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Beer Retrieved From 170-Year-Old Shipwreck Tastes “Goaty”

Scientists analyze 1840s-era bottles recovered from beneath the Baltic Sea

by Jyllian Kemsley
February 23, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 8

Credit: J. Agric. Food Chem.
An early-19th-century beer bottle retrieved from the Baltic Sea.
An early 19th century beer bottle retrieved from the Baltic Sea.
Credit: J. Agric. Food Chem.
An early-19th-century beer bottle retrieved from the Baltic Sea.

Early-19th-century beer has “vinegary, goaty, and soured milk flavors,” at least after aging at the bottom of the Baltic Sea for about 170 years, according to a new study (J. Agric. Food Chem. 2015, DOI: 10.1021/jf5052943). In what turned out to be something of an archaeological booze cruise, divers retrieved beer bottles from a ship that sunk in the 1840s near Finland’s Åland Islands. A research team led by John Londesborough and Brian Gibson of VTT Technical Research Centre, in Finland, and Thomas Hofmann of the Technical University of Munich examined two of the bottles with chromatographic techniques common in modern beer analysis and had experienced beer tasters sample the brew. The bottles appeared to contain two different beers that originated from different batches of hops. Both beers had yeast-derived flavor compounds similar to modern beers. Those more pleasant flavors, however, were masked by vinegary- and goaty-tasting organic acids likely produced by bacteria that had been feeding on the beer for nearly two centuries.


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