“My goal is to preserve history”: Archaeologist recreates ancient beers

Posted at 4:30 PM, Jun 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-01 16:15:19-04

Travis Rupp leads two rather different lives in Boulder, Colorado. One as an adjunct professor of classics, art history and anthropology at the University of Colorado. The other, as a beer archaeologist at Avery Brewing or more specifically…

“Innovation and wood cellar manager and beer archaeologist,” Rupp told “CBS This Morning: Saturday’s” Dana Jacobson.

Rupp says its really two hobbies, a love of the classics and a love of beer, which turned into two jobs. One that didn’t really exist until Rupp and Avery Brewing created it.

“I know of a few other scholars that work in the field of ancient beer,” Rupp said. “I’m the only one that works for a brewery, recreating these ancient beers.”

So how far back does beer date?

“It’s an ongoing debate,” Rupp said. “Potentially 13,000 years ago they were making beer. The ancient Romans had no word for beer. There is no word for beer in Latin. There’s no Greek word for beer either. But they defined the alcoholic beverage by whatever the locals called it from the location it came from and it was beer.”

Travis Rupp / CBS News

While the professor wanted to learn, the brewer wanted to taste.

“I think part of it was that home brewer mentality, with home brewing it was always experimentation,” Rupp said. “When you start looking into the textbooks, sometimes they’ll talk about alcohol that was drank by a pharaoh or an emperor or something like that and it’s always wine. Wine, wine, wine. Except the Egyptians who tended– or who tend to talk quite a bit about drinking beer. And so I got really curious and I wanted to learn more about the average Joe.”

So Rupp set out on a path to recreate the beers that an average Joe of the past may have been drinking. And that’s where the longtime home-brewer leaned on his professorial background, formulating the first of Avery Brewing’s “Ales of Antiquity.”

“I had to dig into the textbooks in different ways, physically travel to the locations where we recreated the beers, look at the modern culture, and then start working your way back to the past,” Rupp said. “What was readily available for people to use all the time of these ingredients?”

Rupp offered up his first recreation in August 2016, an ancient Greek beer about 3,300 years old called Nestor’s Cup.

“The public response was amazing,” Rupp said. “I mean, I started getting calls from local museums and being asked to put on dinners to talk about this whole process of recreating it… I think honestly they were just really curious to see what it tasted like and had very, very low expectations for it.”

Jacobson tried one of Rupp’s recreations and said it was good.

“It’s sweeter than I thought it would be,” Jacobson said.

Nestor’s Cup led to seven more Ales of Antiquity over the past three years from ancient Peruvian beer to a thousand year old Viking bear called Ragnarsdrapa And one of the most popular ancient ales, Beersheba, with roots in Israel, Palestine and Jordan.

“I really take a two-folded approach to it,” Rupp said. “I do read a lot of literature on the topic and try to look at anything about the cuisine that we know. And then I’ll go to the excavation reports and look for site analyses, archaeochemical analyses and botanical analyses, looking for, actually, evidence of those grains, those items, those things that they would’ve used in beer present.

Rupp and Avery Brewing’s most recent creation, George Washington Porter, released in February, is his first American offering. No matter the origin, Rupp says there is a common challenge when it comes to taste.

“I can’t get a kernel that’s 4,000 years old that’s gonna be– that’s gonna taste exactly like that,” Rupp said. “So I have to get as close as I can.”

As far as why the general public is buying into the past?

“It makes it more tangible to them,” Rupp said. “Makes the– the ancients very similar to them in some ways, you know–”

And for Rupp that’s more than enough reason to keep toiling away at both of his jobs.

“As a lover of history, archaeology, and I’m also an educator and I love to give people an experience,” Rupp said. “My goal is to preserve history. They help me preserve that history by drinking it.”