In the News: A Beer for Sue

The reconstructed skeleton of Sue at the Field Museum, Chicago (Photo by Connie Ma, National Geographic)

If you enjoyed my first post about the archaeology of beer and wine you may be interested to know that the Field Museum, Chicago’s natural history museum, recently announced that they are teaming up with Toppling Goliath Brewing Co. out of Iowa to create a beer that celebrates Sue, their famous Tyrannosaurus rex fossil. You can read the article from the Chicago Tribune here. The new beer, “Pseudo Sue” will be a single hop pale ale and available at the museum starting in January.  This is a unique blend of paleontology and anthropology – using the human invention of fermentation to promote paleontological education. People have long been fascinated with prehistoric predators and “Sue” is the most complete (about 90%) and best preserved fossil of her species found to date.

According to Megan Williams, the Field Museum’s director of business enterprises, the new collaboration is about education. As she is quoted in the Chicago Tribune article, “When you’re learning by tasting an ancient beer recipe, not just reading something, that’s another mechanism for experiencing a culture. It’s a fun way to reach a demographic that museums traditionally have a harder time reaching.”  I wholeheartedly agree with her and was anxious to see what the ingredients of the beer would be – perhaps they had uncovered 65 million year old hops?

Alas, I suspect not. But some of the ingredients may give a nod to Sue’s paleoenvironemnt.

Humulus lupulus, the common hop (Photo credit: University of Michigan CLIMBERS)

From the Toppling Goliath Brewing Co. website, PsuedoSue features the Citra hop, with aromas of grapefruit, citrus, mango, and evergreen. Sue lived during the Cretaceous Period, about 145 to 65 million years ago, in a world that looked much different – the continents were closer together, atmospheric carbon levels were higher, and mammals were just starting to appear. During the Late Cretaceous (260-70 million years ago), gymnosperms became a dominant plant type (Pires & Dolan 2012). Gymnosperms are a group of seed producing plants in which the seed is unenclosed or naked – “gymnos” being Greek for naked – like pines or even evergreens. The Early Cretaceous (145-100 million years ago) saw the arrival of basal angiosperms, magnoliids, early monocots, and early eudicots (Pires & Dolan 2012). These are all varieties of flowering plants that differ in structure. Eudicots are those flowering plants that have three pollen grain furrows and today include such common plants as grapefruit, mango, and common hops. While these specific fruits would not have been contemporaneous with Sue, their ancestors certainly were. The common or European hop, Humulus lupulus, whose varieties we now use to make beer, evolved 1.25 – 1 million years ago (Murakami et al. 2006), quite a while after Sue and friends were roaming the earth.

While I always appreciate craft beer used for science education I do, however, take issue with the logo design for PseudoSue, posted below:


Do you notice anything about the T.rex on the label? It looks pretty much exactly like those in the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World movies. That wouldn’t be such a big deal if new evidence of the past few decades pointed to a different image of dinosaurs. Jurassic Park was an achievement not just for movie special effects but for science, praised for a fairly accurate portrayal of dinosaurs as current evidence suggested. Many paleontologists criticized Jurassic World, however, for making the dinosaurs look the same, despite evidence that many dinosaurs actually had feathers. For a few decades now, paleontologists have been discovering new evidence confirming that dinosaurs are more bird like and that theropods (a group that includes velociraptors and T. rex) were feathered predators.  Depicting a Jurassic Park style dino on the PsuedoSue label not only reinforces an image of the dinosaur most paleontologists now believe to be false but may also reinforce an inaccurate perception about how branches of science that study the past really operate. Many people probably realize that fossils/bones are examined after they are initially excavated. But this evidence is also reexamined and reanalyzed – many, many times. As new methods are developed or new theories presented scientists can learn more even from fossils that were unearthed before Jurassic Park stunned everyone in theaters. This could have been an opportunity for the Field Museum to highlight new discoveries of paleontology as they celebrate their famous resident T. rex. And as much as I love Jurassic Park, the book and the original movie, it is important to realize that even the study of 65 million year old subjects is dynamic. But as a beer lover, I am still interested in sampling this dino brew.



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