Albany, N.Y. – The most characteristic feature of Jamie Adams' new ale is not its jumping bite, but its convincing backstory – brewed from yeast in beer bottles that went down on a doomed steamship and relaxed on the seabed for 131 years.
Some who did try a pig of the new deep ascent ale at a craft beer festival last weekend say it gave a refreshing taste to another era.
"Only the concept that they could bring up a beer bottle from the bottom of the sea … then you can extract the yeast from it, this kind of chemistry is fascinating," says Schenectady's beer enthusiast Peter Bowe. "And beer is amazing."
Adams, a former Wall Street trader who opened Saint James Brewery on Long Island nearly two decades ago, says that his beer grew out of his love of diving. It was brewed with yeast extracted from bottles, he and other divers rescued from SS Oregon, a luxury liner from Liverpool to New York, which collided with a groom and sank off Fire Island in 1886.
It is located 135 meters deep in an underwater cemetery known for local divers such as the Wreck Valley.
"It's a wonderfully wonderful shipwreck to dive," says Adams, 44, "I came up with the idea of making some beer if we came up with some intact bottles."
He entered a scuba dive in 2015 to search for bottles, but did not smell to 2017 after storms changed sand and made the first-class dining room available. They dug 15 meters into the seabed to gain access, and then another six meters inside the ship to find fifty bottles up and down, corks intact. Later dives found 20 more bottles.
Adams cultivated the yeast in test tubes using a microbiologist and then used the next two years of brewing test batches to get the right flavor.
Along with hops and malt barley, yeast is a key factor in the production of a beer's taste and character. During fermentation, the micro-organism eats sugar and creates alcohol as well as chemical compounds called esters, which provide different fruity and floral flavor.
Adams believes that the SS Oregon yeast is derived from the line used by Bass Brewers in England to make a brand called King's Ale, which is no longer produced.
He said that his new beer, which has a slightly fruity taste with a hoppy finish, is a "replication of what would have been served on this ship in 1886. We want people to have a little taste of how life was as a passenger on this ship. "
It may seem like a great effort to come up with a new beer, but shipwrecks have long had a special fascination for craft brewers who are eager to recreate a taste of history. In 1991, a British brewer used yeast missed from a barge that sank in 1825 in the English Channel to create original flag ports. Last summer, Australian craft brewer James Squire released The Wreck Preservation Ale, which was produced using yeast from the Sydney Cove merchant ship, which ran in Tasmania in 1797.
For some beer craftsmen, the real appeal of shipwreck is the tells more than taste.
"I spoke to the brewer, and he said he was the one who did the dive," said Calvin MacDowell, Adams selection at the New York Craft Brewers Festival in Albany. "Knowing that it's been a long time ago and getting a taste of the story is exciting."
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