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Sweet, cidery beer recreated from 220-year-old yeast microbes

Scientists have speculated about the possibility of recreating a dinosaur using DNA extracted from blood sucked from the extinct prehistoric animal by a mosquito that was subsequently entombed in resin. But, for now, this all remains in the realms of make-believe.

Not so far-fetched, however, is the successful “cloning” of a 220-year-old beer by an international team of scientists, according to the journal Live Science.

The aptly named Preservation Ale was successfully recreated using yeast microbes extracted from a 220-year-old beer bottle unearthed from a shipwreck off the Australian coast.

The bottle was carefully moved from the wreck of a British trader, the Sydney Cove, which ran aground in a storm off Tasmania in 1797. Having departed from Calcutta, India, the ship was reportedly en route to the penal colony of Port Jackson, better known today as Sydney.

Bottles found on the wreck would have resembled this one, stoppered with corks and sealed with wax to preserve their contents.

Bottles found on the wreck would have resembled this one, stoppered with corks and sealed with wax to preserve their contents.

In a successful attempt to save their own lives, the crew decided to ground their sinking ship on a small island off Tasmania, today known as Preservation Island. In so doing, they unwittingly created a name for the modern-day version of their favourite brew: Preservation Ale.

The wreck was only discovered in 1977 and has been thoroughly explored over the past few decades. Just 20 years ago, divers came upon 26 unopened bottles of beer in the ship’s hold, according to Popular Mechanics.

Members of the research team lucky enough to be the first modern tasters describe the beer as mild, but with a distinct flavour.

“It's got quite a sweet taste – some people have described it as almost cidery or fresh, which comes from the yeast,” said project leader David Thurrowgood, a conservator and chemist at the Queen Victoria Museum in Launceston, Tasmania.

The researchers also found a historical account of a popular English beer of the day, which also had a distinctively sweet, cider-like flavour. “That was quite a surprise, but having found that reference, and to have that particular taste come out in the beer ... it showed that the beer did actually have a distinctive taste at the time that we’re only rediscovering now,” said Thurrowgood.

While more than one brewing company has expressed an interest in marketing Preservation Ale, this is unlikely to happen in the near future as only a few bottles were reconstituted. However, time will tell whether the 18th-century brew is appealing to modern palates, as it may one day be sold as an artisanal beer.

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