Elaine Meinel Supkis
Dear readers, I hope and pray we all have a very happy new year and we can hope that rather than do stupid things, we all do smart things and failing that, we should get sloshed or stoned or pig out or whatever we can do to drown our woes or fly as high as a kite. To celebrate this, I bring here a story about the earliest brew in the Emerald Isle: prehistoric beer breweries discovered by archeologists.
Two Irish archaeologists have tried to brew beer like their ancestors used to make -- 3,000 years ago -- in an effort to uncover the purpose of common, ancient stone mounds.
It was a rough morning. Hung over after a night out in Galway, archaeologist Billy Quinn was nursing a headache over a hearty Irish breakfast, pondering the mysteries of his excavation site and thinking with a measure of self interest about mankind's age-old quest for mind-altering substances.
Then it hit him: His excavation site was a brewery.
My husband and I have used several ancient ways of cooking and brewing over the years. For a decade, my only way to bake things like bread, was to either make a kiln outside and feed it with fire or later, a Victorian wood burning stove. We also used a pit in the ground next to a spring as a summer refrigerator and the back door snowbank as the winter freezer.
One memorable New Year's party, we put two bottles of champagne which one of our guests brought up the mountain to our tent complex, in the snow to chill. Only, we all got rather drunk on the homemade brew from the cask and the temperature outside fell to -5 degrees below zero. I suddenly remembered, at midnight, where it was stowed. I ran outside and fetched the bottles which looked more like something from Siberia rather than France.
My husband popped it open and out poured frothy ice! 'New Year's snow cones!' I announced. Well, we ate the champagne. I even briefly thought of selling Champagne Icies from a cart in summer but that was too illegal since we found out , we could get drunk on this glace vino.
Another New Years, Chips, one of our oxen, fell and lay in the field under the old oak tree. His brother ox stood over him as he slowly died. I sat on the ground and held his huge head and he looked at me with his big brown eyes and tried to lick me in a last show of affection. That same night, Putin pushed Yelsin out of his office with little ceremony. It seemed somehow fitting that this would be the final act of the millennium.
This year, due to the snow storms up here, everyone came yesterday for sampling of homebrew and fun. One of our dogs snitched a slice of ham from the kitchen and caused an uproar as she tried to run out with it. I learn to keep on my toes, trying to outsmart or outrun various wild and domestic creatures.
Today, I had to go off and do some emergency repairs on the in-law's house and on the way there, an owl swooped down and nearly hit my truck as we drove through a deep, dark, forest. Then, on the way home, deer kept running in front of me. Finally, we came back to the mountain. On the road up, yet more deer came bounding over the snow drifts. nearly crashing into me. If nothing else, this place has plenty of Bambi in the hoof [hint-hint].
The story about how some scientists recreated ancient beers shows us an important lesson: the people who first figured out these beers were creative. They figured out how to have fun in between fighting each other, raiding cattle, seducing comely young women, raising hellish children and singing long ballads about the adventures of heroes and gods. They lived and had a lot of fun and hard times but the main thing is, they lived!
As someone who has lived in a very primitive life for many years, not for a week or a summer but years and years, I assure everyone, doing these things such as brewing a beer based on harvesting wild herbs and flowers and the satisfaction and joy one gets from all this is indescribable. My children and I have collected wild strawberries or puff mushrooms the size of a loaf of bread or wild black berries and used them in various brews and breads. We used these things with the honey from our bees who moved into our hive from the wild, to make mead, the drought of Valhalla. With virtually no money, we lived very full and even charming lives. We had sheep and oxen, a crazy war horse named Sparky, dogs, chickens, ducks, turkeys and bees. And the cats, of course, to keep the mice at bay.
As we herded our domestic bronze turkeys around, wild turkeys would come out of the woods, heads craned as high as possible, to see these birds following me about, as I did my chores After discussing this strange affair, the wild turkeys noted that I would often throw food to the domestic turkeys. Soon, they joined in and began to follow me about, too.
One day, I was pushing a wheel barrel across the hillside. The turkeys, wild and domestic, were following me, making happy peep-teep sounds. A herd of deer were browsing under the old apple tree. They watched as I came closer and closer. Normally, if the wild turkeys make their danger sound which is like a trill, the deer bolt. But the turkeys were making happy noises. So the deer stood still as I got closer and closer. Soon, I was pushing this big wheel barrel right into them. So they backed off and still watched me. At this point, Fluff, my cat, came meowing out of the woods, looking to be carried in my arms. This scared the deer off.
Our ancestors lived in the midst of wild and some domestic animals. They lived in the wind, rain and snow. They made love, had children and told stories and laughed. The beer they drank probably was inspired by beer created by the Phoenician sailors who went all the way over to the Isles seeking tin for bronze making. For these ancient beer brewing stone remains are from the Bronze Age which was the age of exploration and civilizations such as the glorious Cretan empire or ancient Egypt and the Mesopotamian city-states. Beer brewing is quite ancient and runs alongside the domestication of barely and dates. Wherever the Phoenicians traveled and traded, beer brewing blossomed. For example, I believe that the Norse didn't drink beer but only meade. When beer brewing moved northwards, then they saw the wisdom of this sort of brewing.
When I was a child, the tribes in southern Arizona and northern Mexico would take huge clay pots, fill them with water and parts of yucca plants and then hang the pots in the sun with a wood lid. It would then ferment and this was the beginning of techuila. Like with the Scots and Irish and many others, modern chemistry has been used to distill this early stuff and turn it into gut-burning potency! The tools used for this came out of the alchemist's laboratories of ancient lore. The attempt to turn lead into gold failed but turning mushy mash into a golden liquid, this was the next best thing if not even better than gold! And certainly, it has made a lot of gold for the brewers!
So tonight, let us salute our ancestors who were so clever, they tamed animals [except for cats, they moved in and took over], cultivated the grasses and herbs and learned the lore of the bees in order to bring us modern civilization. We must thank them for all this and strive to honor them all by living our lives in similar fashion. So eat, drink and be merry! Life is granted to us all so we can look at the stars at night and marvel about the gods and in day, go hunting, play with the children and brew more drinks!
I also want to thank all the kind readers who have sent us financial support this last year. I greatly appreciate the consideration and hope I can be of some small use in the new year! We have so many things to discuss! And of course, in may own haphazard way, we will look into the future from our perch on the mountain peak of the past.