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Early French Brewed Their Own Beer

June 15, 2011

Not only is Mediterranean France known worldwide for its famous wine-growing regions, but evidence of beer making has been discovered as far back as the 5th century BC, according to analyses from the Roquepertuse excavation site in Provence.

Laurent Bouby from the CNRS ““ Centre de Bio-Archeologie et d’Ecology in Montepellier, France and his colleagues found the presence of poorly preserved barley grains as well as equipment and other remains of deliberate malting in the home that suggest the French had an early passion for brewing beer.

Bouby’s team analyzed three samples of sediment from the excavations that were performed in the 1990s. Two samples were from the contents of a ceramic vessel and from a pit; and one sample came from the floor of a dwelling, close to a hearth and oven.

All three samples had carbonized plant remains that were dominated by barley, which were poorly preserved with 90 percent of the sample predominantly sprouted. This suggests that the grains were carbonized at the end of the malting process and before the grinding of dry malt.

The team says that the neighboring oven was likely used to stop the germination process at the desired level for beer making, by drying and roasting the grain.

Equipment found at the Roquepertuse dwelling suggests that the habitants soaked the grain in vessels, and then it was spread out and turned on the flat paved floor area during germination.

Germination was ceased by using the oven to dry the grain, and domestic grindstones were used to grind the malted grain. Finally, the hearths and containers were most likely used as fermentation and storage.

“The Roquepertuse example suggests that beer was really produced within the context of domestic activities,” the authors conclude.

“Compared to other archaeobotanical and archaeological evidence, it contributes to portraying a society which combined an intricate use of various alcoholic beverages including beer, which was probably of long-standing local tradition, and wine, which was, at least in part, promoted by colonial contacts with Mediterranean agents.”

The full study is published online in the Springer journal Human Ecology.

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