Tim Hampson's Beer Blog

The quest for the perfect beer

So what came first beer or bread? According to a couple of Irish archaeologists it was beer not bread which civilized the savage beast.

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Billy Quinn and Declan Moore get mashing bronze ale style

Many ancient historians will have you believe that it was farming and bread making which tamed nomadic man and turned hunter gatherers into people who lived in a stable community.

Not so say archaeologists Billy Quinn and Declan Moore. A few years ago they did some research which they believe shows that one of the most common archaeological monuments in the Irish landscape was used for brewing a Bronze Age beer.

If it is true that we are what we eat, then it is also true that we are what we drink, and Bronze age man was probably little different from modern man or woman – if given the choice of what to do on a cold wet winter’s night – drink a beer and party or eat a slice of bread which  would you choose?

Ireland has many well preserved Bronze Age sites where it is possible to see the enigmatic fulacht fiadh. These monuments, of which there are more than 4,500, can be seen as small, horseshoe shaped grass covered mounds. Conventionally archaeologists have described them as ancient cooking spots.

However, Quinn and Moore believe that they were used as breweries.

The equipment was kept simple

According to Quinn: “The tradition of brewing in Ireland has a long history, we think that the fulacht may have been used as a kitchen sink, for cooking, dyeing and indeed many other uses, but a primary use was the brewing of ale.

“It became clear to us that the making of beer was one of the first steps in turning man into civilised man and that beer making came before bread making.”

To prove their theory, Quinn & Moore set out to recreate the process.

The experiment was carried at Billy Quinn’s home in Cordarragh, Headford, Co Galway.

“Seeking authenticity in replicating our Bronze Age ale we decided that our equipment should be as basic as possible,” said Quinn.

They used an old wooden trough filled with water and added heated stones. After achieving an optimum temperature of 60-70°C they began to add milled barley and after approx 45 minutes simply baled the final product into fermentation vessels. They added natural wild flavourings – and wisely took care to avoid anything toxic or hallucinogenic – and then added yeast from the Galway Brewery, after cooling the vessels in a bath of cold water for several hours.

Whatever the age the prinicples of brewing remain the same

According to Moore “including the leftover liquid we could easily have produced up to 300 litres of this most basic ale”. Through their experiments, they discovered that the process of brewing ale in a fulacht using hot rock technology is a simple process. To produce the ale took only a few hours, followed by a three-day wait to allow for fermentation.

Quinn and Moore point out that although their theory is based solely on circumstantial and experimental evidence, they believe that, although probably multifunctional in nature, a primary use of the fulacht fiadh was for brewing beer.

Billy Quinn and Declan Moore prepare their ancient brew

“Beer is liquid bread, and if our theory is correct it is the making of beer that turned the savage beast into the civilised man,” said Quinn.

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Written by timhampson

September 10, 2010 at 5:01 pm

One Response

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  1. Sounds fair but would the first farmers have planted grain to make adds or bread ? I think mead and cider preceded beer. What I do know is beer drinkers rule the world.

    Bob Allam

    January 15, 2011 at 9:04 pm


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