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Tasmania’s Stories

Shipwreck beer a global sensation

Edition 195_ShipwreckBeer

It’s the Tasmanian story sparking global excitement: the world’s oldest beer brought back to life from yeast discovered in a shipwreck off Flinders Island.

And media outlets across the world cannot get enough – from the New York Times, to the London Times, to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post.

This is the tale of a beer resurrected from yeast, miraculously preserved in a bottle of ale, and recovered from a ship that sank in Bass Strait 220 years ago.

All thanks to a team from Launceston’s Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery (QVMAG).

“The story of this beer has really captured the world’s attention,” QVMAG Director, Richard Mulvaney, said.

“We have been inundated with non-stop calls from media across the globe. But it is also a huge brand commercial for Tasmania which all revolves around a shipwreck in our waters.”

In 1797 the merchant ship, Sydney Cove, set sail from India for the colony of NSW laden with goods –  including 30,000 litres of grog – but after a battering in wild seas, it sank near Preservation Island, off Tasmania’s north-east coast.

When the wreck was discovered in 1977, divers began retrieving artefacts which were put on display at QVMAG as part of their Sydney Cove Collection. This included three intact bottles, of what is believed to be, the world’s oldest surviving beer.

Those bottles sat unnoticed until three years ago, when QVMAG curator and home brewer, David Thurrowgood, stumbled upon them in storage and had a hunch that the beer could be resuscitated.

Precious liquid in the bottles was sent for lab-testing, and traces of 200 year-old-yeast were found to be alive. Preserved in suspended animation in the cold waters of Bass Strait.

“This was absolutely miraculous because up until then the longest that yeast had been known to live was around ten years,” Mr Mulvaney explained.

After this amazing discovery QVMAG teamed up with James Squire – the craft arm of Lion Brewery – to bring the historic beer back to life.

James Squire Head Brewer, Haydon Morgan, spent a year experimenting with the yeast to create a brew as close as possible to the beer bound for Sydney Town all those years ago.

The end result is the aptly named The Wreck-Preservation Ale.

A beer created from one single cell of yeast.

“Three cells of preserved yeast were extracted from the beer bottles on the Sydney Cove, however only one of them was suitable for brewing,” Mr Morgan said.

“And from that single yeast cell we have been able to propagate hundreds of millions of cells during the fermentation process. That one cell is now being stored under liquid nitrogen at the Australian Wine Research Institute in Adelaide.”

There is no doubt that this story is remarkable. But what of the beer itself?

The Wreck-Preservation Ale is a Porters Style beer, the dark heavy brew that was a popular in London when the Sydney Cove set sail.

“It was important for us to respect the yeast’s rich history and keep its integrity while using modern day brewing techniques,” Mr Morgan said.

“The yeast is very fruity and spicy, and after creating a lot of different recipes we decided that the Porters Style worked best for this occasion.”

This is a rich smooth beer with a deep colour and overtones of a chocolatey malt. The distinct spicy aroma of the yeast comes through strongly. It also has a high alcohol content sitting at around 6%.

Mr Morgan calls it “a really great beer that’s perfect to drink on a cold winter’s night.”

However, as with everything, results speak for themselves. And in the case of The Wreck-Preservation Ale they have been outstanding.

The beer was launched in May at Melbourne’s Great Australian Beer Spectacular, where it quickly became Lion Brewery’s top product accounting for 80% of sales.

Lion Brand Manager, Alex Perry, said it was “an absolute show-stopper. People are loving the story and they are loving the beer.”

The Wreck-Preservation Ale is now available at James Squire Ale Houses across Australia. Unfortunately, there are none in Tasmania, but limited release packs will be distributed nationally later this year.

In the meantime, part-profits from sales are being donated to QVMAG to fund continued research into the Sydney Cove.

Image courtesy of Mike Nash, Parks and Wildlife

12 June 2018, Edition 195

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Facts about Tasmania


Tasmania is the southernmost state of Australia, located at latitude 40° south and longitude 144° east and separated from the continent by Bass Strait. It is a group of 334 islands, with the main island being 315 km (180 miles) from west to east and 286 km (175 miles) north to south.


Tasmanians are resourceful and innovative people, committed to a continually expanding export sector. In 2012–13, international exports from the state totalled $3.04 billion. USA, China, Taiwan, India, Japan and other Asian countries account for the bulk of exports, with goods and services also exported to Europe and many other regions.


Tasmania is similar in size to the Republic of Ireland or Sri Lanka. The Tasmanian islands have a combined coastline of more than 3,000 km.


The main island has a land area of 62,409 sq km (24,096 sq miles) and the minor islands, taken together, total only 6 per cent of the main island’s land area. The biggest islands are Flinders (1,374 sq km/539 sq miles), King, Cape Barren, Bruny and Macquarie Islands.


About 250km (150 miles) separates Tasmania’s main island from continental Australia. The Kent Group of Islands, one of the most northerly parts of the state, is only 55km (34 miles) from the coast of the Australian continent.


Twice named ‘Best Temperate Island in the World’ by international travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler, Tasmania has a mild, temperate maritime climate, with four distinct seasons.


In summer (December to February) the average maximum temperature is 21° Celsius (70° Fahrenheit). In winter (June to August) the average maximum is 12° C (52° F) and the average minimum is 4° C (40° F). Snow often falls in the highlands, but is rarely experienced in more settled areas.

Annual Rainfall

Tasmania’s west coast is one of the wettest places in the world, but the eastern part of the State lives in a rain-shadow. Hobart, the second-driest capital city in Australia, receives about half as much rain as Sydney.

Annual Rainfall

Annual rainfall in the west is 2,400 mm (95 inches), but hardy locals insist there is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing. If you travel 120 km east to Hobart, you experience a much drier average of 626 mm (24 inches) a year.


The 512,875-strong community spreads itself across the land; less urbanised than the population of any other Australian state. Hobart, the capital city, is home to more than 212,000 people.

Capital City

Hobart nestles at the foot of kunanyi / Mount Wellington (1,270 m / 4,000 ft) and overlooks the Derwent Estuary, where pods of dolphins and migrating whales are sometimes seen from nearby beaches. Surrounded by thickly forested rolling hills, the city is home to the state parliament and the main campus of the University of Tasmania.

Capital City

Its historic centre features Georgian and Regency buildings from colonial times. Hobart is home port for coastal fishing boats, Antarctic expeditions and vessels that fish the Southern Ocean.

Land Formation

Mountain ranges in the south-west date back 1,000 million years. Ancient sediments were deeply buried, folded and heated under enormous pressure to form schists and glistening white quartzites.

Land Formation

In the south-west and central highlands, dolerite caps many mountains, including Precipitous Bluff and Tasmania’s highest peak, Mt Ossa (1617 m / 5300 ft). More than 42 per cent of Tasmania is World Heritage Area, national park and marine or forest reserves.


Vegetation is diverse, from alpine heathlands and tall open eucalypt forests to areas of temperate rainforests and moorlands, known as buttongrass plains. Many plants are unique to Tasmania and the ancestors of some species grew on the ancient super-continent, Gondwana, before it broke up 50 million years ago.


Unique native conifers include slow-growing Huon pines, with one specimen on Mt Read estimated to be up to 10,000 years old. Lomatia tasmanica, commonly known as King’s holly, is a self-cloning shrub that may well be the oldest living organism on earth. It was discovered in 1937.


Tasmania is the last refuge of several mammals that once roamed the Australian continent. It is the only place to see a Tasmanian devil or eastern quoll (native cat) in the wild and is the best place to see the spotted-tailed quoll (tiger cat), all carnivorous marsupials.


The eastern bettong and the Tasmanian pademelon, both now extinct on the Australian continent, may also be observed.


The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, was Australia’s largest surviving carnivorous marsupial and is a modern day mystery. The last documented thylacine died in captivity in 1936 and although the animal is considered extinct, unsubstantiated sightings persist.

History and Heritage

Aboriginal people have lived in Tasmania for about 35,000 years, since well before the last Ice Age. They were isolated from the Australian continent about 12,000 years ago, when the seas rose to flood low coastal plains and form Bass Strait.

History and Heritage

Descendants of the original people are part of modern Tasmania’s predominantly Anglo-Celtic population.

History and Heritage

Tasmania was originally named Van Dieman’s Land by the Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman in 1642. The island was settled by the British as a penal colony in 1803 and the original name was associated with the convict era. It was changed to Tasmania when convict transportation stopped in 1853.


A resourceful island culture has generated leading-edge niche industries, from production of high-speed catamaran ferries and marine equipment to lightning-protection technology.


Tasmanians produce winches and windlasses for some of the world’s biggest ocean-going pleasure craft; large-scale inflatable evacuation systems and provide specialist outfit-accommodation services to the marine industry.


The Wooden Boat Centre at Shipwrights Point has re-established the skills and traditions of another age and attracts students from around the world.


Tasmania is a world leader in natural turf systems for major sporting arenas and in areas of mining technology and environmental management. Its aquaculture industry has developed ground-breaking fish-feeding technology and new packaging.


Tasmanians sell communications equipment to many navies and their world-class fine timber designers and craftsmen take orders internationally for furniture made from distinctive local timber.


The state is a natural larder with clean air, unpolluted water and rich soils inviting the production of 100 varieties of specialty cheeses, as well as other dairy products, mouth-watering rock lobsters, oysters, scallops and abalone, Atlantic salmon, beef, premium beers, leatherwood honey, mineral waters, fine chocolates, fresh berry fruits, apples and crisp vegetables.


Tasmania is a producer of award-winning cool-climate wines, beers, ciders and whiskies. Other export products include essential oils such as lavender, pharmaceutical products and premium wool sought after in Europe and Asia. Hobart is a vital gateway to the Antarctic and a centre for Southern Ocean and polar research.


The industries in Tasmania which made the greatest contribution to the State’s gross product in 2010–11 in volume terms were: Manufacturing (9.4%), Health care and social assistance (8.2%), Financial and insurance services (7.2%), Ownership of dwellings and Agriculture, forestry and fishing (each 7.1%).

Getting to Tasmania

Travel is easy, whether by air from Sydney or Melbourne, or by sea, with daily sailings of the twin ferries Spirit of Tasmania 1 and 2 each way between Melbourne and Devonport throughout the year.

This site has been produced by the Brand Tasmania Council © 2014

Brand Tasmania

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