The world isn't going to end next Friday, but Dec. 21, 2012, has come to be known as the Mayan apocalypse because that's when the Mayan calendar ends. As scientists have told us repeatedly, the end of the calendar year was actually a time for celebration and renewal — the equivalent of an ancient New Year's Eve. So breweries around the country have decided to celebrate with — what else? — beer.
The alcoholic drinks the Maya concocted in Central America hundreds of years ago aren't quite like the beer we quaff today. There's archaeological evidence that they brewed something like a wine from cacao pods and included ingredients such as honey, chilies and flowers. And descendants of the Maya still make a fermented corn drink called pozol. Pozol can be sweetened with sugar, made bitter with chilies and salt, or colored with annatto.
But now modern brewers have taken these ingredient lists and come up with their own inventions.
Newport Storm in Rhode Island created its Annual Release '12 as an "ode to the Mayan gods," says Taylor Butzbach, the brewery's public relations manager. After deciding to honor the Maya with its yearly special brew, the company's small staff came up with a list of ingredients that it considered Mayan — corn, chilies, cocoa nibs — and its brewers refined the recipe with a touch of sweetness.
"The [blue] agave we used in it came towards the end," Butzbach says. The brewers tasted the beer they were brewing and "noticed it was superspicy." The blue agave, native to Mexico, helped to rein in the kick, she says.
At Great Basin Brewing in Reno, Nev., owner and brewmaster Tom Young was also inspired by the Maya. His Mayan Maybe? (tagline: Brewed for the apocalypse. Or not.) contains cocoa nibs, honey, maize, vanilla beans and habanero chilies. "We decided to look at the Mayan culture and figure out what they would make," Young says.
The result is "a very drinkable beer," he says. "It really comes through why chilies and chocolate are such a good combination."
Beer enthusiasts may have some trouble tracking down these Maya-inspired beers, as they have been brewed only in small batches. Young says bottles of Mayan Maybe? have already sold out, though the company has kept back some kegs for an End of the World party at its Sparks Brewery next Friday.
Lucky drinkers might also be able to find a rare bottle of Theobroma from Delaware's Dogfish Head. That beer, inspired by a prehistoric chocolate brew and created with the assistance of University of Pennsylvania alcohol archaeologist Patrick McGovern, is released only once each year. It last went on sale in April.
The idea that the world will end next Friday is merely a "fun work of fiction," as Neil deGrasse Tyson said in 2009. Need more proof? At the ancient Mayan site of La Corona in Guatemala, archaeologists recently found an inscription calling the date the end of the calendar cycle, not the end of time.
But not all brewers inspired by the end of time went with a strictly Mayan theme. Elysian Brewing Co. in Seattle has been releasing its Twelve Beers of the Apocalypse one by one on the 21st of each month since January.
It started the series by asking, "If you're a brewer, and the end of the world is coming, what are the 12 beers you want to make?" says Joe Bisacca, Elysian's CEO and founder. At that time, he says, "you should brew whatever you want."
The result has been a creative list of alcoholic brews with ingredients like sour persimmons, dandelion leaves, yerba mate and five different kinds of chili peppers. Some ingredients have caused problems during brewing. "The blood orange puree was interesting," Bisacca says, because "the yeast ate it like crazy."
Elysian will sell mixed cases of each of the 12 beers to raise money for charity. And all of them will be available at Elysian's end-of-the-world party on Thursday. It's being held on that day "just in case" the world really does end next Friday, Bisacca says.
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