World’s Oldest Beer

The Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston, Tasmania has achieved scientific results of interest to beer brewers and drinkers worldwide.

The museum has identified what is believed to be the world’s oldest beer, surviving as contents of a bottle salvaged from the protected Historic Shipwreck 1797 Sydney Cove at Preservation Island, Tasmania.

Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery Conservator Mr David Thurrowgood has initiated and coordinated research into the bottle contents by assembling a team of expert scientists from Australia, France, Germany and Belgium.

The research team has isolated live yeast from the bottle contents and used it to brew beer using period recipes. The beer has a distinctly light and fresh flavour, giving a taste of beer that has not been sipped for 220 years.

“The yeast is an unusual three way hybrid with links to bakers, brewers and wine yeast,” said Mr Thurrowgood.

“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 Sydney Cove shipwreck is one of the most important in Australia, and is known for the range of preserved fragile organic materials including rice, tobacco, ink, textiles, leather, wine
and spirits that are frequently lost on other wreck sites.

Underwater archaeological excavations of the site were conducted by Mr Mike Nash, Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service, during 1991-1994 with funding from the national Historic Shipwrecks Program.

“Possibly the wreck has now also given us the world’s only known pre-industrial revolution brewing yeast,” said Mr Thurrowgood.

Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery Director, Mr Richard Mulvaney, said the museum plans to continue the research into the yeasts and bacteria recovered from the bottles, if they are successful in obtaining funding.

More info of the Sydney Cove