Archive for January, 2011

Topic: Barley Grain

Dig Site



Amazing find of Stone Age village made by historians

ARCHAEOLOGISTS have made the stunning discovery of a 5,500-year-old Stone Age village, home to Derbyshire’s first farmers and potters.

Ben Johnson and his team made the ancient find during a painstaking dig in Peak District fields, near Wirksworth.

He said he was astonished when he discovered the first evidence – a shattered shard of pottery dating back to at least 3,500BC.

Ben said: “I pulled the piece of Stone Age pottery out of the ground and felt a sense of excitement and wonder.


“No-one had held that for more than 5,000 years.”

The team spent weeks digging at the location after being drafted in to check the area by Longcliffe Quarries which will build a new headquarters on the site.

Finds such as pottery, tools and an ancient barley grain have been removed.

Ben, an archaeologist for 15 years, said: “You still get excited when you find something like this.”

The finds came from the Neolithic period, when people settled for the first time instead of living by hunting and gathering.

Experts claimed that the find was “regionally significant”.

When the Stone Age site at Curzon Lodge was last seen, Derbyshire was almost completely covered in forest and its population wore animal skins.

But now it has been uncovered by archaeologists who say it is an exciting piece of the county’s historical puzzle.

Nestled in the hills near Wirksworth, Ben Johnson said he felt a sense of “excitement and wonder” as he found an ancient rubbish dump followed by hearths, and holes for posts thought to be part of Neolithic, or late Stone Age, homes.

Like so many of today’s archaeological discoveries, the dig began when a company – in this case Longcliffe Quarries – began the process of applying for a new building.

The firm was required by law to get Mr Johnson’s company, Archaeological Research Services (ARS), to investigate the proposed site, near Brassington.

Mr Johnson, 34, said he was felt a sense of wonder as he worked painstakingly to excavate the first discovery – a Stone Age midden, or rubbish dump.

He said: “Even after 15 years in the job I was excited. A digger took away the top soil and revealed charcoal and the kind of dark earth you would get if you threw away your vegetables and left them in the ground for thousands of years.

“From what I’d seen before, I realised this was probably a Neolithic site and almost straightaway thought this could be evidence of a settlement.

“You want to see what’s there but you have to be painstaking – I worked with a hand trowel.”

Mr Johnson, operations manager for the site, said the midden contained a piece of pottery, small pieces of flint, chipped into sharp tools and, perhaps most importantly, an ancient barley grain.

He said: “The grain had been through the process of being grown and threshed.

“Even though it was a small thing it had a very important meaning. It showed we were looking at the earliest farmers in the Peak District.”

The pottery came from the early Neolithic Period, when people in England began to settle for the first time instead of living by hunting and gathering.

Prior to this time, people would not have made pottery as it is not portable. Mr Johnson said: “The shard dated from between 3,900BC and 3,500BC. This is pretty fragile stuff. Any ploughing nearby would destroy it, so it was a rare find. It was exciting because I knew I was the first person to hold the pottery since it was thrown in there thousands of years ago.”

Once the discovery was made, Bakewell-based ARS wrote a report on the finds for the planning authority, Derbyshire Dales District Council.

As a condition of planning permission for Longcliffe’s new head office and transport depot, the authority said ARS should have a closer look at the site.

In total, 83 pits and 13 trenches were dug as they searched for more remains, and a clearer picture of the site’s importance developed.

Hearth pits, used for cooking and warmth, were found containing charcoal which could be accurately carbon-dated to the Neolithic Period. Several more small pieces of flint cut into sharp knives for things like skinning animals and butchery were discovered.

And three possible “post-holes” suspected to be part of a home’s structure was found.

Jim Brightman, a 29-year-old senior archaeologist with ARS, was involved with assessing the finds.

He said a picture emerged of a small settlement which he was able to describe drawing on knowledge of others in Derbyshire and the UK.

He said: “Our best guess was that we were looking at a settlement of buildings built using posts. These homes may have been quite sturdy or they may have been more lightweight. They were probably rectangular like others in the area.

“People would have lived inside them. Hearths would have been either inside or outside the buildings.

“There would have been middens, perhaps a short distance away from the settlements, just as with rubbish dumps today.”

The farming, he said, would have been in small plots, “more horticulture than agriculture” making families self-sufficient. He added: “There could well have been cattle because that is a mobile type of farming.

“Most of the country would have been covered with forest but people were beginning to clear the trees to keep cattle.”

Mr Brightman said the site also provided more information about other finds made in the area, including several Neolithic flint axes, nine inches long, cut to a sharp point. He said: “They could quite possibly have been used on the site.

“It’s still not known for certain whether they would have been prestige items, owned for the sake of being owned. But I think they would have been used because they are such useful tools.”

Perhaps surprisingly, ARS did not object to Longcliffe Quarries’ plans. But Mr Brightman explained that, once dug up, the site was “destroyed anyway”.

Its importance, he said, was in the information gained from it rather than material finds from the trenches.

Curzon Lodge’s Neolithic settlement, he said, formed another important piece of the Neolithic puzzle in Derbyshire’s uplands.

Mr Brightman said: “The remains at Curzon Lodge are important but not unique. They are of local and probably regional significance but not national.

“The first important thing about it is that it was what we had come to expect of this kind of site – more proof of what we suspect to be the case and an important body of data.

“But it also fixes a point in the landscape around Brassington where we can say this is what was happening. It brings greater understanding of the area.”

Mr Brightman said the opportunity to dig new sites often came because of developments.

He said: “It’s a good thing this happens because it means we have the resources to see what’s there. The developers pay for the work.”

The digs were made in summer 2008 and winter 2009, but this is the first time details of the Curzon Lodge finds have been revealed to the general public.

Original article:

By  C. Mallett



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Topic: Wine Grapes

Red grapes


In wine there is truth, in vino veritas, as the ancient Romans put it. And the truth is that people first cultivated grapes for vino about 8,000 years ago, finds a genetics study.

In the current Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team led by Sean Myles of Cornell, looked at “1,000 samples of the domesticated grape, Vitis vinifera subsp. vinifera, and its wild relative, V. vinifera subsp. sylvestris.” Comparing the gene maps across the grapes, the team concludes that humanity has only begun to explore the genetic diversity of the humble grape.

“Archaeological evidence suggests that grape domestication took place in the South Caucasus between the Caspian and Black Seas and that cultivated vinifera then spread south to the western side of the Fertile Crescent, the Jordan Valley, and Egypt by 5,000 y ago. Our analyses of relatedness between vinifera and sylvestris populations are consistent with archaeological data and support a geographical origin of grape domestication in the Near East. Grape growing and winemaking then expanded westward toward Europe, but the degree to which local wild sylvestris from Western Europe contributed genetically to Western European vinifera cultivars remains a contentious issue. Our results … all support a model in which modern Western European cultivars experienced introgression from local wild sylvestris.”


“Grapes are one of the world’s most economically important fruit crops, and this study shows not only the potential for developing new approaches for improving existing varieties, but also the genetic relationships between many common varieties,” said Edward Knipling, of the Agriculture Department, which sponsored the research, in a statement.

Earlier this week, a UCLA team reported archaeological evidence from an Armenian cave of the earliest known wine press, dating to 6,000 years ago.

The new analysis suggests that people have been conservative in crossing varieties, after the earliest domestication of wild grapes. The researchers call for genetically-guided cross-fertilization of grape varieties for increased hardiness. The lack of diversity in domestic grapes left wine-makers ripe for the attack of phylloxera root louse pests over a century ago that wiped out vineyards across France and Italy, impoverishing many families.

“We propose that the adoption and widespread use of vegetative propagation has been a double-edged sword during grape breeding. Although the production of fine wine would be impossible without the control over genetic variability that vegetative propagation offers, vegetative propagation has also discouraged the breeding of new cultivars and is at least partially responsible for a worldwide grape industry dominated by cultivars sharing extensive coancestry. Other factors that have contributed to the small number of cultivars in use today include the devastation of European vineyards in the second half of the 19th century by mildews and phylloxera and the development of the global wine industry. Currently, grapes face intense pathogen pressures, and are thus intensely chemically treated. There are numerous examples of sources of resistance to these pathogens, both from wild Vitis species and from vinifera cultivars that are often found in marginal areas of cultivation and remain largely unexploited. The grape is clearly exceptional in terms of its domestication and breeding history compared with most crops studied to date. The vinifera grape has retained high levels of genetic diversity since its domestication ∼7,000 y ago, yet its genetic variation remains relatively unshuffled within an extended pedigree. Developing an environmentally sustainable wine and grape industry will rely on tapping into this tremendous diversity by genetically characterizing the world’s germplasm collections and using marker-assisted breeding approaches to generate improved cultivars.”

Original article:


By Dan Vergano


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Topic Bacteria in salt

Slightly off topic but interesting none the less.

Ancient Bacteria

salt crystals

It’s a tale that has all the trappings of a cult 1960s sci-fi movie: Scientists bring back ancient salt crystals, dug up from deep below Death Valley for climate research. The sparkling crystals are carefully packed away until, years later, a young, unknown researcher takes a second look at the 34,000-year-old crystals and discovers, trapped inside, something strange. Something … alive.

Thankfully this story doesn’t end with the destruction of the human race, but with a satisfied scientist finishing his Ph.D.

“It was actually a very big surprise to me,” said Brian Schubert, who discovered ancient bacteria living within tiny, fluid-filled chambers inside the salt crystals.

Salt crystals grow very quickly, imprisoning whatever happens to be floating – or living – nearby inside tiny bubbles just a few microns across, akin to naturally made, miniature snow-globes.

“It’s permanently sealed inside the salt, like little time capsules,” said Tim Lowenstein, a professor in the geology department at Binghamton University and Schubert’s advisor at the time.

Lowenstein said new research indicates this process occurs in modern saline lakes, further backing up Schubert’s astounding discovery, which was first revealed about a year ago. The new findings, along with details of Schubert’s work, are published in the January 2011 edition of GSA Today, the publication of the Geological Society of America.

Schubert, now an assistant researcher at the University of Hawaii, said the bacteria – a salt-loving sort still found on Earth today – were shrunken and small, and suspended in a kind of hibernation state.

“They’re alive, but they’re not using any energy to swim around, they’re not reproducing,” Schubert told OurAmazingPlanet. “They’re not doing anything at all except maintaining themselves.”

The key to the microbes’ millennia-long survival may be their fellow captives – algae, of a group called Dunaliella.

“The most exciting part to me was when we were able to identify the Dunaliella cells in there,” Schubert said, “because there were hints that could be a food source.”

With the discovery of a potential energy source trapped alongside the bacteria, it has begun to emerge that, like an outlandish Dr. Seuss invention (hello, Who-ville), these tiny chambers could house entire, microscopic ecosystems.

Other elderly bacteria?

Schubert and Lowenstein are not the first to uncover organisms that are astonishingly long-lived. About a decade ago, there were claims of discoveries of 250-million-year-old bacteria. The results weren’t reproduced, and remain controversial.

Schubert, however, was able to reproduce his results. Not only did he grow the same organisms again in his own lab, he sent crystals to another lab, which then got the same results.

“So this wasn’t something that was just a contaminant from our lab,” Schubert said.

Survival strategy

The next step for researchers is to figure out how the microbes, suspended in a starvation-survival mode for so many thousands of years, managed to stay viable.

“We’re not sure what’s going on,” Lowenstein said. “They need to be able to repair DNA, because DNA degrades with time.”

Schubert said the microbes took about two-and-a-half months to “wake up” out of their survival state before they started to reproduce, behavior that has been previously documented in bacteria, and a strategy that certainly makes sense.

“It’s 34,000 years old and it has a kid,” Schubert said. And ironically, once that happens, the new bacteria are, of course, entirely modern.

Of the 900 crystal samples Schubert tested, only five produced living bacteria. However, Schubert said, microbes are picky. Most organisms can’t be cultured in the lab, so there could be many living microbes that just didn’t like their new home enough to reproduce.

Still, wasn’t it exciting to discover what could be one of the oldest living organisms on the planet?

“It worked out very well,” Schubert said.

Original article:

By Andrea Mustain



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Topic-Beer Again

From ancient to modern another find about beer. Mans ever fascination with beer seems eternal!

Space station



Space Beer

Images: 1) NASA. 2) Sapporo.


Article By Betsy Mason

I love beer, and I love space. So how could I not love beer from space? I’m not usually one for beer gimmicks, but somehow Sapporo’s Space Barley is an exception.

The beer was made with grains descended from barley that spent five months in the Zvezda Service Module on the International Space Station. The very limited results, just 250 precious six-packs, will be sold through a lottery for 10,000 yen ($110) each. But only people living in Japan are eligible. Sigh.

Why are the Russian Academy of Sciences, Okayama University and presumably Russia’s space agency Roscosmos aiding this scheme? Well, science of course. And charity.

“This beer will be sold for charity, to contribute to the promotion of science education for children and the development of space science research in Japan and Russia, through donation of all proceeds to Okayama University,” Sapporo stated in a press release Dec. 3.

And that sounds nice. But I think the real reason is: Space Beer!

Also, what will astronauts drink on future extended spaceflight missions? They can’t take multiple years’ worth of beer with them, so clearly they will have to brew it themselves. But what about the hops, you say? Don’t worry, those were launched into space in August. Super Space Beer!

Indeed, according to Sapporo, the space-barley research was done for “the purpose of achieving self-sufficiency in food in the space environment.” Because how self-sufficient could one really be without beer?

Original article:

Dec 2009


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Topic: Beer brewed with ancient yeast

ancient yeast inclosed in amber

An aroma like bread dough permeates Raul Cano‘s lab. He has just removed the cover from a petri dish, and the odor wafts up from several gooey yellow clumps of microorganisms that have been feeding and reproducing in a dark cabinet for the past few days. Cano, a 63-year-old microbiologist at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, inspects the smelly little mounds lovingly. “These are my babies,” he says, beaming. “My yeasty beasties.”

The dish contains a variant of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, known in culinary circles as baker’s or brewer’s yeast. But Cano didn’t get this from Whole Foods. Back in 1995, he extracted it from a 45 million-year-old fossil. The microorganisms had lain dormant since the Eocene epoch, a time when Australia split off from Antarctica and modern mammals first appeared. Then Cano brought the yeast back to life.

This reanimation of an ancient life form was a breakthrough, a discovery so shocking that the scientific community initially refused to believe it. It changed our understanding of what microorganisms are capable of. It also gave the Cal Poly researcher a brief taste of fame. For a while, he thought it might make him rich. It didn’t. Now, just when it seemed his babies would be forgotten, Cano has found a way to share them with the world.

Born and raised in pre-Castro Havana, Cano still has a noticeable Cuban accent. After the revolution, his parents were unable to escape the country, but they managed to secure him a visa and a plane ticket to Miami in early 1962. His parents would eventually follow him to the US, but for a few years Cano was on his own in a strange new country. “I was 16 at the time,” he says. “I went from foster home to foster home.”

His scientific aptitude was not immediately apparent. “I wasn’t a remarkably good student,” Cano says. “I went to community college.” He eventually transferred to Eastern Washington University, and there he discovered his calling in a microbiology class. “It was taught by a fungal geneticist,” he says. “He was terrific. He became my mentor.” Cano got his master’s and went on to earn a PhD in microbiology at the University of Montana.

In 1974, Cano went to work at Cal Poly, starting out as a fungus specialist. But by the early ’90s, he was making a name for himself by examining the contents of fossilized prehistoric tree resin—more commonly known as amber.

Scientists have been cracking open the translucent caramel-colored rock for nearly two centuries in an attempt to unlock the history of the earth. All manner of flora and fauna got trapped in the dribbling sap, and once it solidified and fossilized, the contents were preserved for aeons. “It’s a time capsule,” Cano says. “Like a Kodak moment from when the amber was formed.” The first study of the contents of amber, made public in 1856, yielded 163 species of ancient plant life.

More than a century later, amber became sexy again with the advent of gene sequencing and cloning. A 1982 paper by entomologist George Poinar explored the potential for extracting DNA from preserved creatures. The paper caused a stir in the scientific community and inspired Michael Crichton to write his best-selling dinosaur-cloning novel, Jurassic Park, which came out in 1990.

In 1993, Cano worked with Poinar and others to remove DNA from a 125 million-year-old Lebanese weevil entombed in amber. They were able to sequence segments of the bug’s genome. But even if they had the full genome, science couldn’t—and still can’t—clone it back into existence. (Just as well—it’s hard to imagine Steven Spielberg creating a blockbuster f/x extravaganza about reanimated weevils. Unless he made them 30 feet tall. With a taste for human blood.)

Two years later, however, Cano actually did manage to pull off an astonishing first—he brought back to life something that had been trapped in amber for more than 25 million years. It started with a chunk of fossilized resin from the Dominican Republic. Trapped inside was an extinct breed of stingless bee. It was dead, of course, but Cano theorized that microorganisms in the resin might simply be dormant. After all, he reasoned, some single-celled creatures are known to enter a hibernation-like state and survive for years with no air or food. Still, few believed that anything could survive after lying dormant for so long.

Cano wanted to find out. He took the contents of the ancient bee’s stomach, suspended it in saline, and spread it on a growth medium. Amazingly, something woke up and began propagating in the petri dish. Cano identified it as a bacterial spore related to the modern Bacillus sphaericus, which is used to kill mosquito larvae.

Cano’s discovery changed science’s understanding of just how extraordinarily resilient microorganisms are. “They’re the quintessential survivors,” he says. “They started when the planet was born, they’re going to stay around until the planet is dead, and then they’ll just go somewhere else.” After publishing the results of his experiment in Science, Cano found himself the center of national attention from scientists and eventually the media. This was the closest humanity had come to the discovery imagined in Jurassic Park.

Over the course of the next year, Cano would crack open several more pieces of amber and bring hundreds of strains of ancient bacteria back to life in his lab. In the process, he began to think there might be a practical use for these creatures. He launched a company, Ambergene, to explore potential biomedical applications. The premise for the venture was that ancient organisms might have antibiotic potential—they’d been out of the ecosystem for so long that nothing today would have a resistance to them. At the time, the approach—dubbed natural product discovery—was very much in vogue. Major players like Merck and Eli Lilly were making serious investments.

Creating a life-saving drug was appealing. Fabulous riches would be a nice side effect. “Altruism’s great, but it’s not that great,” Cano says. He possessed the only known samples of these strains, and he patented his revivification process to further cement his control over them. As the cofounder, part-owner, and chief scientific officer of Ambergene, Cano stood to earn a hefty chunk of any windfall that might result.

To reassure potential investors, Ambergene’s board of directors decided to confirm Cano’s claims of reanimation. He wasn’t the first to attempt to bring tiny beings back to life in this manner. But every previous reported success turned out to be a case of modern bacteria contaminating the amber during the extraction process.


“I was very skeptical,” says Chip Lambert, a microbiologist tapped by Ambergene to try to duplicate Cano’s results. The company provided him with amber and all of Cano’s sterilization and extraction protocols. Lambert doubled all of the cleaning processes and added some of his own. He was still able to duplicate Cano’s discovery.

Cano didn’t mind the company checking his work if it helped Ambergene win financing. He ended up being impressed with Lambert’s efforts. “We became friends,” Cano says. “I enjoy his company. Besides working with him on some of his projects, we’d socialize, get dinner, maybe grab a beer.” (Another team of researchers working with Cano has also been able to duplicate the results.)

In April 1995, during his amber-cracking spree, Cano made another important discovery. A piece of fossilized resin from Burma yielded something that looked very similar to Saccharomyces, brewer’s or baker’s yeast. This single-celled fungus feeds on sugars and reproduces frequently—if it has enough to eat, a culture can double in population in 90 minutes. “Yeasts are found in all kinds of vegetable matter—plants, fruits, stuff like that,” Cano says. “It was fortunate for that yeast to be there at the time so it could become part of history.”

Cano was fascinated by his find. Unfortunately, this ancient strain of yeast didn’t have commercial applications that Ambergene could exploit. And none of Cano’s other discoveries were yielding biomedical breakthroughs, either. “We did find two or three microorganisms that produced some new chemical compounds,” Cano says. “But they were never pursued, because the company was broke. I was really disappointed.”

Ambergene folded in 1997. Cano went back to his lab and pursued other research, like testing petroleum-degrading bacteria in sand dunes. That project scored enormous grants for Cal Poly, as did many of Cano’s other research efforts. But he couldn’t forget his brush with fame and fortune. “It was a scientific wild ride, like an E ticket at Disneyland,” he says. “As you grow older, the thrill of the hunt becomes more and more acute, at least for me.” Meanwhile, his ancient yeast—suspended in glycerol and nutrients—lay dormant in a deep freeze.

In March 2006, chip Lambert happened to meet a guy named Peter Hackett at a ski resort in Lake Tahoe, California. Hackett is a Northern California pub owner and brewer. Before long, the conversation turned to ancient yeast. “It started as a very casual, noncommittal, you-must-be-out-of-your-mind conversation,” Hackett recalls. “He told me the story of how Cano revived the yeast, how it resembled brewer’s yeast. And then he said, ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting if we could make beer with it?'”

Lambert and Cano had toyed with the idea for 12 years. Before Ambergene went under, the company made a batch on a lark. “We called it Jurassic Amber Ale or T-Rex Lager or something, and it was pretty good,” Cano says. It was served at his daughter’s wedding, and they even sent some to the Jurassic Park 2 cast party. That experiment had Cano and Lambert itching to release a beverage commercially. But they wanted it to be something respectable.

“Brewing beer is a biotechnological process,” Cano says. “I know the essentials; I’ve taught it in classes. But the skills you need to actually make a quality beer? I had no clue.” They needed a professional brewer to take their yeast for a serious test drive. But unable to interest one, they had put the idea on ice.

Hackett, 44, was a cocky upstart in the microbrew world, known for unique recipes like Bushwacker Wheat (made with tangerines, blackberries, and sun-dried mandarins). He hadn’t really wanted to spend a cold, miserable afternoon discussing yeast from the Eocene. “But Chip is a very persistent man,” Hackett says. “It was the only way I could get him to leave me alone.” After some cajoling, the brewer agreed to try making a batch of beer with Cano’s yeast.

But Hackett had his doubts about the 45 million-year-old Saccharomyces. Beer is the result of a chemical process that takes place when yeast gobbles up sugars and excretes carbon dioxide and alcohol. The flavor depends heavily on the type of Saccharomyces doing the eating, and very few strains perform well in the hostile anaerobic conditions inside a brewing tank. “It requires a robust cell,” Hackett says. “My boss is a single-celled organism. If it’s not happy, it will let me know.”

Hackett combined the yeast with all the other ingredients that make up his popular Rat Bastard pale ale recipe, so he could easily taste its distinguishing characteristics. During the brewing, the ancient yeast’s behavior was unusual, to say the least. “It ferments violently at the start,” Hackett says, “then it falls out of suspension and the beer becomes almost clear.” From a brewer’s perspective, its behavior was schizophrenic: It began like a yeast used in ales, floating at the top. Then it began to act like yeast used in slow-fermenting lagers, settling to the bottom of the tank but not going dormant.

Normally, Hackett ends the primary fermentation process by “crashing the tank”—lowering the temperature to shock the yeast into dormancy. But that didn’t work on Cano’s yeast. “It was just sitting on the bottom and nibbling on the sugar like a couch potato,” Hackett says. A strain that had survived 45 million years in suspended animation was not about to go quietly.

Hackett was prepared to pour the batch down the drain if it tasted awful. But he discovered that the flavor of the resulting ale was unique, and not in a bad way. It was light and crisp with a citrusy, gingery tang. It was definitely worth exploring further.

The brewer began experimenting with the ancient strain. He indulged its idiosyncratic behavior, letting it ferment for an extra month in a cold storage tank. He modified the hops, a plant that adds a characteristic bitterness to beer, to complement the flavor imparted by the yeast.

Cano’s Saccharomyces coupled with Hackett’s know-how to yield a very tasty libation, which is now made and distributed under the name Fossil Fuels Brewing Company. “We won the lottery,” Hackett says. “It’s such a random thing. A yeast cell, captured in amber, found by a mad scientist. For it to perform well, for it to perform uniquely … I wouldn’t have bet on it.”

Fossil Fuels pale ale caused a stir among beer aficionados like William Brand, a former critic with The Oakland Tribune who raved about it on his blog. He noted its “light copper color and an intense clove aroma.” He liked its sweetness and the “intriguing, very odd spicy note” in the finish.

Celebrator Beer News described the ale as having a “complex and well-developed taste profile” with “fruity flavor characteristics and just a touch of lemony sweetness. The fact that it is made with such old yeast is fascinating, and given how good the beer is, no mere novelty.”

A 5-gallon glass jug containing hundreds of millions of Cano’s yeast cells is sitting on the back porch of Hackett’s brewpub in Guerneville, California, 70 miles north of San Francisco. Every half-hour or so, Hackett goes outside and shakes it up a bit. When the sun warms the contents of the jug to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, it’ll be ready.

Hackett has been stirring malted barley into 150-degree water in an enormous stainless steel tub. The hot water will break down the starch in the grain, turning it into a sugary substance called wort, which is then diluted, boiled, and transferred to a fermentation tank. When the jar of yeast has warmed up sufficiently, Hackett dumps it into the tank, where it begins to gobble up the wort.

Normally, Hackett could reuse this yeast after separating it from the freshly brewed batch of beer. New characteristics may begin to present themselves as the tiny fungi go through tens of thousands of generations. “Over time, genetic drift can occur,” Hackett says. “It mutates and evolves.”

But for Fossil Fuels’ brew, Cano prefers to create new colonies that are as close as possible to the original generation he reawakened from the chunk of amber. His yeasty beasties may not have made him a pharmaceutical millionaire, but he has finally discovered a use for them, and he wants to stay involved in the brewing process.

As Hackett finishes preparing his latest batch, Cano arrives. He has driven up from San Luis Obispo to get a pony keg of pale ale for his own personal use. And Lambert has come up from the East Bay. The scientists sit on stools as Hackett brings out pints of their beer, as well as fries, shrimp, and egg rolls hot from the brewpub’s kitchen. They’re soon ready for a second round of beer.

Fossil Fuels Brewing will start selling its beer in pubs and restaurants throughout California this fall. The company is creating beer-tap handles with hunks of amber embedded in the tip. A bigger brewery—one capable of bottling the beer when they’re ready to put it on store shelves—has been enlisted to take on the commercial production duties.

Cano is delighted with the burgeoning success of Fossil Fuels ale. It’ll earn him a little bit of money, and every pint or bottle sold could kick off a conversation about his momentous discovery 14 years ago. His only worry is that the unfiltered nature of this beer means that some of his yeast will invariably settle to the bottom of the glass or bottle, and an unscrupulous brewer could collect that and use it in another beer. The microbiologist has applied for a patent on his strains and has sequenced the genomes so he can tell if someone else has stolen it. “I am the keeper of the family jewels,” Cano says. He isn’t about to let them fall into the wrong hands.

Original article:

by Eric Biba



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Topic Celtic Beer



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.

Six specially constructed ditches previously excavated at Eberdingen-Hochdorf a 2,550-year-old Celtic settlement, were used to make high-quality barley malt, a key beer ingredient, says archaeobotanist Hans-Peter Stika of the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart. Thousands of charred barley grains unearthed in the ditches about a decade ago came from a large malt-making enterprise, Stika reports in a paper published online Jan. 4 in Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences.

Stika bases that conclusion on a close resemblance of the ancient grains to barley malt that he made by reproducing several methods that Iron Age folk might have used. He also compared the ancient grains to malt produced in modern facilities. Upon confirming the presence of malt at the Celtic site, Stika reconstructed malt-making techniques there to determine how they must have affected beer taste.

The oldest known beer residue and brewing facilities date to 5,500 years ago in the Middle East, but archaeological clues to beer’s history are rare (Science News: Oct, 2, 2004, p. 216).

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.

Heated stones placed in liquefied malt during the brewing process — a common practice later in Europe — would have added a caramelized flavor to this fermented Celtic drink, he adds. So far, no fire-cracked stones have been found at Eberdingen-Hochdorf but they may have been used to heat pulpy malt slowly, a practice documented at later brewing sites, Stika says. He suspects that fermentation was triggered by using yeast-coated brewing equipment or by adding honey or fruit, which both contain wild yeasts.

Celts consisted of Iron Age tribes, loosely tied by language and culture, that inhabited much of Western Europe from about the 11th to the first century B.C.

In the same report Stika describes another tidbit for fans of malt-beverage history: A burned medieval structure from the 14th century A.D., recently unearthed in Berlin during a construction project, contains enough barley malt to have brewed 500 liters of beer, the equivalent of nearly 60 cases.

Classics professor Max Nelson of the University of Windsor in Canada, an authority on ancient beer, largely agrees with Stika’s conclusions. Malt-making occurred at Eberdingen-Hochsdorf, and malt was probably stored in the medieval Berlin building, Nelson says.

Other stages of brewing occurred either at these sites, as suggested by Stika, or nearby, in Nelson’s view.

“Stika’s experiments go a long way toward showing how precisely barley was malted in ancient times,” he remarks.

Beer buffs today would regard Celtic beer as a strange brew not only for its flavor but because it would have been cloudy, contained yeasty sediment and been imbibed at room temperature, Nelson notes.

Stika’s insights into the range of techniques and ingredients available to Celtic beer makers should inspire modern “extreme brewers” to try out the recipe that he describes, says anthropologist Bettina Arnold of the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.

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.”

Original article:

By Bruce Bower, Science news

January 17, 2011


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Topic:Greek Wine

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Over centuries, the ancient Athenian cocktail parties went full circle, from a practice reserved for the elite to one open to everyone and then, by the fourth century B.C., back to a luxurious display of consumption most could not afford.

The wine cups used during these gatherings, called symposia, reflect this story, according to Kathleen Lynch, a University of Cincinnati professor of classics.

The cups were central to the symposia, where every participant drank the same amount of wine mixed with water, served in rounds, as they reclined on couches or mattresses set in a circle or square.

“In the same way that the coffee mug with ‘World’s Greatest Golfer’ in your kitchen cabinet speaks to your values and your culture, so, too, do the commonly used objects of the past tell us about that past,” Lynch said.

As the social context went full circle from elite party to common practice and back again, the appearance of the cups evolved as well, from simple and stemless to a profusion of styles to knockoffs that imitated the appearance of silverwork.

During the Iron Age, from 1,100 to 700 B.C., the symposia were reserved for the elite, and grave markers for the very wealthy were even made to resemble the mixing bowls used to blend wine and water during the symposia. People wanted to be remembered by their ability to throw these events, according to Lynch.

In the latter part of the late Archaic Period, from 525 to 480 B.C., the number of drinking cups increased, indicating the democratization of the cocktail parties, a phenomenon also occurring in the political and social arenas. In fact, these cups for communal drinking outnumbered regular dishes in the typical home.

During the High Classical Period from 480 to 400 B.C., the evolution in design continued, with red-figured cups remaining popular at first, but becoming taller and shallower. As Athenians weathered the Peloponnesian Wars and the plague, they sought escape, and drinking-cup fashions came and went. However, they tended to imitate silverwork: For example, plain, black clay cups with shiny surfaces became more common. Essentially, the common terra cotta cups were “designer knockoffs,” according to Lynch.

This knockoff trend continued into the Late Classical Period, from 400 to 323 B.C., and garland and wreathlike designs replaced human forms as decoration. Athenian democracy disappeared, and by the end of this period, the practice of the symposia had returned to the elites. Equality was no longer important in a state that was now a monarchy, according to Lynch.

Original article:

by Wynne Perry



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