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A 220-Year-Old Shipwrecked Beer Was Resurrected by Scientists

Scientists have managed to isolated live yeast from the world's oldest beer bottle and are making new brews with it.

Nick Rose

Nick Rose

Photo via Flickr user N i c o l a

In 1797, the Sydney Cove left Calcutta and set sail for Australia, packed with beer, rum, wine, tobacco, and a bunch of other goodies destined for the libertines of the time.

But the ship's cargo and crew would never reach their destination, succumbing instead to heavy weather and eventually crashing on the shores of Preservation Island in Tasmania. And while the ill-fated Sydney Cove has gone down in infamy for being shipwrecked, her spirit lives on 220 years later in yeast form.

Though most of the ship's crew died during a 600-kilometer shoreline walk back to Sydney, one of the least likely survivors of the Sydney Cove was a bottle of beer—thought to be the oldest in existence—containing a unique glimpse into the brews of yesteryear.

READ MORE: This Is What 200-Year-Old Beer and Champagne Tastes Like

Now, a team of researchers from the Australian Wine Research Institute and the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA have managed to isolated live yeast from the bottle and used it to brew beer using recipes from two centuries ago. The result? Pretty damn refreshing, apparently. "The beer has a distinctly light and fresh flavour, giving a taste of beer that has not been sipped for 220 years," they concluded in a press release.

Not only is the taste of the shipwrecked brew unique, but so was its chemical composition. "The yeast is an unusual three way hybrid with links to bakers, brewers, and wine yeast," David Thurrowgood, Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery Conservator and initiator of the resuscitation project, surmised. "It is genetically different to hundreds of yeast species it has been compared to from Australia and around the world. Traditionally beer was brewed in open vats. This yeast is consistent with historic brewing practices."

Needless to say, these results are a breakthrough for those seeking a deeper historical and chemical understanding of beer. "The wreck has now also given us the world's only known pre-industrial revolution brewing yeast," Thurrowgood added.

And while these robust bacteria have managed to come back to life thanks to modern science, it will probably be a while before science is capable of resuscitating the human casualties of the doomed Sydney Cove.