Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Birra Etrusca

You may have heard about the collaboration between Dogfish Head, Birra Del Borgo and Baladin called Etrusca. It’s part of the on-going work from Dr. Patrick McGovern and Dogfish Head brewery. Dr. McGovern has been studying residues inside ancient vessels to determine what our ancestors might have been drinking and storing inside them. His team’s analysis of the compounds found inside has resulted in the various ”Ancient Ales” produced by Dogfish Head. Beers like Jiahu, based on an ancient Chinese vessel, Theobroma, recreated from a Mayan container, Midas Touch, an Egyptian amphora and now Etrusca, bring to life the essence of what our forefathers might have been enjoying with a meal, with friends or during a ceremony. This particular brew was made with two-row malt, hazelnut flour, pomegranates, Italian chesnut honey, Delaware wildflower honey and clover honey.

Etrusca was created via the analysis of  vessels found in a 2,800 year-old Etruscan tomb. Once the compounds were detected the brewers decided to use three different materials to try to replicate what the Etruscans might have used as a fermentation container. They know they had access to bronze, wood and terra cotta. Dogfish used bronze, Baladin used wood and Del Borgo used terra cotta. Each material would impart differing qualities to the beer, so the results were keenly anticipated.

Bryan and I went to Del Borgo around the time Etrusca was released, but we had forgotten about that as we approached the brewery for Oyster Day. We only intended to stop by for a couple of hours because the brewer wasn't going to be there. It turned out he was there and the event was great fun with many beer industry people to meet and a wonderful brewery to explore. Wandering around inside we eventually came to the some fermenters and the barrel room. Immediately I saw behind the oyster-shuckers the terra cotta fermenters. I poked Bryan, “hey, you see those back there?” I reminded him of the experimental collaboration they were a part of.

Later, when the festival had quieted down we had a chance to walk right up to them and see them close. You could see where the fluid from inside had leaked out. Terra cotta is porous, so it breathes. Air goes in, fluid comes out-especially when under pressure. To anyone who knows a bit about brewing you know that process will lead to oxidization. When drunk fresh this could be a good thing, with a little time this could be a very bad thing. We shared a taste of a fresh bottle over dinner that night and it was delicious with a wonderful touch of tartness.

The bottle we brought back was admittedly a bit old by the time we got around to drinking it so it fell in the latter over-oxidized category. But I sure would like to try it again fresh. The underlying beer had a nice lemony tartness. Nothing crazy like some of the lacto-sours one might find; more like a nice Saison, perhaps?

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