When we (I, Hans Finell and Urban Nilsson) had run Slottskällans Brewery for a few years, one day in 1999 we got a phone call from a diver who said he and a friend found beer in a shipwreck and wondered if it was ok to drink?
We asked him to come by with a couple of bottles and we would check it out. Marcus Runeson and Mats Karlsson, the divers, came over with a cooler with a couple of 65 cl large bottles which frankly looked like – shit. The bottles came from a German cargo ship named the SS Nicomedia as October 11, 1915 had been sunk by the British submarine HMS E19 just outside the southern tip of the island Öland off the south east of Sweden.
There were several boats sunk that day which go by the name “The Submarine Massacre of 1915“. He also told me that when they surfaced with the bottles they opened a few at once and tasted the beer. They thought it was ok but had a weird taste. Then suddenly they became worried if they would get sick of it, and saved the other bottles.
When they arrived to Slottskällan we opened a few bottles and concluded that it was absolutely ok and drinkable. We thought it was a cross between a light fruity ale and a German wheat beer. Pretty soon the idea arose that maby it would be possible to harvest the yeast in the beer and try to make something sensible from it.
I immediately came up with the idea that it should be named Vrak (Wreck), and the process took off from there.
Urban Nilsson our brew master took contact with a girl he knew who “were doing things in a lab and was proficient” he said. This proved to be a person named Jessica Heidrich. She persisted and worked a while with the beer and it was noticed that the first yeast strain she found and isolated was slightly pink in color and looked generally suspicious, but after a while we got one that was clean and working.
Since we had already done a wheat beer called Vit (White) Urban began experiment and after a few different sample brews we arrived at a result that was quite ok and was very similar to the original we thought. The “Wreck” was released on the Boat Show 2000 In Stockholm in a special bar and also at the Stockholm Beer Festival that year.
We had Wreck and also two original bottles from the sunken ship that we were opening during the festival. One with Michael Jackson aka The Beer Hunter and I think i remember that Michel Jamais and Anders Thool also had a sip from that bottle. The second disappeared in the general chaos. On The Beer Hunter’s side he claimed that it was a variant of the yeast Williopsis that we found in the bottle. That, however was the first time we got that information. I was in touch with Urban Nilsson and Peter Frodemo who was also at the brewery during this time, and neither of they have heard or seen mention of Williopsis anywhere else than on the website.
So we still don’t know what kind of yeast it was (or is…). The one we found and Jessica took out was a bit aggressive, to put it mildly. It fermented everywhere in the brewery and for a while it caused very big problems with wild fermentation in the other products. This is the major reason the brewery will not to do it again. The yeast also became more and more tired and there were problems with getting the final batches to rise in alcohol the way we wanted it to do, which also, unfortunately, were reflected in the taste.
Michael Jackson took a whole container with 33 cl longneck of this beer into his beer-club he had in the US. It was incredibly fun to got through with that ting. I think we were / are the only Swedish Brewery which succeeded to be in his beerclub. (If I’m wrong please inform me about it !)
The product, however, is ‘dead’ in the brewery’s eyes even if the yeast is in some form of cryo-frozen storage and there are some original bottles left that still is unopened. It’s possibly, however, to brew it again if someone else sets up the premises to brew in because Slottskällans will not take the yeast into their equipment again. An alternative is to build a special ‘Yeast-room’ just for Vrak, but since it is unfiltered, it must also get its own bottling line or just be put on kegs !
That’s the story of Vrak. I also remember there was someone who told me he was excavating for building something at his property and before they filled the hole back, he buried a bottle of Vrak for “future generations”.
The Vrak was a wheat beer with wheat malt, pilsner- and light caramel malt. The hops were Northern Brewer and Styria and it was at 5.4 ABV. The yeast was ‘Wreck-1915’
Rest in peace ! / Jonas H