A Century-Old Canadian Beer Gets a Road Test



The National Post reports today on a beer found recently in Halifax harbour after a sojourn of, oh, 100 years or so.

The sensory and technical results are very interesting. The reference to sulphur and burned barrel may refer to a taste imparted by the wood barrels of the day. At the time, barrels were often burned black on the inside to sanitize them – ergo the bourbon whiskey barrel as we know it today. Also, sulphur “candles” were inserted whose fumes masked off-flavours from organisms lurking the wood or items previously stored in the barrel.

It is not out of the realm of imagination for example that barrels used on the seaside had once held whale oil, herring or salt pork…

The “meaty” taste is probably yeast autolysis, as the expert in the article suggested. (The yeast in the bottle fed on itself due to the contents not being consumed in the intended time).

15 IBUs (international bitterness units) isn’t that much, however all the years resident on the seabed, despite a tight cork seal, may have altered the original hop taste. Even today a beer kept long seems to lose hop flavour and aroma albeit again all seems sealed up in a bottle with nowhere to go.

The panel seems to have concluded the beer was an India Pale Ale, very appropriate for the time and place it was brewed. An IPA called Alexander Keith is well-known in the area to this day albeit it is a sparkling ale of the modern type, probably rather lighter than the beer in the old bottle (but who knows).

All hail to Canada’s doughty scientists and tasters for trying a beer with a few years on it. I’d be game, too.


The image shown is a stock photo, sourced at www.novascotia.com.



2 thoughts on “A Century-Old Canadian Beer Gets a Road Test”

    • Derek, if it was a lager, that might explain the relatively low hop rate, and possibly even the sulphur notes – after all some blond lager today has a sulphide note although not usually in a pronounced concentration. British brewers complained about “garlic” in early European lager though, so maybe some of that era did feature such a taste. Of course too spoilage of a biomass over 100 years might produce the smell and taste…


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