 5% of the site has been excavated. Thus far 45 house foundations, 370 cellars, 9 pottery kilns, dozens of burials and thousands of artifacts of bone, pottery, stone and other materials have been found. Radiometric dating proved that the site was occupied between 9000-7500 years ago in a period known as the Chinese Neolithic.

Molecular Archaeological Evidence

Molecular Archaeological Analysis of pottery sherds from domestic contexts was performed by Dr. Patrick McGovern (University of Pennsylvania) among others, using Gas and Liquid Chromatography, Mass Spectrometry, Infrared Spectrometry and Stable Isotope Analysis. Compounds identified include those for hawthorn fruit and/or wild grape, beeswax associated with honey, and rice.  The results published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences hit the archaeological community and global media by storm.

Following the Neolithic Period, there is much more evidence of ancient alcohol during the Chinese Bronze Age, specifically during the Shang 商 Dynasty (1600 BCE and ca.1050 BCE).  The reason for this is because preserved alcoholic beverages have been excavated in many burial tombs in the Henan Province such as at Fuhao, Jiazhuang and Changzikou.  These bronze vessels were hermeneutically sealed with lids after thousands of years in the ground. In fact. inside a tomb at Changzikou, 52 bronze lidded vessels were discovered, which still contained the original liquid rice wine.  Subsequent analysis of these beverages showed that wormwood, chrysanthemum, and/or tree resins (e.g., China fir and elemi) had been added, perhaps as preservatives or flavorings.  Surprisingly after 3,000 years they still smelled and tasted very good!!

Du Kang: The Father of Chinese Wine

Du Kang (the father of Chinese alcohol) living during the Xia 夏 Dynasty (2100-1600 BCE) and is credited with first discovering alcohol by accident.  The story relates how Du Kang stored some cooked Chinese sorghum seeds inside a hollow tree stump on a winter day. In the spring of the following year, a fragrant aroma wafted from the tree stump into the nostrils of Du Kang. Afterwards, Du Kang found that it was the fermented sorghum seeds which gave off the alluring fragrance.  It was this node to Du Kang that I decided to use malted sorghum instead of barley malt in this ancient Chinese recreation.

The Results from this Rare Recreation:

The results of this experimental archaeological fermented concoction were surprising indeed.  After vigorously fermenting for two weeks and undergoing four racking episodes to clarify the suspended yeast and rice, the time came for bottling this Henan Ale on October 20th.  The original gravity was 1.084 and final at bottling was 1.014, meaning it was already at 9% ABV before bottle conditioning with 1 cup of wildflower honey.  To all of our astonishment it tasted just like fermented grapefruit wine!  I think the reason for this was the combination of hawthorn berries and the bitter wormwood.  Everyone seemed to enjoy this session and all were rewarded with at least three take home samples apiece, which are sure to age splendidly and continue to render a powerful punch that is perhaps an accurate rendition of the authentic ancient alcoholic beverages brewed in this region of eastern Asia 9,000 years ago!干杯 gan bei “cheers”!

Brewing a Drink of Kings

Brewing an Ancient Irish Mead:
Continuing with the popular brewing series “Ale through the Ages: The Anthropology and Archaeology of Brewing” on December 2nd we brewed a heather mead inspired by the drink imbibed by the ancient kings of Ireland. Having just returned from Ireland the day before, I was pleased to share photographs from Tara and other ceremonial sites in Co. Meath where ritual feasting and consumption took place as early as the Neolithic Period. We brewed 10 gallons of mead which consisted of 22lbs of honey (10 pounds were generously donated by kind folks at the Urban Apiculture Institute, three pounds of honey malt, six ounces of heather tips and two ounces of elderflowers.

We boiled the wort for a total of 20 minutes, but added the local raw honey from the Urban Apiculture Institute during the last couple of minutes to ensure maximum flavor retention. A specific gravity of 1.078 was obtained, indicating a maximum alcoholic potential of ca. 10%. Normally mead should stay in the fermenter for several months, however we will try to speed up the fermentation process and then stop it in its tracks in two weeks before bottling. Currently the mead is in a vigorous state of fermentation with blow-off hoses attached in case it overflows. These hoses will eventually be replaced with airlocks, once the rate of fermentation decreases. This mead is sure to be sweet with subtle floral hints of heather and elderflower. As with any beer or wine, aging will only improve its character and illicit visions of its glorious past.

A Mead By Any Other Name:
Mead is a wine-like alcoholic beverage principally made of fermented honey. It continues to be enjoyed around the world under different names. It can have a wide range of flavors, depending on the source of the honey, additives, the yeast, and aging procedure. A mead that contains cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg or herbs is called a metheglin. A mead containing fruit, such as raspberries, blackberries, etc. is called melomel. Meanwhile, a mead fermented with grape juice is called a pyment.

Human Procurement of Honey:
Human’s love affair with honey extends back into the unknown depths of time. Exactly how far back may never be known, however one of the earliest examples honey collecting is depicted in Matopo Hills of Zimbabwe that is circa 10,000 years old (Pager 1973:54(2)).

When it comes to apiculture, i.e. keeping bees for their honey and wax, the earliest examples come from Egypt. One notable example of beekeeping can bee seen in a stone bas relief in the tomb of Queen Pabasa at el-Asasif Egypt that is dated to ca. 2400 BCE. Moreover, in 2007 archaeologists from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University were excavating the ca. 3,000 years old ruins of Tel Rehov in northern Israel, when they uncovered the earliest archaeological evidence of beekeeping. In all, there were 30 intact beehives made of straw and unbaked clay, with a hole at one end to allow the bees in and out and a lid on the other end to allow beekeepers access to the honeycombs inside.

Etymology of “Mead”:
The earliest surviving written notation of mead comes from a hymn in the Rig-Veda, one of the sacred books of Hinduism dated around 1700–1100 BCE, in which it states “In the wide-striding Vishnu’s highest footstep, there is a spring of mead.” The etymology of the word mead can be traced to the Sanskrit word, madhu, which became the Old English word Medu and the Irish word Miodh, the precursor to “mead.” Indeed, the term “honeymoon” is considered to be derived from the tradition of newlyweds drinking mead for one month (one moon) following their wedding to ensure fertility. In pre-historic Europe, mead was considered the drink of Celtic royalty and has been found in many archaeological contexts from Germany to Ireland.

Two Archaeological Examples of Mead:

While there is abundant written evidence of meads importance in Europe, from Shakespeare’s Beowulf to Odin’s thirst for mead the in Viking Sagas, there are also several archaeological sites that have yielded empirical data. One noteworthy example comes from a Celtic chieftain’s burial at the site of Hochdorf in southwestern Germany. This burial mound (tumulus) dating to ca. 550 BCE was excavated by Jörg Biel in 1978-79. Beneath the mound a log chamber was found, which held the remains of an elite male laid out on a bronze bench surrounded by drinking and feasting equipment. Of particular note was huge bronze cauldron imported from northern Italy, which contained the desiccated remains of an estimated 92 gallons of mead. Moreover, there were nine large gold decorated drinking horns, (likely from the extinct auroch), the largest of which hung above the chieftain’s head and could hold 10 pints of mead.

An example of the importance of mead in Ireland can be seen at the ancient royal site of Tara in County Meath, which at one time was the royal seat for the high-kings of Ireland. Most of the archaeological remains at the site were used as burials and open-air enclosures for ceremonial purposes. Today there are around thirty visible earthworks immediately around the hill of Tara’s summit and at least 30 more have been revealed through aerial photography and geophysical prospection (Fenwick and Newman 2002). Of specific interest is the presence of a huge banquette hall called Tech-Midchuarta or “Mead Hall.” Built around the 5th – 8th Century, this massive structure was 250 meters x 30 meters and was intended to unite the ceremonial landscape of Tara. An illustration in the Book of Leinster (AD 1100) shows a seating arrangement at the great mead hall, highlighting the entrenched social stratification during this period.

Recreating an Ancient Beer of Mesoamerica

DISCOVERY WORLD Milwaukee, Wisconsin

On November 3rd at Discovery World in Milwaukee Wisconsin, we brewed our second ancient ale of the season, a Mayan Maize Ale, as part of the adult education series “Ale Through the Ages: The Anthropology and Archaeology of Brewing” .

Mayan Maize label

The recipe is inspired by what an alcoholic beverage may have tasted like in Central America over 1,000 years ago. Archaeological and Ethnographic evidence suggests that pre-Columbian cultures of Mesoamerica brewed a fermented alcoholic beverage using corn and cacao as the primary ingredients. Spanish chroniclers described how the Yucatan Indians (descendants of the Maya) made a foaming drink from cacao and maize which was very savory and which they used to celebrate their feasts. This most recent ale of the ages is an attempt to recreate what these alcoholic beverages of ancient Mesoamerican may have tasted like.

Maize Cacao fermentation

Corn (Zea mays) or maize (a Spanish derivation of the Tiano word maiz) was first domesticated around 6000 B.P. (Before Present) in the Tehuacán Valley of Mexico. What initially began as a wild grass called teosinte, evolved into one of the most important staple crops on the planet. Today there are thousands of varieties of corn grown worldwide.

Evolution of Zea mays

There are many modern examples of brewing corn beer throughout the Western Hemisphere. Most often it is called Chicha, where the traditional method involves the maize being chewed and then spit into a pot or bowl. Natural enzymes in the mouth aid in converting the starch in the corn into fermentable sugars. This mash is then boiled and let to naturally ferment. Today, the Tarahumara indigenous people of Chihuahua in northern Mexico regularly brew a corn beer called Tesguino, which is consumed in large quantities during ceremonial occasions. While we did not spit in our Mayan Maize Ale, a small batch of authentic chicha was made following the traditional method.

Archaeological Examples of brewing with Maize and Cacao in South and Central America

Recent archaeological excavations by a team from The Field Museum in Chicago and The University of Florida uncovered the remains of a brewing complex on the mountain top site of Cerro Baúl in southern Peru. The complex was built by the Wari culture (AD 600-1000) in which stones supported a row of 12 large pottery jars capable of holding 150 liters of liquid each. It is believed that the brewery was capable of producing hundreds of gallons of corn-based beer per week. Further evidence suggests that women were the primary brewers at the site, based on the presence of at least 10 shawl pins that were found on the floor of the brewery, which was ritually burned down around 1000 years ago.

Cerro Baul Brewery plan

Archaeologists from Cornell University working at the site of Puerto Escondido in northern Honduras have recently found the earliest evidence of drinking fermented cacao. Chemical analyses performed on the pottery sherds, some of which were over 3,000 years old, that recovered from the site contained residues of Theobromine, a conclusive fingerprint that fermented cacao was once served in these jars. It is assumed that this chocolate based beer may have reached 5% alcohol by volume.

Bodega Brown Bottle; Puerto Escondido; cacao jar

November 10th marked the bottling of the Mayan Maize Ale. We added a bit more cocoa powder and and 3/4 cups of corn syrup to the batch prior to bottling. The bottling went extremely efficiently, resulting in a total of some 60 12oz. bottles. It should be ready for consumption by mid December and ought to have a distinct maize flavor with a delicious chocolate body with a hint of serrano pepper on the end. Final Alcohol by volume is anticipated to be around 5.5%.

Mayan Maize bottling

Ale Through the Ages: The Anthropology and Archaeology of Brewing

October 7th 2009 marked the second season of Discovery Worlds exploration and indulgence into the ancient tradition of brewing beer, during an adult program called “Ale through the Ages: The Anthropology and Archaeology of Brewing”. An enthusiastic group of adults were on hand to witness and partake in the brewing exercise, while enjoying a variety of beers generously donated by Lakefront Brewery Inc.

The newest experimental ale resurrected from the depths of brewing history, is a German style rye-based ale we call a Rhineland Roggenbier. While beer production has been a human innovation for at least 10,000 years in parts of eastern and western Asia, central Europe and Germany in particular were late comers in comparison. For example, a burial excavated in 1935 near the village of Kasendorf, in northern Bavaria contained a male individual from the Celtic Hallstatt period, ca. 800 BCE. Among the artifacts buried with him was an amphora-shaped vessel with the remnants of a black wheat beer inside of it. Thus far, this marks the earliest archaeological evidence of beer consumption in Germany.

Hallstatt Period grave goods from Kasendorf Germany ca. 800 BCE

Hallstatt Period grave goods from Kasendorf Germany ca. 800 BCE

The use of rye (Secale cereale) in beer production certainly predates the German purity law (Reinheitsgebot) of 1516 that declared “… in all cities, markets and in the country, the only ingredients used for the brewing of beer must be Barley, Hops and Water…” Rye was omitted because it was deemed a vital food source, so as not to be depleted for excessive beer production. Prior to the early 16th century quality control measure, the use of rye in brewing beer was a commonality throughout northern Europe, because it is very tolerant of cooler climates and can grow in more acidic soils than wheat or barley. The plant itself was likely first domesticated in eastern Turkey and northwestern Iran during the Neolithic Period ca. 5000 BCE, but doesn’t begin to show up in central Europe in its domesticated form until the late Bronze Age ca.1800-1500 BCE (Zohary & Hopf 2000:75). In Europe, it likely grew as a weed in the crop fields of early farmers, until its largest grains were isolated and selected for continued cultivation, i.e. domestication.

Rhineland Roggenbier Recipe

Therefore, this roggenbier is inspired by references to rye ales that were being brewed in southern Germany during the Roman and Early Medieval periods. Indeed, the Roman author Publius Cornelius Tacitus wrote in the year 98 that “the Germanii serve an extract of barley and rye as a beverage that is somehow adulterated to resemble wine” (De origine et situ germanorum). Moreover, in 1256 the author Aldorbrandino of Siena Italy wrote that ale made from “rye or rye bread with mint and wild celery as additives was the best kind of beer” (Li Livres dou Santé).

Specific Gravity 1.044

Specific Gravity 1.044

Prior to pitching the European ale yeast on the morning following the brewing session of Wednesday October 7th, a specific gravity reading was taken. The hydrometer settled on the 1.044 line, ca. 6% maximum ABV, though it will likely bottom out at around 5%. Much like a dunkelweizen, this roggenbier is expected to be amber colored with malty notes, mildly hopped and a crisp minty rye finish. Due to a large amount of sediment from the all-grain mash, it will undergo secondary fermentation in one week, followed by a bottling session here at Discovery World on October 21st.

Grain mash undergoing vermicomposting in our biology lab by hundreds of red wiggler worms (Eisenia foetida)

Grain mash undergoing vermicomposting in our Biology Laboratory by hundreds of red wiggler worms (Eisenia foetida)

The final stage in this transformation of the all grain mash was recycling, in this case back to soil with the aid of hundreds of red wiggler worms. Currently they are devouring the mash in two large pails. The entire mash was mixed with equal parts soil/mulch obtained from Growing Power Inc. It is important to monitor the soil temperature for optimal decomposition and worm comfort. It will be interesting to see how long it takes to break down the grains into usable soil. Updates to follow!