Thag really was starting to enjoy the Grunka gathering. His mate, Onga, was behaving herself, and even the new religion of his tribe’s shaman, Weasel-Scratch-Face-Brother wasn’t bothering him anymore.
Every fifth or sixth summer, depending on the position of the stars, all of the Grunka clans would gather and share their stories, swap items (sometimes mates too) and have a bit of a prehistoric party.
As part of the swapping, Thag hoped to learn to make a new drink invented by the Drunka Grunkas; a delectable potage they called “beer”. He had tried to exchange his mate, Onga, for this training, but alas, even the most inebriated tribe in the Grunka clan had heard of her infidelities and general shrewishness. Instead, he agreed to travel home with the Drunka Grunkas and do a special cave painting for them.
He just had to get the Elders of his tribe, the Thunka Grunkas, to agree.
“So why do you want to return with the Drunka tribe when the Gathering ends?” their most ancient and wise Elder, Methusalag, asked him.
“Thag want learn make beer.”
“What is beer?”
Thag had brought a skin of it around, and shared it with the Elder Council. Methusalag drank first.
“But Thag, you are the leader of our hunters. You will be gone for turning of many seasons,” said Frettag, the Elder’s biggest worrier. “You best hunter. Thunka needs you.”
The skin came to Frettag, and he smiled. “Perhaps this is worth the effort. We think on it.”
The next day they met again, intending to let Thag leave.
“No! Thag should not leave!” Weasel-Scratch-Face-Brother told the assembled Elders. “I have a new drink too, given to me in exchange for the wisdom I have learned about the Gods.”
Thag was surprised to see the Shaman. He had spent most of the Gathering in conference with the other “wise” ones of the Grunka clan, talking about the new idea of “gods” –supernatural beings who controlled the elements, and who, naturally, could only communicate with a shaman. When not discussing this nonsense, they spent the rest of the time drumming, chanting and eating mushrooms that made them act even sillier than this new drink, “beer”.
Weasel-Scratch-Face-Brother passed around a skin filled with a white substance, that didn’t taste as good as the beer, but did have its own appeal.
“It comes from an animal that can be tamed and even eaten,” the Shaman said. “It called cow.”
“This drink does not have the same effect on your head,” Methusalag said as he sampled the milk.
“But cow-juice can come all year. All you have to feed the cow is grass,” the Shaman said.
“Hmm. That could be good,” the ancient Elder agreed.
“Beer come from grass too!” Thag interjected. “Need no cow, just how make it!”
“We understand Thag. We will think on it another night, and tell you our answer tomorrow.”
Weasel-Scratch-Face-Brother crossed his arms and grinned smugly at Thag. The hunter didn’t even understand why the Shaman wanted him around. He’d been trying to get rid of him for years, so that he could breed with Onga. Of course, he’d had to live with her constant complaints too.
That night, most of the Elder’s Council was struck down by horrific fits of gas and diarrhea; it was later known in Grunka legend as the Night of Many Pongs.
“Thag not like milk!” Thag groaned to Onga as he clutched his bloated belly. “Me drink only beer.”
In the morning, the Elders told Thag he could go.
Based on New Scientist story: Early Europeans Unable to Stomach Milk. You will definitely be able to stomach Alltop. Photo by tricky (rick harrison). Originally published, 2008.