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Scientists revived a 220-year-old beer found in a shipwreck

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Posted on : May 5, 2018

The precious 220-year-old beer recovered by a diver.
Image: Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery

Beer has a lot of history to it, but maybe not all wrapped up in one drink.

Australian brewers are working to revive a 220-year old beer, made from the yeast found in a shipwreck discovered more than two decades ago.

The porter-style beer will be aptly named The Wreck – Preservation Ale, and is being produced by brewing company James Squire for a limited release in June. 

The yeast was found on a merchant ship called Sydney Cove, which was travelling from India to the then British colony of Port Jackson until it became shipwrecked at Preservation Island near Tasmania in 1797.

Tea, rice and tobacco were carried on the ship, as well as 40,000 litres of alcohol. Those bottles of beer remained sealed, and the yeast remained preserved in the ice cold waters of Bass Strait.

A close up of the beer bottle.

Image: Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery

Image: Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery

These were excavated and donated to the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery (QVMAG) in Launceston, Tasmania, where researchers worked with the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) to isolate the yeast.

“I thought we might be able to culture yeast and recreate a beer that hasn’t been on the planet for 220 years,” museum conservator and chemist David Thurrowgood said in a post.

Yeast strains change over time, but the AWRI discovered that it was a rare hybrid strain that differed from modern ale strains. 

Brewers tested and tried different ways to use the yeast in modern brewing methods, but were able to create a beer that apparently has hints of blackcurrant and spices. Oh, and expect it to be a little bit funky.

A portion of the beer’s sales will be used to further QVMAG’s research into the Sydney Cove collection.

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