1797 Shipwreck leads to world’s oldest beer

When the ship Sydney Cove was wrecked north of the Tasmanian mainland in 1797, more than 31,500 litres of alcohol went to the bottom with her. The wreck was rediscovered in 1977 and in the 1990s some of the beer bottles were found intact. Scientists and brewers collaborated to make the world’s oldest beer with living yeasts salvaged from those bottles. It went on sale in 2017 as James Squire The Wreck Survivors Ale.

The beer was developed by the Malt Shovel Brewery (owned by Lion which is in turn owned by the Japanese brewer Kirin) in partnership with The  Australian Wine Research Institute and Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery. The tasting notes supplied by the makers read as follows:

The Wreck Survivors’ Ale is an Imperial Porter, reminiscent of the styles of beer transported on the Sydney Cove. This masterfully intriguing brew uses traditional English hops of Fuggle and Bramling Cross providing earthy notes of blackcurrant. For this release Maris Otter has been included in the malt bill driving a lovely rich malt body. The hero is The Wreck yeast which drives spicy clove flavour on top of a pleasant warming sensation. The result is a complex yet smooth Porter for a truly unique drinking experience.

The wreck of the Sydney Cove led to an epic journey by some of the survivors. Seventeen men set out for the Australian mainland in a longboat, leaving the remaining survivors marooned on an island in Bass Strait. The longboat was wrecked off the ninety-mile beach in Victoria and the men set out to walk the 700 miles to Sydney. Only three survived the journey, which took four months. The remaining crew were subsequently rescued from what then became known as Preservation Island.

The location of the wreck was noted by George Bass in 1804, but it wasn’t until 1977 that divers began to retrieve some of its contents, including bottled wine and beer. The contents of some of the bottles were removed and sent to the Australian Wine Research Institute in South Australia, eventually leading to a collaboration that sought to reproduce the world’s oldest beer. Released as a limited edition, it was available only through the Dan Murphy liquor chain.

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