Scientists make “Celtic beer” using analysis of pollen from burial site
Czech scientists, together with a small experimental brewer, have come up with the country’s first “Celtic beer”. Called TauriALE, the recreation of the ancient alcoholic beverage was achieved using laboratory analysis of pollen from an early Celtic burial site in Moravia.
In 2020 and 2021, scientists from Charles University in Prague and Palacký University in Olomouc made excavations at the well-known archaeological site of Býčí Skála in the Moravian Karst, which dates back to the Early Iron Age.
The site was discovered back in 1867 and is one of the most important cult and burial centres of the Hallstatt people – the early Celtic inhabitants of central Europe.
The aim of the excavations was to collect samples of the soil for detailed laboratory analysis, says Zuzana Golec Mírová, one of the members of the team:
“We discovered the remains of burial chambers, which were quite common in the Hallstat period and inside those chambers there was soil, as well as organic and botanical remains. We took samples for chemical analysis, but also for pollen analysis, which turned out to be crucial.”
The analysis of the pollen, carried out by the Brno Botanical Institute, has revealed traces of millet and various herbs in the samples, which are ingredients that were commonly used by Celts to make beer.
“Usually in the prehistorical beer there are ingredients used for the taste and ingredients used for preserving the content. There is meadowsweet or filipendula ulmaria, sage or salvia officinalis and mugwort or Artemisia vulgaris, which make the sour bitter taste of the beer of course.
“What was quite unexpected was the discovery of clover, which is quite unusual and isn’t usually used in beer. But then we realised that it's most common pollen found in the honey. So it is possible that this beer was sweetened with honey.”
Zuzana Golec-Mírová says scientists are convinced that the raw materials for brewing beer were placed in the graves as burial gifts, which was a common practice among the Celts and other ancient peoples.
“In this period it was quite usual for the people to equip their deceased with all the things that they might need in the afterlife, which means food, ceramic vessels, jewellery, weapons and so on.
“This site is really special. It is a site where the elite from the Hallstat period was buried, including princes and princesses. So they wanted to have something to eat and drink in the afterlife.”
The first batch of TauriALE – as the scientists have named it – was produced in cooperation with a micro-brewery called Lesia. According to Mrs. Golec Mírová, consumers will probably be surprised by its taste:
“It’s a little bit different from today’s beers because it is not based on hops. The herbs give it a bitter and sour flavour and the taste is similar to gruit, which is a type of hop-free beer.”
In the future, TauriALE should be produced in the Eureka brewery, owned by the Palacký University in Olomouc and will be available on special occasions.