Beer from 170 year old ship wreck has hints of burnt rubber and goat, say chemists

If you’re looking to try a new beer this weekend and something with a “goaty” taste and hints of sour milk and burnt rubber sounds appealing, you might want to talk to researchers at the Technical Research Center of Finland (VTT) because that is what they’ve found.

For the home brewers out there, the trick to achieving this unique flavor combination is to put the beer in a ship and sink it to the bottom of the Baltic Sea, then let it rest for 170 years. At least that is where the Finnish researchers found theres.

In 2010, in 164 feet of water, off the Aland Islands in the Baltic Sea, divers found a ship that sank in 1843 containing more than 100 bottles of champagne and five bottles of beer.

The researchers from VTT recently opened two of the bottles to get a sense of what the 19th century beer makers had brewed. Unfortunately seawater had seeped into the bottles and bacteria had been growing inside for decades. It is those impurities that are likely responsible for the unpleasant odors detected.

Among the odors when the bottles were opened were yeast extract and Bakelite “a fishy smelling retro plastic”, according to Live Science. Other odors included dimethyl sulfide, which has a cabbage smell, over-ripe cheese, goat, sulfur and burnt rubber.

Despite the contaminants, a chemical analysis revealed that the beers original flavor would have been very similar to modern beer.

The researchers believe that the two bottles contained different beers, with one being “hoppier” than the other.

According to the analysis the beers were golden yellow and slightly hazy, with an alcohol content of 2.8 to 3.2 percent. The yeast derived flavors were similar to those of modern beers and the less hoppy of the two bottles contained high amounts of phenylethanol, which gave it rose-like notes. Both bottles contained low amounts of 3-methylbutyl which is common in beers and provides a note of banana to the flavor.

These results, however, may be faulty. First, the bottles were not store under ideal conditions to begin with and may have been diluted by up to 30 percent by seawater. There is also little data on how beer changes when stored for such a long period of time.

It is possible that, when it was brewed, the beer had a higher alcohol content. The unusual amounts of phenylethanol and 3-methylbutyl could also be accounted for by the beer’s age.

The team’s full analysis was published in the Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry last month.

Despite the uncertainties created by aging and contamination, the Stallhagen Brewery of Finland has attempted to recreate one of the beers, which it is marketing as “Historic Beer 1843”. According to the company’s website there are plans to try to re-create all of the beers recovered from the 170 year old shipwreck.

It is worth noting many existing European breweries are much older than 170 years. This list of the world’s oldest companies includes many European bars, vineyards and breweries that are at or approaching their 1000th birthday.

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