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.’’