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Taste of history: Yeast from 1886 shipwreck in new brew

Submitted by Phil Heimerl on March 15, 2019 – 12:02 amNo Comment
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The most distinguishing feature of Jamie Adams’ new ale isn’t its hoppy bite but its compelling backstory – brewed from yeast in bottles of beer that went down on a doomed steamship and languished on the ocean floor for 131 years.

Some who lined up to sample a swig of the new Deep Ascent ale at a craft beer festival last weekend say it provided a refreshing taste of another era.

Adams, a former Wall Street trader who opened Saint James Brewery in Long Island nearly two decades ago, says his beer grew out of his love of scuba diving. It was brewed with yeast extracted from bottles he and fellow divers salvaged from the SS Oregon, a luxury liner from Liverpool to New York that collided with a schooner and sank off Fire Island in 1886.

It lies 135 feet deep in an underwater cemetery known to local divers as Wreck Valley.

He enlisted a team of divers in 2015 to search for bottles but didn’t hit pay dirt until 2017, after storms shifted sands and made the first-class dining room accessible. They dug down 15 feet in the sea bed to gain access, and then another six feet inside the ship to find a half-dozen bottles upside-down, corks intact. Later dives found 20 more bottles.

Adams cultured the yeast in test tubes with the help of a microbiologist friend and then spent the next two years brewing test batches to get just the right taste.

Along with hops and malted barley, yeast is a key factor in producing a beer’s flavor and character.

Adams said his new beer, which has a slightly fruity taste with a hoppy finish, is a “replication of what would have been served on that ship in 1886. We want people to have a small taste of what life was like as a passenger on this ship.”

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