This week, one of craft beer’s biggest rock stars joins forces with the man known as “the Indiana Jones of fermented beverages” for a special tasting session at the Penn Museum in West Philly.
The former is Sam Calagione, founder and president of Delaware’s Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. The latter is Dr. Pat McGovern, biomolecular archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania. The reason for their talk? The museum’s Golden Age of King Midas exhibit, which contains the artifacts that spurred the creation of Dogfish’s popular “Ancient Ales” series of beers more than 16 years ago.
It was March of 2000 when Dr. Pat McGovern jokingly issued a challenge to a roomful of brewers during a “Roasting and Toasting” dinner in honor of late beer maven Michael Jackson. McGovern had recently determined the chemical makeup of residue in drinking vessels discovered in a tomb at the ancient site of Gordion in Central Turkey. (Originally thought be the tomb of King Midas, it is now believed to be the tomb of his father, Gordius.) The most interesting thing about the residue was that it was neither beer, nor wine, nor mead, but a combination of all three.
The task for the brewers? Reverse engineer the ancient beverage — and more importantly, make it palatable for modern drinkers.
He didn’t expect any real interest, but he’d underestimated brewers’ willingness to take on a dare. When he arrived at his laboratory at 9 a.m. the next morning, he found a crowd of 20 people waiting for him to discuss the ingredients. In the weeks that followed, experimental brew after experimental brew showed up at Dr. Pat’s doorstep. Ultimately, Sam Calagione’s recipe for a modified braggot (a mead/beer hybrid) was triumphant, and Dogfish Head Midas Touch was born.
The collaboration marked the start of a fruitful friendship. Since then, Calagione and Dr. Pat — as he’s called by his students and just about everyone else who knows him — have created eight other beverages using techniques and ingredients discovered during archaeological expeditions. They’ve all been released by Dogfish Head as part of the “Ancient Ales” series, and next year, McGovern will be releasing a book on the project’s history.
The book, “Liquid Time Capsules,” will include a chapter for each collaboration, a few anecdotes on the process and the partnership, and finally, a recipe, a meal pairing and even an atmospheric pairing for each brew — things like musical suggestions and lighting levels. To encourage readers to jump in and try actually brewing these drinks, Dr. Pat teamed up with Xtreme Brewing in Delaware, which will create and sell kits for each recipe.
Although Calagione and McGovern’s tasting session sold out weeks ago, plenty of tickets are available for the Midas Touch exhibit ($15-$20), which runs through fall.
In addition to the various drinking vessels that inspired the Dogfish beers, the exhibit features more than 120 of what the museum calls “dazzling objects” — elaborate gold jewelry, various statuettes, intricately painted pottery and what’s thought to be the oldest colored stone mosaic ever made.
The Golden Age of King Midas runs through November 27, 2016, at the Penn Museum, 3260 South St., Philadelphia.