170-Year Old Beer Found in Shipwreck Is Not Very Different from Modern Beers, Scientists

When selecting a beer, what flavors do you look for? If you want soured milk and burnt rubber, or a “goaty” taste sound pleasing to you, then the 170 year old beer that is located of the Baltic Sea just might be for you.

Recently, scientists opened two bottles of beer from a shipwreck off the coast of Finland to get a synopsis on the 19th century brews.

According to a new report, sea water managed to seep in to the bottles and decades of bacterial activity gave the beer a horrible smell. There were enough compounds from the drinks that survived that researchers were able to use to identify that the beers’ original flavors would have been quite similar to those of modern beers.

According to the study authors, who published their findings in the Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry last month, the bottles came from 165 feet (50 meters) below the surface of Baltic, from the wreckage of a sank new Finland’s Aland Island in the 1840s. In 2010, divers were able to find 150 bottles of champagne and 5 beer bottles at the wreck, though one did not last the journey back to land. When the bottle broke in the diver’s boat, it started to foam and some gastronomically adventurous divers proved that the liquid indeed tasted like beer.


For a more scientific examination of the beers’ flavor the research team, led by John Londesborough of the Technical Research Center of Finland (VTT), uncorked two of the surviving bottles. The researchers were hit with a ripe mixture of smells: yeast extract, dimethyl sulfide (think cabbage), Bakelite (a fishy smelling retro plastic), burnt rubber, over-ripe cheese, goat and sulfur. The researchers wrote that the unpleasant notes were likely the result of bacteria growing inside the bottles for decades, overpowering whatever fruity, malt or hop profiles the beer originally had.

The researchers said that the beers were also “bright golden yellow, with little haze,” and they may have been diluted by seawater by up to 30 percent. The drinks might have been stronger than their current alcohol-by-volume levels of 2.8 to 3.2 percent.

The scientists acknowledged that the beer had not been stored in ideal conditions, and there is only a little data on the chemical stability of beer over such a long time. Just from sipping the old beer, the researchers couldn’t tell what the drinks may have originally tasted like. Yet, from their chemical analysis, they could speculate a few things.

The researchers wrote that they found out that yeast-derived flavor compounds were similar to those of modern beers. They also think the two bottles contained different beers, with one being hoppier (and thus more bitter) than the other. The less hoppy beer had a higher than normal amount of a chemical called phenyl ethanol, which may have given it rose like notes. There were unusually low levels of 3-methylbutyl acetate (a compound that gives beer notes of banana) in both bottles, but it’s possible that the chemical’s concentration plummeted over such a long period of aging.


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