Century-Old Beer Found in a Shipwreck Might Change Modern Brewing

The beer of the past might lead to the beer of the future

Beer bottles
Could beer's future be found in its history?
Jeremy Zero/Unsplash

Why should whiskey found in shipwrecks get all the attention? As it turns out, spirits aged under the sea aren’t the only boozy finds emerging from below the waves. Writing at the BBC, Chris Baraniuk has news on a recent discovery in the wreck of the cargo steamer Wallachia, which sank in 1895 — and how that discovery lines up with a growing movement in craft brewing.

The cargo carried by Wallachia included plenty of beer — specifically, thousands of bottles. When the ship sank after a collision off the coast of Scotland, this beer went down with the ship. But some of the bottles remained intact over the next century and change, which led to a diver named Steve Hickman recovering several on a recent dive.

This wasn’t the first time Hickman had retrieved booze from the ocean floor; the BBC article notes that he’s retrieved bottles of beer, whisky and gin from shipwrecks before. What made this foray different was what happened with the beer afterwards — it was passed along to a company called Brewlab, which worked to find live yeast within the bottles. And once they had that, they began working on their next task: replicating the original beer that was lost all those years ago.

As the BBC article points out, this is one of a growing number of efforts to find the beers of tomorrow in the beers of yesterday. In this particular case, the yeast from the Wallachia was used to brew a 7.5% ABV stout — and the Debaryomyces yeast found might have fascinating applications for different styles of beer down the line. Revisiting historical beers may well offer today’s brewers some pointers that they never would have otherwise seen — and might lead to a brighter tomorrow for beer drinkers everywhere.


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