Sunday, March 15, 2015

Analyzing an 1840's Beer

A shipwreck from approximately 1840 was discovered and visited by scuba divers in 2010.  Among the relics recovered from the wreck were five sealed bottles of beer from that era.  Researchers in Finland opened these bottles recently under sterile conditions, tasted the beer, smelled it, and chemically analyzed the contents.

They found two different varieties of beer in the bottles they examined.  They were between 2.8 and 3.2% alcohol by volume, 9.9 and 16 International Bitterness Units (IBUs), and had a color in the range of 2.24 degrees Plato and 3.98 degrees Plato.

The researchers detected the presence of hops compounds in the two beers, with one having a higher hops level than the other.  The analysis indicates that the hops were added to the wort before the beer was boiled in the kettle, and that the two beers used different varieties of older high-beta-acid hops.

Both beers contained bacteria and yeast, which implies that they probably had a sour flavor to them when they were fresh.

Most likely due to their time spent in ocean water at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, the beers were described as being unpleasant.  Researchers said that they were acidic, salty, burnt, and sulfury, and that these qualities masked any fruitiness, maltiness, or hoppiness they contained.  Flavor descriptions included words like vinegary, goaty, and soured milk.  Despite this, the researchers say that the chemical analyses revealed that before the beers spoiled they probably had flavor profiles comparable to modern beers - perhaps with a slight apple flavor to them.  A rose-like flavor may also have been present in the beers when they were fresh.  It's also possible from the chemical compounds present that the beers were boiled over an open fire and may have had a slightly burnt flavor to them.

It seems likely that a brewery somewhere in the world will try to produce a beer similar to these to capitalize on the media attention these 170-year-old beers have gotten.

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