James Squire launches beer from the deep

Brewer Haydon Morgan pours a Wreck beer. (Photo: James Squire/Malt Shovel Brewery)

A commercial beer has been fermented with yeast salvaged from a 220-year-old shipwreck off the Tasmanian coast.

The wreck of the Sydney Cove happened in 1797 off Tasmania’s Preservation Island and is Australia’s oldest merchant shipwreck. The beer will be released this week under the James Squire label and named The Wreck Preservation Ale.

The beer was created with the help of the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) and the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston, which houses many items salvaged from the wreck. These items, raised from the deep in the 1990s, included bottles of beer and wine, some of them still sealed with the liquid inside. The wreck beer is being called the world’s oldest beer.

The yeast was isolated by the AWRI with the help of other institutions around the world. The initial brew was made in the museum’s lab by David Thurrowgood, a chemist turned conservator who works for the museum, after the AWRI had isolated the yeast.

AWRI managing director Dr Dan Johnson described the yeast as a rare hybrid strain which differs from modern ale strains.

The most astonishing thing is not that the beer bottles survived intact, nor that they’d been under the sea, but that viable yeast cells survived at all for 220 years.

The Malt Shovel Brewery, which makes James Squire beers, was enlisted to commercialise the brew. Its head brewer, Haydon Morgan, described the yeast as temperamental and having a mind of its own.

“It was important for us to respect the yeast’s rich history and keep its integrity while using modern-day brewing techniques that we have at the brewery to produce something that everyone would enjoy,” Morgan said.

“After creating a lot of different recipes, we decided that it was perfect for creating a porter style. ‘The Wreck Preservation Ale’ has chocolate and pale malts paired with bramling cross and porter hops that contain hints of blackcurrant and spices giving it a really rich and smooth taste.”

The beer will be in limited quantity and launched at GABS Craft Beer Festival in Melbourne on May 18-20 and Sydney on June 2. It will be on tap at James Squire’s new brewhouse at Circular Quay, The Squire’s Landing, which will open its doors late this month.

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