Recovered yeast and bacteria from 1797 beer

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'Living beer' consumed in Captain Cook era making a comeback in Tasmania
ABC, by Michael Troy

Mass-produced and pasteurised amber fluid could soon be transformed after the discovery of centuries-old beer remnants containing massive amounts of beneficial bacteria.

Openly fermented "living beers" are making a comeback, with scientists in Tasmania investigating whether bacteria gathered from 220-year-old beer bottles could put the life back into beer by changing brewing techniques and reviving microorganisms that are known to have a beneficial health effects.

The findings could revolutionise the beer industry, with the chance a "living beer" could even be prescribed for depression.

The convenor of the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston, David Thurrowgood, has been analysing numerous strains of yeast and bacteria recovered from beer bottles on the supply ship Sydney Cove, which ran aground on the Furneaux islands north of mainland Tasmania in 1797.

"It's very exciting as it's the first example of preindustrial microorganisms that exist," Mr Thurrowgood said.

"What we have is a soup of living organisms and a large number of cells from dead organisms which were all part of the diet people at the time were consuming."

The scientists recovered a rare live strain of Brettanomyces yeast and used it to brew the world's oldest beer, described as having a distinctly light and fresh flavour.

But that was just the beginning of their investigation into this unique window into what people in the past consumed, as the naturally fermented beer recovered was extremely complicated compared to modern sterile beers.

"We have identified at least twenty strains of yeast that haven't yet been grown… and there are lots and lots of bacteria of different shapes," Mr Thurrowgood said.

"We hope to start to test the idea that the microorganisms people were consuming at the time were potentially challenging the immune system in different ways and were all producing proteins that were different to what a modern diet does."

Associate Professor Felice Jacka at Melbourne University says high fibre and living foods rich in bacteria need to be given higher priority in our lives.

"We now have many scientific studies across countries and age groups telling us that diets high in unhealthy 'junk' foods increase the risk for depression," Dr Jacka said.

"While a healthier diet — with nutritious foods such as vegetables, legumes, nuts, fish, quality, unprocessed red meat and the like — protects against depression and related mental health problems."

Dr Jacka also added it is worth noting that the way beer and wine was made in the 1700s meant that it was a very powerful pro-biotic.

"Unlike today's alcohol, which is pasteurised and essentially microbial dead and no longer contains the original beneficial bacterial load."

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Edit: Really think some journalists need to learn a little about brewing before writing about beer.