Georgia: Cradle of…Beer!

Georgia being a cradle of wine is already old news, especially in the light of the recent discovery that Georgians were engaging in winemaking a whopping 8000 years ago, in the Neolithic period. However, veterans of winemaking that we might be, wine is by far not the only draught that Georgians can boast centuries of familiar history with. Take, for example, beer, one of the oldest beverages humans have produced.

“Beer as a brewing culture was introduced in Georgia from the countries of the Old East, Ancient Egypt, Iran and Mesopotamia, recognized as the earliest places where people started brewing it” – writes Prof. Eldar Nadiradze in his essay “Georgian Beer”. In mainland Georgia, wine enjoyed little competition, but in the mountains, where grapes are a rare commodity, Beer was a rather welcomed alternative, quickly becoming the number one drink for Georgian highlanders. Among traditional Georgian beers, Tushetian Aludi is the most known, a sort of transitional stepping stone between beer and wine. To this day, Tushetians are brewing Aludi, mostly at the summer religious feasts, called Atingenoba. It really begs a question: if the centuries-old Qvevri wine methodology is something we can make the world marvel at, why forsake Aludi, the brewing procedure of which also spans several centuries? Apparently, Tushetians are asking this question themselves, too. What’s more, some of them seem to have already found the answer. This is a story of one such man.

In recent years, the economic situation has seen a clear upturn in Tusheti, with much of the local population actively engaged in small and medium scale enteprises. Some of them pursue agriculture, some run family hotels and guesthouses, and then there are some who aim to attract tourists by reviving old, time-honored traditions.

68-year-old Giorgi Ichuaidze, from the village of Omalo, restored a traditional Tushetian brewery, where Aludi has been brewed for tens of years, to its full glory. Before that, the brewery was only used during festivities, with the building on the brink of ruin. Two huge copper cauldrons stand in the brewery as primordial leviathans, each of them able to accommodate 400 liters of beer.

“It’s was as much a business matter as that of principle and pride,” Ichuaidze tells us. “This is a traditional Tushetian brewery and they don’t build them like this anymore. At the beginning of the 20th century, you could find breweries like these in every Tushetian village. Today, this might be the only functioning one. It was built in 1920 and the cauldrons were made by two smith brothers.

As we said, breweries have been operating in Tusheti for centuries. Brewing beer is intertwined with yet another ancient Tushetian tradition: the Shultaoba fest, which is celebrated in Tusheti to this day. At Shultaoba, six families in each village take upon themselves to provide guests from any corner of the country with freshly brewed beer.

Restoring the brewery was no easy task, however. Ichuaidze’s finances were only sufficient to restore the roof. The next step was writing a project for the full-fledged restoration and pitching it to local and international donors alike. Caritas Czech Republic in Georgia approved the project and funded Giorgi’s endeavor, who in turn expanded the brewery by another room.

The determined enterpriser is not alone in his endeavors: he is assisted by young Tushetian, David Mozaidze, who also lives in Omalo and runs a guesthouse business. Together with David, “Grandpa Giorgi” gets a helping hand from his 22-year-old grandson, his namesake Giorgi, who recently graduated in the UK and has come back to his country as, per his words, this is “where he sees his future”. It’s young people like these in whose hands the future of Tusheti lies.

The restored brewery hosted numerous guests until the very end of Tusheti’s tourist season. The Aludi, which is brewed using barley malt, the traditional component of Tushetian beer, has a particular, sour taste that you can never mistake. According to tradition, women aren’t allowed in places where Aludi is made, or, to be more precise, beer for men and women are brewed in separate locations. You can taste Aludi at the guesthouse ran by the Ichuaidze family and in nearby café, Sakhavitse, where, together with Aludi, you can enjoy a delicacy of Tushetian cuisine: Khavitsi.

“We had our first guests at the Tushetoba fest. More than 100 liters of beer were sold at 5 GEL per liter. Not to boast, but the guests loved it and I hope to offer Aludi to more tourists when the new season comes,” says Ichuaidze, with the smile of a man who’s done the deed.

Vazha Tavberidze

20 November 2017 18:50