Scientists May Recreate Beer From mid-1800s Shipwreck

Posted on May 12, 2012

Beer Aland Shipwreck


Researchers in Finland have discovered live bacterial species in antique beer originating from the mid-1800s. A few bottles of the beer were found in an old shipwreck in the Aland Islands of Finland during the summer of 2010.

VTT was commissioned by the Aland government to study the composition of the shipwreck beer and identify the type of yeast used to brew it. 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. Annika Wilhelmson from VTT told Reuters that with the help of a master brewer it would be possible to make beer that closely resembled the shipwreck beer.

The study involved an analysis of the physico-chemical properties of the beer and microbiological and DNA analyses of the beer, bottle and cork. The bottles contained a pale golden liquid, identified as beer by the presence of malt sugars, aromatic compounds and hops. Chemical analyses showed that the beer could originally have featured hints of rose, almond and cloves.

The researchers say the pale golden color indicates that the beers were made from unroasted malt. They say the burned flavor suggests that heating at the mashing stage was not under control. It is also possible that a smoky flavor in beer was a flavor appreciated during the time period. The beers were probably made from a grain - barley or wheat or a combination of the two. Hops, of a variety typical of a couple of centuries ago, had been added before boiling the wort.

VTT researchers isolated four different species of live lactic acid bacteria from the beer. Pediococcus damnosus, Lactobacillus malefermentans and Lactobacillus backii are highly adapted to growing in beer and in association with brewing yeast. The fourth bacteria, Lactobacillus kisonensis, was first discovered only a few years ago from a traditional fermented vegetable product in Japan. 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.

The Government of Aland has decided that scientific research on the beer will continue in collaboration with VTT. Jan-Ole Lonnblad, spokesperson for the Government of Aland, hopes the research will lead to exciting new possibilities for food and health applications. The government is establishing a foundation for charitable purchases and any future requests for finding a formula in order to replicate the beer will be handled by the foundation.

Photo: Antonin Halas/VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland