HELSINKI – Finnish scientists are analyzing a golden, cloudy beverage found in a 19th century shipwreck at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, hoping new beers can be modeled on an ancient brew.
The VTT Technical Research Center of Finland said Tuesday that through chemical analysis it aims to determine the ingredients and possibly the recipe used in brewing what it called "one of the world's oldest preserved beers."
VTT scientist Arvi Vilpola said he had "the honorable task" of being the one on the research team to sample the brew.
"It was a little sour and you could taste the saltiness of it slightly," Vilpola said.
Divers stumbled across the five beer bottles while salvaging champagne from the wreck near Finland's Aland Islands last July. The schooner is believed to be from the early 19th century.
Researchers are keen to find out what kind of yeast was used because "the role of yeast in beer brewing was not yet fully understood in the early 1800s," said VTT spokeswoman Annika Wilhelmson.
Also, scientists are unsure whether yeast can survive two centuries in the cold seabed at a depth of 160 feet (50 meters).
"We have seen yeast cells in it under the microscope ... but we don't know whether they are live yeast cells. It's like digging up a graveyard and hoping that you'll find somebody there," said John Londesborough, a scientist from the research team. "We've found some bodies in pretty good condition."
The wreck and its finds belong to the semiautonomous islands, situated between Finland and Sweden, which hopes to be able to develop a new beer if scientists are successful.
"It would good to get the ingredients so that breweries could re-brew a new product from it," said Rainer Jusslin, a member of the provincial Aland government.
Divers recovered 168 bottles of champagne from the wreck — of the brands Veuve Clicquot and the now defunct Juglar.
At a tasting in November, Veuve Clicquot confirmed that experts "were able to identify with absolute certainty" that at least three of the recovered bottles were Veuve Clicquot.
Aland officials said the champagne will be sold at an auction where it could fetch more than $70,000 apiece.
The VVT team said it expects to publish its findings in May.