Many beers have quirky origin stories, but the ones Travis Rupp brews come with epics that stretch on for centuries. Rupp is a classics lecturer at the University of Colorado Boulder and a brewer at Avery Brewing Company in Boulder, where his job title is beer archaeologist—he makes new beers based on ancient recipes.
Rupp’s process begins with deep research. He spends days in libraries, “reading a lot of journals, reading a lot of history books. But where I get a lot of my ideas is archaeological reports. I’ll look for analyses from excavations that point to certain plant life, or see if they were processing grains in a certain way.” Then, he goes to the place where the beer was made and conducts on-site research, looking for evidence in museums, the natural environment, and the local cultures that exist today.
Rupp’s first beer for Avery, released in September 2016, was called Nestor’s Cup, an Iliad reference and a nod to the beer’s roots in Mycenaean Greece. The ingredients included figs, acorn flour, and elderberries—not exactly familiar tastes for a modern drinker.
“I had no idea what it was going to taste like. I wasn’t sure what the wild yeast would do to the flavor profile,” Rupp says, before adding, with an exuberant chuckle, “But we decided to just go for it.”
Nestor’s Cup turned out to be rich, slightly tart, and fruity—and instantly popular, selling out its first tank in 10 weeks. Since then, Rupp has made three more ancient beers: Khonsu Im-Heb, from Egypt around 1100 B.C.; Pachamama, from the Peruvian Andes, circa 1200 A.D.; and, in collaboration with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, an ale called Ragnarsdrápa, inspired by ninth-century Vikings. Avery calls them the Ales of Antiquity, and with each launch, Rupp hosts a lecture, with a dinner and beer pairing.
Sometimes the historic techniques and ingredients have disappeared, but often they’re still in use. That isn’t to say Rupp can use them for his purpose—the small-batch methods may not translate well to the scale of Avery’s output, or his machinery may not be able to handle the ingredients.