19th Century Shipwreck Beer Could Be Recreated
May 13, 2012

19th Century Shipwreck Beer Could Be Recreated

Beer discovered two years ago onboard a shipwreck from the mid-1800s could possibly be recreated using living bacteria discovered in the brew, Finnish researchers announced last Thursday.

According to Terhi Kinnunen of Reuters, Annika Wilhelmson from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland said that chemical analysis of the beer, which was recovered from a sunken ship near Aland islands in the Baltic Sea, has shown that it would be possible to make an alcoholic beverage similar to the original with the help of a master brewer.

The shipwreck, which was found in 2010, also housed the world's oldest drinkable champagne, which was since been auctioned off, Kinnunen said. As for the beer, which researchers told Reuters that it "had not stood the test of time well," that it nonetheless had maintained, in Kinnunen's words, "a pale golden color and could originally have had hints of rose, almond and cloves."

The VTT Research Centre was commissioned by the Aland government in order to study the composition of the beer and identify the yeast used in order to brew it, they said in a May 10 press release.

"The aim of the project was to study what early 19th-century beer was like and whether its production process could be reverse-engineered and the beer replicated," they added. "The study involved an analysis of the physico-chemical properties of the beer and microbiological and DNA analyses of the beer, bottle and cork. In particular, the aim was to isolate any living microbes."

"Lactic acid bacteria derived from the old beer have interesting potential applications, especially in the food and beverage industry. They are stress tolerant and potentially very stable in food and non-food matrixes. Live cultures offer opportunities for modifying the structure, taste, healthiness and safety of the products. The isolated bacteria provide interesting model organisms to understand and improve long-term survival of non-spore-forming bacteria," Wilhelmson said, according to the VTT media advisory.

A total of four different types of bacteria were discovered in the beer -- the live lactic acids Pediococcus damnosus, Lactobacillus malefermentans and Lactobacillus backii, which VTT said " are highly adapted to growing in beer and in association with brewing yeast," and a fourth, Lactobacillus kisonensis, which "was first discovered only a few years ago from a traditional fermented vegetable product in Japan."

"Some of the bacteria were capable of producing viscous sugar polymers tentatively identified as beta-glucan. This sugar polymer can protect bacterial cells against various environmental stresses and may have contributed to the longevity of the bacteria in the beers," they added.

"Dead yeast cells were discovered in the beer. Some of them appeared to be Saccharomyces cerevisiae or brewer´s yeast, while others resembled Dekkera yeast characteristic of lambic beer. No living yeast cells were found, but trace amount of yeast DNA could be detected from one of the bottles," VTT concluded.

Research on the beer will continue, the Centre confirmed in their statement.

In a media advisory originally released on September 3, 2010, Aland government spokesman Rainer Juslin said that they believed that the beer, which was found in a seabed 50 meters (about 164 feet) beneath the surface of the water, was "by far the world's oldest bottles of beer," Jill Reilly of the Daily Mail wrote on Friday.

That press release also stated that "the constant temperature and light levels have provided optimal conditions for storage, and the pressure in the bottles has prevented any seawater from seeping in through the corks," she added. As for the name of the vessel, it remains a mystery.