Later this week, Saint James Brewery New York, located in Holbrook, Long Island, will be debuting Deep Ascent, a beer fermented entirely from yeast sourced from a 133-year old shipwreck, the S.S. Oregon.
“Deep Ascent represents a true miracle of evolution, evidenced through the longevity and durability of one single cell, Saccharomyces Cerevisiae,” states diver and brewer Jamie Adams. “It represents a window into the Gilded Age and a taste of life for a transatlantic passenger during the 1880s.”
Brewer’s Dream Project
Jamie is a trained technical diver, enabling him to go into overhead environments like the Oregon shipwreck, or underwater caves in Florida. After 9-11, his life as a stock trader took a sharp turn, leading to starting a brewery, and learning to scuba dive.
For almost 40 years, divers off the southern coast of Long Island, New York, were emerging with a bevy of artifacts from the Oregon, including portholes, artwork and bottle shards. It wasn’t until 2015, after Jamie had been diving the site for 10 years, that he hatched to plan with a team of divers to find the beer bottles intact, and make a beer. In 2017 the area surrounding the first class dining room became accessible, and the dream project could begin.
“Really what this yeast wants to do is survive.” Jamie Adams, Saint James Brewery New York
“But it wasn’t like a Eureka moment. Stuff doesn’t usually fall into our laps. We make a plan, and we prepare for a plan. We entered the ship at the seafloor, but we had to dig about 10 feet down to get to the opening, and from there dig down another five feet. They were upside down in the mud,” Jamie says.
Until they recover the ship’s manifest, they can only make educated guesses of the brewery origin of the three yeast strains they have isolated, based on the shape, size and pictorial references of beer bottles from the time period.
Yeast Survives the Shipwreck
Brewed at Saint James Brewery New York in Holbrook, Long Island, Deep Ascent Pale Ale (7% ABV), displays a rich malt flavor, moderate fruity aromas, and a hint of hoppy goodness.
“We want people to feel like they’re drinking the same product that would’ve been offered to customers aboard that ship in the late 1800s,” he adds.
Underwater for 130 years, the dynamic of the yeast changed, going from a viable brewing yeast, to a dormant survivor of a shipwreck.
“Really what this yeast wants to do is survive,” he says.
At first taste, the beer salvaged from the shipwreck was polluted by seawater, but the saline content didn’t impact the viability of the yeast. Part of the trial and error of reviving the organism was re-strengthening and re-training its DNA. The yeast did not die, but instead spored, shedding one half of its helix ladder. Using their proprietary yeast strain, they were able to reproduce those cells, so these haploid chromosomes could come together to form a new diploid. In an off-site lab, they would plate the strain, then propagate a clean colony on another dish.
In the brewhouse, experimentation with mixed fermentation with the shipwreck yeast was also necessary to strengthen the organism, and to gain full attenuation of the yeast in the beers. The brewery recently released Fleur de Lees, a 7 % ABV IPA using both the proprietary 1886 Shipwreck and house Belgian-style strains.
Saint James New York Releases Shipwreck Beer “Deep Ascent”
Saint James Brewery New York is a certified New York State certified Farm Brewery, and since its founding in 2012 has been deeply committed to the farm-to-pint initiative, celebrating the link between local farmers and craft beer enthusiasts. According to the NYS Farm Brewery law, which was enacted to increase economic impact surrounding the brewing industry, in 2019 breweries claiming the title must brew with 60 percent state-grown ingredients, recently up from 20 percent at the end of 2018.
“We’ve been using 100 percent for a very long time. It’s all about relationships for us,” Jamie adds.
The beer will be served for the first time this week at the New York Craft Brewers Festival in Albany, March 9, 2019, in advance of its tasting room opening in June.
The story of the discovery, and the near-alchemical science behind recreating this English-Style Pale Ale is an opportunity for the brewery, as well, to reach a broader audience with a more accessible product line. The brewery specializes in Belgian-inspired ales, usually in high-end restaurants and bars. The Deep Ascent series will be available in 750ml bottles, as well as plans for cans, all naturally carbonated.
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