The world’s oldest beer has been recreated
In the summer of 2010 five bottles of beer were salvaged from a shipwreck outside Föglö in Åland’s outer archipelago. The cargo also contained some unique old champagne. The ship is believed to have sunk in the 1840s but its origin, destination and age are still being investigated.
Åland’s Provincial Government, which owns the wreck and the find, gave the Åland brewery Stallhagen the right to recreate the historic beer. The agreement dictates that a part of the income from sales should go to marine archaeological research.
The bottles, which lay 50 metres down on the seabed for about 170 years, have been analysed by the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.
Stallhagen’s master brewer Mats Ekholm led the development work, which is based on analyses and tests including input from brewery and taste panels in collaboration with researchers from Finland and Belgium.
There have turned out to be three different types of beer: two clear, golden yellow varieties and one darker one with a copper-red tint. The chemical analyses indicate that at least one of the beers probably had a distinctive rose, almond and clove character when it was freshly brewed.
Based on the scientific research results, an authentic replica of the beer from the wreck has been recreated as Stallhagen Historic Beer 1842.
Bottled beer was a luxury item in the early 1800s. All five bottles of beer from the wreck were brown hand-blown glass bottles of a similar shape. They were sealed with cork.
In order to present the beer as authentically as possible, 2,000 hand-blown copies of the beer bottle were produced with the help of Ålander craftspeople. The beer was packed in an attractive wooden box and marketed as a first special edition beer.
The 2,000 numbered hand-made bottles of Stallhagen Historic Beer 1842 in wooden boxes were sold on board all Viking Line ships from 15 June 2014.
According to Stallhagen’s CEO Jan Wennström, the launch of Stallhagen Historic Beer 1842 was a success. Sales are still at a good level even though the product has been around for some years now.
“In addition, the product still arouses plenty of interest, which is helpful when we want to pitch and sell our other beers,” says Wennström.
Stallhagen Historic Beer 1842 is sold primarily in Åland, on the Finnish mainland and on cruise ferries in the Baltic Sea, but the product has also been exported to Japan and Belgium.
Research of bacteria
It is not just the beer itself that is of interest to the outside world. The lactic acid bacteria that were discovered in the beer have become a focus of international research. Åland’s Provincial Government has given approval for VTT to carry out microbiological research into lactic acid bacteria’s survival mechanisms with the University of Saskatchewan in Canada.
The researchers hope to solve the riddle of how the bacteria in the beer obtained what they needed and managed to survive in a dormant state for 170 years. The research may come in useful to the food industry in the future, for example in terms of extending the durable life of different food products. The Government of Åland still has an unopened bottle of beer from the wreck in its warehouse, so the possibility of doing further research remains.