Archive for November 13th, 2007

Ancient beer?

I would have thought that the New Scientist knew the difference between wine and beer, but have a look at this:

Chocolate was first produced by the ancients as a by-product of beer, suggests a new archaeological study. And evidence from drinking vessels left by the Mesoamericans who developed chocolate suggests that the source of chocolate, cacao, was first used 500 years earlier than thought.

Mesoamericans – who flourished in central America before it was colonised by the Spanish – developed chocolate as a by-product of fermenting cacao fruit to make a beer-like drink called chicha still brewed by South American tribal people.

The Mesoamericans before Columbus’s time, developed a taste for the chocolate better, but their cousins down in South America stuck with the beer, says Cornell University archaeologist John Henderson, who led the new study.

If you ferment grain, you get beer. Barley, wheat, millet, maize, rice, oats, rye or more obscure types of grass. But if you ferment fruit, you get fruit wine. Not beer.

When I look up chicha in Wikipedia, I find that it is a general term for a fermented beverage. It can be made from maize – which would technically make it a beer – or it can be made from cassava or fruit.

According to an anthropology page I found; Among Amazonians chicha is a dietary staple, as well as a work incentive and social lubricant. OK, I have to admit that sounds like beer. But it could be wine, too. But it looks like thin porridge.

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Alan used this graph to make a blog post look more academic a few weeks ago, and I noticed that Norway for once came out on top in a competition.

We usually think that high taxes is the reason for the beer prices in Norway, but this shows that this is only part of the problem. With one big brewer dominating the market, it must be a nice country for Carlsberg to sell its lager.

It is interesting to note that the Netherlands and Italy are on the far left of the scale. Their place in the chart would apply to standard pale lager. There is an interesting contrast between these two countries – in the Netherlands, most craft beer tend to be relatively cheap as well. In Italy you find craft beer being priced at about the same level as a decent bottle of wine, starting at around € 10-12.

(The chart is from the Financial Mail, a South African newspaper)

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