February 9, 2011

Researchers To Recreate World’s Oldest Beer

A roughly 200 year old beer--the oldest drinkable alcoholic beverage of its kind--that was discovered by divers exploring a shipwreck last July is being studied in an attempt to brew it once again, a group of Finnish researchers announced on Tuesday.

Divers exploring the wreckage of a ship that most likely sank during the first half of the 19th century recovered several "well-preserved" bottles of champagne and five bottles filled with beer, officials at the VTT Technical Research Center of Finland said in Tuesday's press release.

The discovery, which was unearthed at an area of the Aland archipelago, has piqued the interest of the local government there enough to turn one of the retrieved bottles over to officials at VTT, with the request that they study the brew's composition and attempt to recreate it.

"What we want to do first of all is to analyze the contents of the bottles," Rainer Juslin, Department Head at the Provincial Government of Aland, said in a statement. "After that, we hope to be able to recreate the original recipe so that it can be used to make beer."

"It is very interesting to find out what kind of yeast was used in beer brewing in the early 1800s, and what the beer's quality was like," added Annika Wilhelmson, Customer Manager at VTT, an organization which claims to have several years experience in brewery research. "Was it perhaps very strong and bitter? The role of yeast in beer brewing was not yet fully understood in the early 1800s."

According to BBC News Science and Technology Reporter Jason Palmer, divers found the beer, along with 145 bottles of various types of champagne, at a depth of roughly 50m in the waters of the Baltic Sea, between the coasts of Sweden and Finland. They believe that the ship carrying the cargo was travelling from Copenhagen, Denmark to St. Petersburg, Russia.

Four professional beer tasters have already sampled the brew, according to Palmer.

"They said that it did taste very old, which is no surprise, with some burnt notes," Wilhelmson told BBC News. "But it was quite acidic--which could mean there's been some fermenting going on in the bottle and with time it's become acid."

"We're going to try to see if we can find any living yeast or other microbial cells, because that would be very interesting with respect to reproducing the beer," she added. "So far we have seen under microscopes that there are yeast and bacterial cells, but we don't know if they're dead or alive yet. If we can't find living microbes, we will look at the DNA and try to compare it to brewing yeasts that we know today, to see how similar or different the yeasts are."

The VTT expects to have completed their research by May 2011, and will publish their results in a scientific paper shortly thereafter. No word yet as to when--or if--the reproduction of the brew might be available to curious consumers.


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