Beer has stood the test of time as one of the world’s most popular social lubricants
However, much of the history of the drink, and the corresponding history of the cultures associated with it, is often overlooked.
To address this gap, a UW-Milwaukee professor and a Wauwatosa home brewer have teamed up over the past three years to restore old recipes and spark interest in the underlying history of Milwaukee’s favorite drink.
“The end game is to use beer as a bribe for people who might think history is really boring to use it as a weird subversive way to explore things they might not be interested in,” said UWM professor of archaeology and co-brewer Bettina Arnold.
Old wine and new friendship
Tosa resident Jeff Enders is an avid home brewer who alternates between hobbyist and professional. He says his love for brewing stems from a desire to enjoy history through the drink.
“I just read as many different books as possible in order to study the different styles of beer around the world,” Enders said.
In 2019, Enders entered the Unhopped Iron Brewchallenge, a UWM-sponsored brewing competition based on reviving old recipes, for the perfect canvas to showcase his love of beer and its corresponding history.
The Enders won the competition with a Gallo-Roman-style cervoise, later brewed at local brewing company Gathering Place Brewing. It was also during this competition that Enders met Arnold, who was teaching a course called “The Archaeology of Fermented Beverages,” which Enders reviewed out of sheer interest in the content.
When she couldn’t find a style she liked in America, Arnold started brewing her own beer, and she’s also an accomplished brewer. In 2016, she created a beer called Keltenbräu and sold it in partnership with Lakefront Brewery.
When Arnold and Enders began discussing the art of beer making that semester, a new friendship began. Since then, the duo has been reviving old recipes.
Revive old recipes
According to Enders, bringing back ancient recipes is not the most precise task and often involves guesswork. But that’s part of what makes the process enjoyable.
“That’s one of the joys of it: you take the essence of what you know through modern brewing and then use it to fill in the gaps…you’re never really recreating an old recipe, you’re just explaining it,” Enders said.
Frequent rebrewing of ancient recipes results in a drink that looks very different from modern beer, Arnold said. Examples include a style of beer called braggot, which is a blend of beer and mead, and a co-fermentation called cyser, which ferments cider and mead together.
While the results of these brews are exciting, Arnold says modern audiences may struggle to enjoy them.
“I don’t think people who don’t like sour beers generally get too excited about these early varieties, because most of them will have some level of Lactobacillus – something modern brewers generally try to avoid,” Arnold said.
Neither Enders nor Arnold want modern beer lovers to start brewing these drinks themselves, but both hope their work will inspire other drinkers and home brewers to enjoy the history surrounding the drink.
“A good way to think about history is if you travel and enjoy beer from other cultures, you can try to recreate those beers at home and think about why those ingredients are best for that place,” Enders said.
Regardless, Enders and Arnold agree that one aspect of beer that doesn’t change over time, geography or ingredients is its ability to bring people together.
Beck Andrew Salgado can be contacted at 512-568-4070 or by email at Bsalgado@gannett.com.follow him on twitter @Beck_Salgado.