Crack Team of Australian Scientists Brings 220-Year-old Beer Back to Life

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The world’s oldest beer yeast has been put back to work after decades of work to salvage it from preserved bottles of beer from a shipwreck.

The Wreck Preservation Ale is a forensic achievement, which gathered together countless experts from a variety of backgrounds for the sole purpose of taking an ancient yeast and making beer with it. It’s also a limited-edition beer that you can try and try to get your hands on in June in Australia.


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The storied yeast’s tale goes like this: A merchant ship called Sydney Cove going from India to what is now Tasmania went down new Preservation Island in in 1797. Onboard were all of the day’s vices: tea, tobacco and 31,500 liters of alcohol.

It was discovered in 1977, and salvage efforts began in the 1990s. More than 20 years later, one of the sealed bottles yielded a rare hybrid yeast strain, which was brought to the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery (QVMAG) in Launceston, Tasmania. Researchers there worked with the Australian Wine Research Institute, eventually turning it over to Tasmania’s James Squire Brewing.

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Beer making is as old as civilization itself, and in recent years, particular attention has been paid by brewers to recreating ancient recipes and ancient grains. Brewing company James Squire has spent some time researching and testing the yeast—by which we mean it’s been brewing crazy amounts of test batches of beer to see what works. And next month, it’s releasing what it thinks is the best outcome.

If you’re looking to taste a 200-year-old beer, this is where you might get a little disappointed. Though James Squire has attempted to honor the styles of beer that were produced in the late 1700s, the brew “is made from Old World yeast but very much crafted for today.”

Here’s how James Squire Brewing describes The Wreck Preservation Ale in a recent release: “The style is inspired by the beers that were being transported on the Sydney Cove; porters, small ales and IPAs. The result is a smooth porter-style brew that’s dark, malty, spicy, and stormy. The Wreck is truly a once in a lifetime taste.”

Proceeds will benefit the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery (and hopefully encourage them to make more cool beers).

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