QUESTS don't come much more appealing than this. But while for most people the quest ends in the nearest bar, biomolecular archaeologist Patrick McGovern has gone much further. He has spent decades travelling the world and journeying back in time, scraping dirty crusts from ancient cauldrons, retrieving dribbles of liquid from sealed jars and extracting residues from the pores of prehistoric pots, all in the name of investigating the origins of ancient alcoholic beverages.
After he famously identified the world's oldest wine - a resinated grape wine found in two clay jars from the Neolithic village of Hajji Firuz in Iran, in 2004 he found an even older sample in China. At a 9000-year-old site called Jiahu on the banks of the Yellow river, he recovered the remains of grog made from rice, hawthorn fruit, grapes and honey. Another of his recent revelations is that the people of Central America got drunk on fermented chocolate, giving new meaning to the word chocoholic.