Beer brewed with yeast believed to be from a 220-year-old shipwreck

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Beer brewed with yeast believed to be from a 220-year-old shipwreck

October 22, 2016 - 20:36
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In June the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston, Tasmania identified what is believed to be the world's oldest beer, surviving as contents of a bottle salvaged from the protected Historic Shipwreck Sydney Cove (1797) at Preservation Island, Tasmania

Recovery of beer bottle from the Sydney Cove shipwreck site. Intact cork and wax seal.

The Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston, Tasmania has achieved scientific results of interest to beer brewers and drinkers worldwide.

The museum has identified what is believed to be the world's oldest beer, surviving as contents of a bottle salvaged from the protected Historic Shipwreck Sydney Cove (1797) at Preservation Island, Tasmania.

The Sydney Cove shipwreck is one of the most important in Australia, and is known for the range of preserved fragile organic materials including rice, tobacco, ink, textiles, leather, wine and spirits that are frequently lost on other wreck sites. Underwater archaeological excavations of the site were conducted by Mr Mike Nash, Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service, during 1991-1994 with funding from the national Historic Shipwrecks Program.

Live yeast

Initial analysis of the alcohol was undertaken 25 years ago, and revealed grapes, port wine and beer. It was preserved thanks to secure corkage and by being kept cool at the bottom of the ocean. However, Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery Conservator Mr David Thurrowgood suspected that some of the yeast may have survived the centuries, and decided to take a crack at bringing the beer back to life by assembling a team of expert scientists from Australia, France, Germany and Belgium.

The yeast is an unusual three way hybrid with links to bakers, brewers and wine yeast

The research team has isolated live yeast from the bottle contents and used it to brew beer using period recipes. The beer has a distinctly light and fresh flavour, giving a taste of beer that has not been sipped for 220 years.

"The yeast is an unusual three way hybrid with links to bakers, brewers and wine yeast," said Mr Thurrowgood. "It is genetically different to hundreds of yeast species it has been compared to from Australia and around the world. Traditionally beer was brewed in open vats. This yeast is consistent with historic brewing practices."

Possibly the wreck has now also given us the world's only known preindustrial revolution brewing yeast.

David Thurrowgood.

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