Thunder Bay

Ancient beer on tap as part of Lakehead University's Research and Innovation Week

As part of Lakehead University's Research and Innovation Week, Thunder Bay will host a guest expert on re-creating ancient beers, and Sleeping Giant Brewery has been recruited to make some.

When it comes to beer, they just don't make 'em like they used to

Kyle Mulligan of Sleeping Giant Brewing Co. in Thunder Bay, Ont., holds a glass of the ancient Italian beer Etrusca, from a fermenting batch. When he was offered the opportunity to experiment with some ancient beer recipes, he says he jumped at the chance. (Amy Hadley/CBC)

By modern standards, they may not turn out to be the most easy-drinking brews.

But two beers being prepared by the Sleeping Giant Brewery in Thunder Bay, Ont., are sure to be conversation starters. 

They're ancient beers — based on recipes from thousands of years ago — which will be sampled at a special event in Thunder Bay, on Saturday. 

"Hopefully, fingers crossed, it doesn't taste horrible," said head brewer Kyle Mulligan, showing off a glass of still-fermenting muddy brown liquid. "Obviously things have evolved."

The brewery was recruited to make the drinks for a talk featuring Patrick McGovern, a researcher with the University of Pennsylvania Museum, famous for his work identifying, and re-creating ancient brews.

Patrick McGovern has travelled the world studying ancient beers, and figuring out how to re-create them. He'll be in Thunder Bay on Saturday evening. (Alison Dunlap)

Recipes determined using ancient residue analysis

It's fascinating work, said Carney Matheson, a professor of anthropology at Lakehead University who does similar research.

McGovern uses a combination of historical documents, DNA analysis and chemistry to identify the ingredients of ancient beers, with work that involves analysis of residue on drinking vessels. 

In preparation for McGovern's visit, Matheson worked with Sleeping Giant Brewery to select two ancient beers from McGovern's book, Ancient Brews Rediscovered and Re-created.

"One is Etrusca, which is an ancient Italian beer from the Etruscans. And the other one is Kvasir, which is an ancient Norse beer," he said, noting that the selections are a nod to Thunder Bay's large Italian and Scandinavian populations.

As for the age of the recipes, "we don't have an exact date," he said. "but if you look at the Etrusca, the Etruscan  civilization arose around 800 BC and started its decline around 264 BC with a battle between the Romans and the Etruscans."

Myrrh and meadowsweet two of many unusual ingredients

One of the biggest challenges of brewing the ancient beers was tracking down unusual ingredients, said Mulligan, noting the recipes called for things like myrrh and the herb meadowsweet.

The process was also "very hands on," he said. "Crushing grains by hand. Adding things by hand." 

It was a fun experiment, he said, and should result in some very interesting flavours, for those lucky enough to sample the beers at the event. 

The ancient beer recipes called for ingredients such as birch syrup, cranberries, myrrh and meadowsweet, said Kyle Mulligan, head brewer and co-owner of Sleeping Giant Brewing Co. (Amy Hadley/CBC)

Many events on tap as part of Research and Innovation Week

The talk is taking place Saturday, March 3 at 7 p.m. at the Prince Arthur Waterfront Hotel and tickets are available from Sleeping Giant Brewery, or the hotel. 

It's just one of many events taking place as part of Lakehead University's Research and Innovation Week, an annual event celebrating academic research, which features public events and talks.

On Saturday afternoon, interactive booths will be set up at Intercity Mall showcasing a wide-range of research being done at the University. The displays and activities will be on show at the mall from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. 

At the anthropology booth, the displays will include interactive 3-D goggles through which people can view archeological sites, and examples of artifacts re-created with 3-D printers, said Matheson. Tickets for that evening's ancient beer event will also be available at the booth.