Bottles of brew were recovered from a sunken ship near Fire Island.

By Bridget Hallinan
March 18, 2019

Sinking of the Oregon steamer, March 14, 1886, Long Island, United States of America, illustration by Tilly from L'Illustration, Journal Universel, No 2250, Volume LXXXVII, April 10, 1886.

DE AGOSTINI PICTURE LIBRARY / Contributor / Getty Images

You’ve probably heard of all sorts of specialty beers by now, like raspberry ales, chocolate stouts—even LaCroix-inspired pamplemousse sparkling ale. Shipwreck beer? Not as much. But with Saint James Brewery’s new Deep Ascent ale, which uses yeast from an 1886—we repeat, 1886—shipwreck, we just might have a trend on our hands.

If you’re wondering how 133-year-old yeast ended up in the beer, Jamie Adams, Saint James’s co-owner and brewer, is a scuba diver—and he took a team down to explore the SS Oregon, a sunken ship off the coast of Fire Island in an area known as “Wreck Valley,” to search for intact beer bottles, The Associated Press reports. The search began in 2015, but nothing came up until 2017, where they slowly began to unearth a few bottles at a time. Once they had gathered the bottles, it took another two years—and the help of a microbiologist—to work on the taste. The end result? An ale with a “slightly fruity taste and hoppy finish,” Adams told the Associated Press. 

While the idea of such old yeast being viable may seem hard to believe, Kaylyn Kirkpatrick, a brewing extension associate at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva, New York, told Newsday that microbes are very resilient, and it’s “certainly possible” that they survived in the bottles for that length of time (cold temperatures and no light or oxygen getting in the bottle are also key for yeast to survive a long time.) “[Microbes] can go dormant and survive some period of stress,” Kirkpatrick told Newsday. “If they are given the right nutrients and given the right environmental conditions, they can be brought back to life.”

The Long Island brewery first debuted the beer at a craft beer festival in Albany the weekend of March 9, and it will be available for pre-order “shortly,” according to the Saint James site (sign up for the mailing list to receive updates).

Deep Ascent ale isn't the only shipwreck beer (soon-to-be) on the market, either. In 2014, Finnish brewery Stallhagen released two beers—Stallhagen 1842 and Stallhgen 1843—inspired by what was at the time touted as the "world's oldest beer," discovered in a shipwreck in the Baltic, off the coast of Finland. And in 2017, Australian scientists revived the yeast in 220-year-old beer. If nothing else, drinking "shipwreck beer" certainly has a cool ring to it.

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