When a group of divers found a previously unknown shipwreck in the infamously treacherous Åland archipelago in July 2010, they would never have predicted that it contained the world’s oldest bottles of Champagne and beer.
The Champagne they dredged up on their first dive included an 1841 bottle of Veuve Clicquot that sold at auction a year later for €30,000 (NOK224,000), making it the world’s oldest and most expensive bottle of Champagne. It wasn’t until a later dive organised by the local government that divers brought up a few smaller bottles from the schooner 50m below the surface.
“We were on the boat coming back when one of the bottle tops just few off,” says Åland government spokesperson Björn Häggblom. “There was the fizz of gas and beer foaming out – some people had a sip and said it tasted like a sweet ale.” They took the pale golden liquid back to the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland for analysis – and though the centre found no live yeast cells, they did find lactic acid bacteria and enough evidence to recreate the beer fairly accurately. For example, they deduced from its pale colouring that the beer used unroasted malt and the smoky flavour was from excessive heating at the mashing stage (perhaps a preference at the time). They also detected hints of rose, almond and cloves in the light ale.
Now the local Stallhagen brewery is taking the original recipe and plans to launch the beer in summer 2014. “It’s just such an intriguing story,” says brewery chief Jan Wennström. “Not just because it was found in a shipwreck, but because this could be one of the world’s first lagers. And at that time, you’d only get the very best quality beers in glass bottles. We’re still trying to find information, but we’re going to get the beer as close as possible to the original – it’s impossible to know exactly how the beer tasted 170 years ago, but we’re trying our best.”
Ferries run to Åland from Grisslehamn, a 90-minute drive from Norwegian’s Swedish hub Stockholm