The half full bottle containing beer about 125 years old

The half full bottle containing beer about 125 years old found on the sea-floor near Halifax. Tastes..not bad.
Photo Credit: CBC news

VOBBH- tastes not bad

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Ok so what is VOBBH- well, it’s “very old beer from the bottom of the harbour”.

Last November, scuba-diving enthusiast Jon Crouse was exploring the sea floor in the Northwest Arm of Halifax. Swishing his hands around in the silt and mud, he felt an object, pulled it out and found it was a small bottle, still about half full.

Halifax and harbour showing current location of the Alexander Keith’s brewery and the Northwest arm where the 120 year-old beer was found
Halifax and harbour showing current location of the Alexander Keith’s brewery and the Northwest arm where the 120 year-old beer was found © Google mm

Later on the surface, and with the corked bottle cleaned up, one could see the name “A Keith’s Brewers” still visible on the cork through the bottle neck. Keith’s is a brewery name which still exists today.

The name of the brewery is still visible on the remaining cork. At first it was presumed, but not certain that the liquid was beer.
The name of the brewery is still visible on the remaining cork. At first it was presumed, but not certain that the liquid was beer. © CBC news

Researching other markings on the bottle, Crouse was able to determine the bottle had been imported from a manufacturer in England between 1872 to 1890, making the beer at least 126 years old, almost as old as Canada itself.

Jon Crouse holds the beer bottle he found while scuba diving in November 2015 in the Northwest Arm near Halifax Nova Scotia
Jon Crouse holds the beer bottle he found while scuba diving in November 2015 in the Northwest Arm near Halifax Nova Scotia © CBC

At first Crouse was going to let the liquid evaporate naturally in order to preserve the cork still in the bottle, but a local bar owner said he’d pay to have the liquid analyzed.

Crouse traced the bottle to a British manufacturer and was able to date it to the late 1800’s
Crouse traced the bottle to a British manufacturer and was able to date it to the late 1800’s © CBC news

A researcher at nearby Dalhousie University then offered to test the contents. Using a syringe (to preserve the cork) some liquid was drawn out, tested and found to in fact be beer.   Further testing showed it wouldn’t make anyone sick, so bar owner Chris Reynold tasted it.

Researchers at Dalhousie University tested the liquid found inside a historic bottle of Alexander Keith’s beer found off the coast of Halifax, confirmed it was beer, and tasted it. They kept the bottle’s cork intact by extracting the beer through a syringe.
Researchers at Dalhousie University tested the liquid found inside a historic bottle of Alexander Keith’s beer found off the coast of Halifax, confirmed it was beer, and tasted it. They kept the bottle’s cork intact by extracting the beer through a syringe. © CBC

Speaking to CBC news, he said, “It tasted, actually, just how it smelled, which I was surprised by,” said Reynolds. “We got like a little tree fruit note, a cherry note in there somehow — certainly a lot of sulphur, kind of rotten egg stuff going on.”
Now more analysis will take place in the lab at Dalhousie, and in another in Scotland.

“Once we’ve finished analyzing the liquid as thoroughly as possible, we can use that and dovetail that with brewers notes of the era, like brewer’s logs, and have basically the most complete picture yet of what some of Canada’s first beers may have been like,” said Reynolds.

Halifax bar-owner Chris Reynolds in the Dalhousie University lab with a vial of Alexamder keith’s beer estimated to be about 125 years old
Halifax bar-owner Chris Reynolds in the Dalhousie University lab with a vial of Alexamder keith’s beer estimated to be about 125 years old © Chris Reynolds via CBC

A documentary film crew from “The Discovery Channel” was on hand for the testing and will air the episode on the show “Daily Planet” in the near future.

170 year old beer- gross!
The beer found in Halifax seems to have fared much better than five 170 year old beer bottles found in the Baltic in 2010.
The shipwreck from the early to mid 1800’s found near the Aland Islands of Finland also contained a number of bottles of Veuve Cliqout, Heidsieck and Juglar champagne, (a name which disappeared in 1829.)

In transporting the beer bottles to land one of them cracked, so a diver tasted the frothy liquid seeping through the crack and said it tasted sort of “beery”.   Later lab analysis showed it looked like beer, but over the decades bacteria must have changed both the smell and taste of the beer in the bottles analysed.

The verdict,, it smelled of a mixture of rotten cabbage, stinky cheese, goat, and burnt rubber. The taste? Well, vinegar, goat, and sour milk.
However the chemical analysis indicated that when the beers were fresh, they were probably pretty good, and not that much different than beer today.

As for the 145 bottles of champagne recovered, apparently they withstood the test of time somewhat better in the cold dark conditions of the sea floor. After tasting, 79 were deemed suitable and re-corked for auction.
In fact some wine companies are now experimenting with ageing their wines on the seafloor!.

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