5000 Year-Old Beer Recipe Discovered In China

5000 Year-Old Beer Recipe Discovered In China

A beer ‘recipe’ has been discovered by archeologists in China, which would make it one of the first known productions of the alcoholic beverage, in the world and the earliest in China.

5000 Year-old Beer Recipe

A treasure trove of ancient beer making equipment has been discovered at the Mijiaya dig location, on the Wei river in the Central Plain of China. The discovery has surprised the archeological teams, combining Stanford University, Brigham Young University (BYU) and two further Chinese institutions, due to the sheer age of the apparatus and one of the ingredients used.

They discovered jugs, pots and funnels, in a complete set required to produce the fermented beverage, and wrote about their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (PNAS)  “To our knowledge, our data provide the earliest direct evidence of in situ beer production in China, showing that an advanced beer brewing technique was established around 5,000 (years) ago,” they stated.

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Through analysis of the residue on the equipment, traces of grains and starches were discovered that indicate the drink was being brewed.  Ingredients of the ancient recipe include Broomcorn millet, barley (which is especially surprising and discussed later), Chinese pearly barley (sometimes referred to as Job’s tears) and tubers.

What is also interesting, is that it appears the techniques used to make the ‘liquid gold’ back then are remarkably similar to the processes used today. The sophisticated methods included a pottery stove, which when heated would have assisted in the breaking down of carbohydrates to sugar. The underground positioning where the treasures were found, would have been essential in temperature control too, as the enzymes that activate this breakdown cease to work at higher temperatures.

Beer History in China

An interesting question arises from the discovery; if the drink was being produced 5000 years ago, why does the earliest mention of beer in Chinese writings not appear until almost 2000 years later?

The limited (and probably localized) production would have made the beer a very valuable commodity, and most likely an important status symbol. It would certainly have been considered an unusual and extravagant drink at the time.


The fact barley traces were discovered is of interest because this crop was not grown in China (for food production) until a couple of millennia later. This means that it either was traded by locals in exchange for other crops, or grown in a very limited fashion for the specific purpose of beer making. The fact that barley was used in brewing before it was eaten has meant social historians have had to look again at theories that suggested beer came from using surplus crops.

It’s summertime

The grass does not cut itself and it’s often difficult to get your fat husband off the couch while he’s pretending to enjoy baseball. Without beer, for many, starting the lawnmower is hardly worth the ask without the simple reward of a cold beer on a hot day. Alcoholism is a spiteful, painful, family-breaking disease, but a man’s (or woman’s) reward for a hard day’s work is not something to be taken lightly. While Hilary Clinton will never win the hearts and minds of coal miners, a beer at the end of the shift often makes them forget, if only for a minute and in moderation, why they risk life and limb for this age old beverage. And let’s not forget, Chinese beer is particular disgusting!

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While studying economics, Brendan found himself comfortably falling down the rabbit hole of restaurant work, ultimately opening a consulting business and working as a private wine buyer. On a whim, he moved to China, and in his first week following a triumphant pub quiz victory, he found himself bleeding on the floor based on his arrogance. The same man who put him there offered him a job lecturing for the University of Wales in various sister universities throughout the Middle Kingdom. While primarily lecturing in descriptive and comparative statistics, Brendan simultaneously earned an Msc in Banking and International Finance from the University of Wales-Bangor. He's presently doing something he hates, respecting French people. Well, two, his wife and her mother in the lovely town of Antigua, Guatemala. <i>To contact Brendan or give him an exclusive, please contact him at [email protected]</i>
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