Finns study old beer with reproduction in mind

Finnish researchers are studying a bottle of beer salvaged from a 200-year-old shipwreck in the hope of identifying and reproducing the brew.

Five beer bottles were retrieved last summer by divers working off the Åland archipelago, which lies in the Baltic between Finland and Sweden. Along with well-preserved bottles of champagne, they came from the wreck of a ship thought to have sunk during the first half of 1800s.

Now, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has begun analysing one of the bottles to determine what kind of a recipe was used and what kind of yeast caused the fermentation process. This is one of the world's oldest preserved beers, and the Provincial Government of Åland is interested in reproducing it.

VTT will use its brewery research experience, which includes expertise in proteomics (protein research) and DNA analysis, to study what microbes - for example, yeast or lactic acid bacteria - remain in the beer, dead or alive. Chemical analysis should determine what kind of raw materials were used in the brewing of the beer. The results of the research are expected to be ready in May this year.

"It is very interesting to find out what kind of yeast was used in beer brewing in the early 1800s, and what the beer's quality was like. Was it perhaps very strong and bitter? The role of yeast in beer brewing was not yet fully understood in the early 1800s," said Annika Wilhelmson, customer manager at VTT.

"What we want to do first of all is to analyse the contents of the bottles. After that, we hope to be able to recreate the original recipe so that it can be used to make beer," added Rainer Juslin, department head at the Provincial Government of Åland.

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