Dogfish Head Brewery and brewery founder Sam Calagione have long been a pioneers in the craft beer industry, but where they truly set themselves apart is their Ancient Ale project. Sam and molecular archaeologist Dr. Pat McGovern have studied the residues left on ancient storage and drinking vessels to get an idea of what was used in ancient alcohol products. Then they use what they know of ancient techniques for that culture to reproduce a beer that might resemble what an ancient person was drinking. There are many beers in this series including beers based off of Egyptian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and Finnish records.
Birra Etrusca Bronze is based on of residue they found in Estruscan artifacts. The Etruscans were a people who lived in what is now Tuscany in Italy. They proceeded the Romans, were later rivals to the early Republic, and were eventually absorbed into Rome. Dogfish Head collaborated with Birra del Borgo and Birra Baladin, two Italian craft brewers, to create this beer. Together, they used a very exotic list of ingredients:
“The backbone of Birra Etrusca comes from two-row malted barley and an heirloom Italian wheat. Specialty ingredients include hazelnut flour, pomegranates, Italian chestnut honey, Delaware wildflower honey and clover honey. A handful of whole-flower hops are added, but the bulk of the bitterness comes from gentian root and the sarsaparilla-like Ethiopian myrrh resin.”
This is the official wording from Dogfish Head. Here is a direct link to Birra Etrusca’s page. For an additional twist, each of the 3 breweries will be brewing the beer using a different material as a nod to ancient techniques. Dogfish Head used bronze. Birra Baladin used wood. Birra del Borgo used terra cotta (clay).
Appearance: A bright clear brown/amber. Light tan head which quickly dissipates.
Aroma: Honey, sharp fruit (pomegranate), spicy, dried fruit, earthy.
Taste: Floral, fruity, dried fruit, earthy spiciness with a light nuttiness to the finish. There is a nice balance.
Overall Impressions: This was a very interesting beer. It may not have been my cup of tea, as they say, but it’s a beer certainly worth trying. There is a whole host of interesting and unique flavors created by the ingredients and ancient materials. As someone who studied Greek and Roman history in college, it was exciting to try a beer associated with the ancient world. You’ll either love this fun project, or at worst get a chance to try something entirely original to the modern beer world. I’ll certainly be seeking out the Baladin and del Borgo versions as well.
Availability: In limited quantities where special Dogfish Head beers are sold.