Travis Rupp calls himself a "beer archaeologist."

(Courtesy of Travis Rupp)

Beer has ancient roots: Romans drank it like water. Egyptian slaves were paid in beer. Vikings didn't set sail without it. Mayans brewed it from corn. It has been an important beverage for more than 8,000 years. And scholars -- yes, there are beer scholars -- are delving into that sudsy history.

University of Colorado adjunct professor and Avery Brewing research director Travis Rupp is one of the few beer scholars, or as he calls it, "beer archaeologists," in the world. He delves into the excavated artifacts of ancient breweries and pores through ancient documents relating to beer consumption  and brewing.

Rupp, 36, is using the information he has gleaned to write a book on beer archaeology and also to devise recipes based on ingredients used in ancient brewing. Modern aficianados of pumpkin, coffee and green chile beers might be able to relate: The ancients included a grain called kamut, gingerbread plums, acorns, elderberries, corn, dates and figs in their beers.  The centuries-old beers might not please modern palates, though, because they were flat and their alcohol content was very low -- about 1.5 percent.

Rupp so far has made a Mycenaean beer called Nestor's Cup for Avery. He is currently working on Egyptian and Peruvian beers. Rupp is also brewing up barrels of history for the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. He made an Egyptian beer to go with the exhibit of mummies and a Mayan beer when the exhibit focused on the ancient Mayans. He is at work on a Viking brew to go with an upcoming Viking exhibit.

So, based on Rupp's studies, and on his brewing experiments, how does ancient beer taste? Some re-creations have tasted terrible, Rupp admits, even though he used some modern brewing techniques and carbonation to make them more palatable. But some, like Nestor's Cup, have been hits with modern beer drinkers.   

Rupp's ancient beer interest grew from his teaching of Greek and Roman archaeology, art history, Egyptology and anthropology. (He hopes to add beer archaeology to that list.) But his interest germinated on an Iowa farm. His father was a honey farmer who made mead and wine and bought his son his first beer-brewing kit when he was still a teen.

 Rupp spoke with Colorado Matters host Nathan Heffel.