In 2010, underwater archaeologists discovered an old schooner south of the Åland Islands at a depth of 50 m in the Baltic Sea. Archeological evidence suggests the shipwreck occurred during the 1840s, but the schooner’s name, its destination and its last port-of-call were not identified. Archeologist brought the cargo consisting of luxury items, including more than 150 bottles of champagne and five bottles that look like typical early 19th century beer bottles to the surface. One of these cracked in the divers’ boat. The liquid that foamed from the cracked bottle looked and, according to the divers, tasted like beer.
Researchers from Finland analyzed two bottles of the beer from the shipwreck and six bottles of modern beers (Leffe Brune, Koff Porter, Weihenstephan Hefe Weissbier, Paulaner Hefe Weissbier, Aldaris Porteris Alus, and Olvi Sandels) as reference. The founding provides clues for beer makers to resurrect the flavors of ages past.
The beer samples were degassed by ultrasonification and filtered (0.45 μm). An aliquot (5 μL) was loaded to an HPLC-MS/MS system (high performance liquid chromatography coupled with tandem mass spectrometry) and analyzed for hops related compounds (native or degradation products).
Sidenote (from Wikipedia): Hops are the female flowers of the hop plant, Humulus lupulus.
Hops are used primarily as a flavoring and stability agent in beer. Hops impart a bitter, tangy flavor to beer. Hops have antibacterial effect that favors the activity of brewer's yeast over less desirable microorganisms and for many purported benefits such as balancing the sweetness of the malt with bitterness and contributing a variety of desirable flavors
Above: Chemical structures of bitter chemicals identified in hops and freshly brewed beer; Below: Chemical structures of bitter chemicals identified in aged beer (Source: J. Agric. Food Chem. 2010, 58, 7930–7939)
Based on the chemical fingerprint in the beer, the two bottles of ancient beer were identified as two different kind of beer. One was more strongly hopped than the other.