Chicago's Field Museum has bottled the beer in collaboration with Off Color Brewing.

ancient chinese beer made at the field museum
Credit: Courtesy of Zachary James Johnston

If simply soaking up ancient history with your eyes, staring at never-ending halls of museum artifacts, sounds a bit stuffy to you, then The Field Museum might be able to cure what ails you… Or should we say “ales” you. For the second time in two years, the Chicago natural history museum has teamed up with local Off Color Brewing to make a beer inspired by the past.

Last year, museum researchers used findings from an archeological dig in Peru to help Off Color make “Wari,” a pink-hued concoction inspired by the kind of brew you might find during the reign of the Wari Empire from 600 to 1,000 AD. This time around, the science and brewing collaborators looked even further back into history, utilizing discoveries uncovered in Chinese artifacts excavated at digs in Taixi and a Changzikou tomb that were from the Late Shang/Western Zhou Dynasties (c.1600 and 722 BCE). The resulting beer, “QingMing,” was unveiled during an event at the museum earlier this month.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Field museum archeologists saw the potential for a new brewing project when they inspected the inner walls of ceramic jars they believed were involved in the production and serving of alcohol. Indeed, inside they discovered evidence of mold-based saccharification (the process of making starch into sugars) which the Chinese used to prepare rice for brewing. The researchers also found evidence of a wide range of other ingredients including things like hemp seeds, osmanthus flowers and honey. In the end, the brewers at Off Color had to modify their brewing equipment to properly mimic the saccharification process and then decided to make a final beer described as an “amalgam” of the different types of brews that were being produced at the time, in part because “many of the ingredients and flavorings being used at the time are not currently legal to use in beer production,” according to the museum.

The resulting beer – which used jasmine rice, jujubes, honey and lemon rinds – is described as having “a taste profile of peaches and lemon rind with fragrant aromas of tea, bubblegum and sake followed by an onslaught of complex fruit, herbal and floral character” before finishing “with the perception of nectar, honey and perfumed rice.”

“You can get narrow-minded in what you think of what is beer,” Off Color’s owner John Laffler told the Sun Times. “To have this cross-foundation of all human history, is really neat for us.”

Off Color Brewing’s QingMing is available in limited supplies at select outlets this month, as well as at the Field Museum’s Bistro Bar. Yes, this museum has a bar. Yes, this is your kind of museum.