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Egyptian alchemist’s recipe brings ancient beer to life in Winnipeg

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An idea that began when a classicist went to a brewery to sip beers and ponder the history of hops has brought to life an ancient ale.

It took hours of translating, milling and baking, but ale experimenters in Winnipeg have finally sipped a beer created from a fourth-century Egyptian alchemist’s recipe.

“If you expect this to taste like a modern beer, you are not going to find that,” said Matt Gibbs, chair of the University of Winnipeg’s Department of Classics.

“This beer is very, very sour. It’s good. It’s much better than I thought it was when we first did it, I will say that much, but it’s different.”

Gibbs got the idea while sitting at a bar talking about old beers with a pair of brewmasters.

The original recipe was found in the book, The Barbarian’s Beverage: A History of Beer in Ancient Europe, by Max Nelson at the University of Windsor. It was chosen because Gibbs figured he could stay close to the original process and, unlike some of the other recipes, the ingredients were available and legal.

Beer made an old-fashioned way is shown at Barn Hammer Brewing Company in Winnipeg on Tuesday. (David Lipnowski/Canadian Press)

Gibbs received permission to translate the recipe out of ancient Greek and then got to work with brewers Tyler Birch and Brian Westcott, co-owners of Barn Hammer Brewing Co. in Winnipeg.

First, they made a sourdough bread from water and barley flour milled by hand. It took 18 hours to bake the loaves at a heat low enough that the enzymes essential for beer-making stayed alive.

The loaves were then submerged in a fermenter at Barn Hammer.

The only major differences from the original recipe was that a stainless steel fermenter was used and the barley wasn’t malted on a roof in the sun.

Weeks went by and the experiment slowly turned from a murky mix to a pristine pint.

“After tasting the bread they made, I thought we were going to have something really disgusting, but it turned out really well,” Birch said.

“I’m actually blown away by how good it is. It’s actually very drinkable.”

The simple taste of that makes it quite clear how much the palate has changed over 2,000 years.– Matt Gibbs

It’s not what most people would consider a beer and tastes more like a sour cider with hints of raisin or apple. The drink is flat because there was no carbonation more than 1,000 years ago. The brewers figure the alcohol content is about three per cent, similar to modern light beer.

The brew is not for sale — yet — but they are open to marketing an ancient batch in the future.

The ale is the beginning of research into how it and other beers were consumed by ancient societies. The initial batch has demonstrated how much brews have changed as technology around beer-making developed, Gibbs said.

“There were things we learned in terms of taste and technology and in processing, but I think the most important one was taste,” he said.

“The simple taste of that makes it quite clear how much the palate has changed over 2,000 years.”

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When Ontario declared a COVID-19 health emergency last spring, the first instinct of Ottawa entrepreneur Peter O’Blenis was to preserve cash.

“We basically stopped our discretionary spending,” said O’Blenis, the co-founder and CEO of Evidence Partners, which makes software for accelerating the review of scientific and medical literature, using artificial intelligence. “We cut investments in things meant to help us grow.”

It was a defensive posture born of experience. O’Blenis had 12 years earlier nearly been crushed by the global financial crisis. Another looked to be on the way.

In 2008, O’Blenis and his colleagues, Jonathan Barker and Ian Stefanison, hit a brick wall with their first venture, TrialStat, which helped hospitals manage patients’ electronic data. While TrialStat had secured $5.5 million in venture financing just a couple of years earlier, the founders had burned through most of it during a rapid expansion. When the financial world collapsed, so did their firm.

The trio played things far more conservatively with Evidence Partners, which has relied almost exclusively on customer revenues to finance expansion.

The caution proved unnecessary. Like so many other businesses, O’Blenis underestimated the government’s willingness to keep the economy afloat with easy money. Nor did he anticipate that COVID-19 would prove a significant catalyst for the firm’s revenues so soon.

Evidence Partners is hardly the only local firm with technology particularly suited for the war against COVID-19. Spartan Bioscience and DNA Genotek adapted existing products to create technology for identifying the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Ottawa-based units of Abbott Laboratories and Siemens Healthineers make portable blood analyzers that diagnose patients afflicted by the virus.

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Shepherds of Good Hope wants to expand ByWard Market operation with eight-storey housing complex

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The Shepherds of Good Hope plans to build an eight-storey building near its current shelter for the homeless in the ByWard Market that would include supportive housing for up to 48 people, a soup kitchen and a drop-in centre.

The organization says it wants to be part of the solution to the housing crisis that has fuelled a rise in homelessness in Ottawa.

People would be moved out of the emergency shelters and into their own tiny apartments in the complex, which would include a communal dining hall and staff available to help with mental health, addiction and medical problems, said Caroline Cox, senior manager of communications for the Shepherds.

Some residents in the neighbourhood are opposed, saying services for the homeless and vulnerable should not be concentrated in one area of the city.

“I was flabbergasted,” said homeowner Brian Nolan, who lives one block from the development proposed for 216 Murray St., where currently a one-story building houses offices for the Shepherds of Good Hope.

Nolan said that, in the 15 years he’s lived in the area, it has become increasingly unsafe, with home and car thefts, drug dealing, loitering, aggressive and erratic behaviour, urinating, defecating and vomiting on sidewalks and yards and sexual acts conducted in public on his dead-end street. Before he lets his son play basketball in the yard, he checks the ground for needles and his home security camera to see who is nearby.

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Carleton University Hosts the Forum Lecture: Towards a Feminist Post-COVID City

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evehe Carleton University Forum Lecture: Towards a Feminist Post-COVID City given by Leslie Kern launches Ottawa Architecture Week. Urban geographer, author and academic, Kern will discuss how the pandemic has highlighted long-standing inequalities in the design, use and inclusivity of urban spaces. The talk will share some of the core principles behind a feminist urban vision to inform a wider vision of justice, equity and sustainability.

When
: Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021 at 6:30 p.m.
Registration: https://alumni.carleton.ca/event-registration-architecture-forum-series-with-leslie-kern-2/.

About the Speaker

Kern holds a PhD in Women’s Studies from York University. She is currently an associate professor of Geography and Environment and director of Women’s and Gender Studies at Mount Allison University.

Kern is the author of two books on gender and cities, including Feminist City: Claiming Space in a Man-Made World (Verso). The book discusses how our cities have failed in terms of fear, motherhood, friendship, activism, the joy and perils of being alone, and also imagines what they could become.

Kern argues, “The pandemic has shown us that society can be radically reorganized if necessary. Let’s carry that lesson into creating the non-sexist city.”

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