Cen­tury-old bot­tle found in Hal­i­fax har­bour may con­tain drink­able beer


An ama­teur scuba diver has re­cov­ered a bot­tle from the bot­tom of Hal­i­fax har­bour that could con­tain beer that is more than a cen­tury old.

And there’s a pos­si­bil­ity, though slim, the an­cient brew could be drink­able.

Af­ter Jon Crouse pulled the green glass bot­tle from the bil­low­ing silt be­neath three me­tres of 10 C wa­ter, he dis­cov­ered its cork was in­tact and it was half full of a cloudy, sudsy liq­uid.

The bot­tle also has a thick lip at the top of its neck.

“I knew that was the hall­mark of an old bot­tle,’’ Crouse said in an in­ter­view while tak­ing a break from his job at a Hal­i­faxarea ware­house.

Crouse later spot­ted a logo on the side of the cork, which can be seen through the side of the bot­tle’s neck. It says, “A. Keith & Son Brew­ery,’’ the pre­vi­ous name of the now fa­mous Hal­i­fax-based Alexan­der Keith’s brew­ing com­pany, which opened in the early 1820s.

As well, mark­ings on the bot­tom of the well-pre­served bot­tle in­di­cate it was made in Eng­land in the late 1800s by Nu­tall & Co., which rou­tinely ex­ported this type of bot­tle for use in Canada un­til 1890, Crouse says. Will he drink from the bot­tle? “Ab­so­lutely not,’’ he says, adding that he would like to pre­serve the cork. “I definitely think there’s beer in it, but I think it’s di­luted with a bit of sea wa­ter from the har­bour.’’

Still, if the murky flu­ids cir­cu­lat­ing at the har­bour’s bot­tom haven’t pen­e­trated the cork, the beer in­side would be drink­able, says Chris Reynolds, co-owner of Still­well, a lo­cal bar de­voted to craft beer.

The al­co­hol in the beer and the anti-mi­cro­bial na­ture of the hops used to make the brew would pro­tect it from poi­sonous pathogens, he says.

“Ninety-nine per cent of beer gets stale, but it doesn’t be­come poi­sonous,’’ Reynolds says. “I think I would be will­ing to try it. If it is straight up beer from back then, ev­ery­thing we know says that it should be drink­able.’’

But in all like­li­hood, it would taste aw­ful.

Beer re­cov­ered from long-ago ship­wrecks has been served up be­fore — to un­en­thu­si­as­tic re­views, Reynolds says. As well, cer­tain sour beers and those with high al­co­hol con­tent are of­ten good can­di­dates for cel­lar ag­ing.

But be­fore he quaffs an ounce, Reynolds says he would have the beer tested in a lab to dis­cern how Alexan­der Keith was brew­ing his suds dur­ing the 1800s.

“Ac­tu­ally hav­ing a liq­uid sam­ple — rather than a recipe — can bet­ter tell us what was go­ing on in terms of brew­ing.’’

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