Ancient Chinese Beer
Glasses of craft beer are placed underneath beer taps at microbrewery NBeer Pub in Beijing, China, March 6, 2016. Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Archaeologists have unearthed residue on pottery that suggest Chinese villagers shared beer about 5,000 years ago. It is the earliest evidence of beer brewing in ancient China. The findings also suggest barley was used in beer production long before it was grown for food. This ancient Chinese beer recipe and the pottery residue revealed that people in that era had already mastered an advanced beer brewing technique.

The beer contained elements from East as well as the West. The study has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Ingredients such as barley, tubers, Job’s tears (chewy grain) and broomcorn millet were fermented together. These ingredients have been found in the yellowish residue in wide-mouthed pots and pottery funnels. However, as the researchers do not know the exact ingredient proportions, they were not able to shed light on how the ancient beer tasted.

Lead author Jiajing Wang of Stanford University said that the discovery of barley was a surprise and that it definitely came from the West. It is the earliest sign of barley in archaeological materials from China. Tubers, millet and Jon’s tears came from China. Wang said that the beer may have tasted a bit sour and a bit sweet. Tubers lend a sweet taste whereas fermented cereal grains give a sour taste.

The study has revealed that barley came to China some 1,000 years earlier than previously thought. The artefacts were unearthed from an archaeological site at Mijaya, close to a tributary of the Wei River in northern China. The site includes two pits that date back to a time around 3,400-2,900 BC. The artefacts point towards brewing beer, filtration and underground storage. Even stoves have been discovered that were used to heat and mash grains.

Evidence of beer brewing has also been found around the same time in Egypt and Iran. The techniques that ancient Chinese people used were pretty advanced and they had applied same techniques and principles as brewers do today. The introduction of barley in Chinese drinks goes with the special role that fermented beverages had in social gatherings and as an exotic ingredient that would appeal to the elite.