Aussies Recreate World’s Oldest Beer

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It was brewed using yeast found in a shipwreck off Tasmania’s coast.

We’ll cheers to that!

A group of Aussie scientists say they’ve brought the world’s oldest beer back to life.

Using the contents of a bottle found in the protected Historic Shipwreck Sydney Cove (1797) at Preservation Island, Tasmania, the team isolated live yeast and prepared the beer using period methods.

"Possibly the wreck has now also given us the world's only known pre-industrial revolution brewing yeast," said David Thurrowgood, a conservator at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery.

[Image courtesy David Fraser, ABC Television]

"It is genetically different to hundreds of yeast species it has been compared to from Australia and around the world. Traditionally beer was brewed in open vats. This yeast is consistent with historic brewing practices."

The scientists say the beer, which hasn’t been tasted for 220 years, has a “distinctly light and fresh flavour.”

Sydney Cove, wrecked in 1797 while travelling from Calcutta to Port Jackson, is the eighth oldest shipwreck in Australian waters and the first merchant vessel lost after the establishment of the New South Wales colony.

The ship was carrying around 31,500 litres of alcohol, including rum, beer and wine, when she was lost. Approximately 60 percent of the alcohol was salvaged. Other cargo included tobacco, rice, leather and textiles.

In the coming months, the team will study the wine and spirits on board the wreck, and potentially create other historic brews.

EXPLORE FOR MORE: 5,000-Year-Old Microbrewery Found In China

From Beer To Eternity

Michael Jackson, author of the World Guide to Beer, says the relatively simple process of converting grain into a palatable substance—or "liquid bread"—is at least as old as civilisation. "There is a perfectly respectable academic theory that civilisation began with beer," he noted.

Some people contend that beer may have been the staple of mankind's diet even before bread was invented.

During the Neolithic Revolution, bands of hunters and gatherers began forming organised communities to cultivate the land – the beginning of civilisation. "We know that in farming the land, they grew things, and the first thing grown was cereal grains in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East," said Jackson.

"The first thing they did with that grain," he added, "was make it into beer. We don't know whether they were trying to make beer, or just trying to find a way to make grain edible."

The idea behind the theories about the early emergence of beer is that grains could be grown in poorer soils and required less water to grow than other crops, such as grapes. Unlike grapes, however, grains had no juice to extract. Therefore, they had to be soaked in water, which led to a natural fermentation process that produced what Julius Caesar described as "a high and mighty liquor."

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