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One of the world’s oldest preserved beers to be reproduced


March 19, 2013

Beer salvaged from a shipwreck will be reproduced using modern industrial methods (Photo: Anders Näsman, Ålands Landskapsregering)

Beer salvaged from a shipwreck will be reproduced using modern industrial methods (Photo: Anders Näsman, Ålands Landskapsregering)

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Produced at least as far back as 5,000 BC, beer has been with us for a long time. But coming third only to water and tea in terms of worldwide popularity means that the lifespan of individual beers is more likely to be measured in days or weeks rather than years or decades. The exception is if they’re preserved at the bottom of the Baltic Sea in a shipwreck. One such shipwrecked beer that is about 170 years old has been salvaged and analyzed and will be reproduced using modern industrial techniques.

The five bottles of beer, which are amongst the oldest preserved beers in the world, were salvaged in 2010 from a shipwreck that is believed to have sunk in the Åland archipelago southwest of Finland in the 1840s. The darkness inside the wreck and the low temperatures found on the seabed 50 m (164 ft) below the surface provided the perfect storage conditions, while the pressure inside the bottles kept the salt water from leaking in through the cork.

Thankfully, the salvage team didn’t crack open the beers to toast their find, which also included old bottles of champagne. This gave a team at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland the chance to analyze the beer and recreate the original recipe for modern industrial production methods. The Stallhagen brewery of Åland will now use the recipe to reproduce the historic beer.

All finds from the shipwreck belong to the Government of Åland, an autonomous region of Finland, which has decided that part of the profits from sales of the beer will go to charitable causes. These include marine archeological work and environmental measures to improve the water quality of the seas.

The shipwreck beer is set to go into production later this year with beer connoisseurs able to try it in June 2014.

Source: VTT

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

Nonsense, you can't copy a beer by just analysing the ingredients there is a lot more to making beer than just the ingredients the variables are almost infinite. You can have 1000 different beers from the same ingredients just by varying things like mash temperature, yeast fermentation temperature, water hardness and acidity just to name a few. Beer does not age well like wine so the contents of that bottle won't resemble what it was like when it was in production. Charity or not this beer won't resemble the original.

Denis Klanac

I wish them loads of luck in finding some live yeast in those bottles. I hope the experiment works, but I'm not holding out any hope. Besides dead yeast, they may also have trouble finding the same strains of grains and hops.


@Denis: You are correct, as a homebrewer myself I agree that there are infinite outcomes to a beer from the same ingredients. However, "ingredients" are what go into the beer (or any drink or food for that matter) at the start. What's in the bottle are the resulting outcomes of how those ingredients are treated. Therefore there is no way of sampling the ingredients that went into the beer by way of analysis, you can merely analyse the chemical constituents that make up what is in the bottle now (organic molecules etc). From there, it would take a skilled brewmaster to deduce what the ingredients originally were, and how they were treated, in order to come up with a similar end result. Hopefully they have such a brewmaster!

I do agree though that they will have no way of knowing what the original production beer was like. Beer does age well, but not over that period of time. Even wine has an aging limit before it goes 'off' (30-40 years I believe for an average wine? I'm no wine expert though). At best I reckon they might be able to come up with a beer that's similar to what is in the bottle now, and like you said, by no means what it was like when in production 170 years ago!


True it doesn't age well like wine, but most people dont store it out of light and submerged in very cold water. I think it will turn out better then would be expected, but still not very good.

Anyone who buys it will buy it for the historic value rather then wanting something to kick back after a hard days work.

I alsso agree with club, they may not be able to analyse and see what went into making the beer, but they can measure what the outcome was chemicaly, and a skilled brewmaster will hopefully be able to figure it out, likely with alot of experimentation(and fermentation).

That being said there may actually be alot of material still in the beer that could show what went into the beer, if they wanted to go that far, likely some genetic material does come over even in distillation, and would almost certainly be preserved in the conditions it was in.


Let's face it... In reality a beer from back then may have tasted truly awful. So rather than romanticizing it as a "wonderful beer", we need to understand that it may not have been very good in the first place. Also, there is a distinct possibility that each batch of "that" beer was different, because they didn't exactly have high levels of quality control when it was made. Replicating the beer on the basis that the find is pretty cool (pun intended) and selling it to help charities is great... Call it "Shipwreck" beer and sell it to help folks in greater need.

Les Stagg

I agree with Lee. Beer from that period probably was different every time. There was no accurate way of measuring temperatures and the process was done with open fire/coals which is pretty tough to regulate. Reproducing this beer starts with ingredients, yeast strains, and ph/water hardness etc and then studying historical documents on how beer was made during that period. Will it be the same beer? No, but it will interesting to mimic the beer to the best of our knowledge and ability.

Daniel Bowne

Maybe they sent it out on that boat and sunk it because it was THAT bad!


Ah guys, come on! Think of how hip the commercial is going to look! Underwater image of a sunken ship.. a crate of beer floating up and finally breaking the surface...sunlight bouncing off the floating crate...cut to: the crate washing up on the beach in the middle of a beach party, a beautiful blond with her guy finding it...him breaking open the crate's top with a "UFC" elbow blow cracking the top open, she hoists out the first bottle to see the light of the Moon in over a century...and the voice over from the announcer saying..."for over 100 years...this beer has been waiting to quench your thirst! Shipwreck! The beer EVERYONE has had to wait for! Then the rapid second announcer: Made with the best micro-nano-technology of modern science. Drink responsibly...And the label...when the ship sinks, then it's cold enough to drink! Man...can't wait! (not)


Beer is mentioned 2 times in the Bible: Isaiah 1:22 and Hosea 4:18. The Israelites made wheat beer.


Shivver me timbers mates! Now we'll get back to a REAL brew; when men were men... the age of wooden ships and iron men... and all that.


I don't think some of you are giving the original brewers enough credit. The beer is only(!) 170 years old, which means people had been making beer for over 4500 years. I bet it wasn't half bad at the time it was made. Plus, it was made around the time of the industrial revolution, so folks already had the technology to make the beer-making process very precise.

Josep h
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