National Geographic : 2017 Feb
32 national geographic • february 2017 sausages. France started making wine in earnest only after it was conquered by the Romans (as did most of Europe) and has never looked back—but the French are also famously fond of cheese. For a long time that’s about how most historians and archaeologists have regarded beer and wine: as mere consumables, significant ones to be sure, but not too different from sausages or cheese, except that overconsumption of alcohol is a far more destructive vice. Alcoholic beverages were a by-product of civilization, not central to it. Even the website of the German Brewers’ Federa- tion takes the line that beer was likely an offshoot of breadmaking by the first farmers. Only once the craft blossomed at medieval abbeys like Wei- henstephan did it become worth talking about. Zarnkow is one of a group of researchers who over the past few decades have challenged that story. He and others have shown that alcohol is one of the most universally produced and If you’re a beermaker in Germany, Martin Zarnkow is a guy you want to know. Students come to his department at the Technical University of Munich because it’s one of the few places in this nation of beer drinkers to get a degree in brewing science. Some of Germany’s biggest breweries come to Zarnkow to troubleshoot funky tastes, develop new beers, or just purchase one of his hundreds of strains of yeast. His lab is secured with coded door locks and filled with sophisticated chemical equipment and gene sequencers. But today he’s using none of that. Instead I find him down the hall, hunched over an oven in the employee kitchen, poking what looks like a pan of mushy granola cookies with a black plastic spatula. The cookies are made from brewer’s malt—sprouted, toasted barley grains— mixed with wheat flour and a few spoonfuls of sourdough starter. Pouring a coffee, Zarnkow tells me that his plan today is to re-create beer from a 4,000 -year-old Sumerian recipe. Zarnkow, who started his career as a brewer’s apprentice, is also an eminent beer historian. He’s a big man with a full salt-and-pepper beard, ruddy cheeks, a booming voice, and a belly that strains the buttons on his short-sleeved plaid shirt. Put him in a brown habit and he’d be well cast as a medieval monk, the one in charge of stocking the abbey with barrels of ale. The for- mer abbey next door, for example: Zarnkow’s building shares a hilltop, overlooking the Munich airport, with the Weihenstephan brewery, which was founded by Benedictine monks in a . D. 1040 and is the oldest continually functioning brewery in the world. You don’t have to be a regular at an Oktober- fest to know that Germany has a long history with beer. But Germany also has a long history with By Andrew Curry Photographs by Brian Finke In parts of South America the corn beer known as chicha has been a staple for thousands of years. Brewing it has traditionally been women’s work. A page from a 16th-century Spanish chronicle made in Peru shows a noblewoman serving chicha to an Inca emperor, who raises it to toast the sun god, Inti.