Nowadays, we take good beer for granted. We are used to flawless lagers, rich ales with clear amber bodies and indulgent stouts. And it’s not that we are complaining, but we are spoiled and it took a sip of two very different Carlsberg beers to reflect on that.
The first one was their world famous golden pint, one of the most popular beers in the planet and as consistently good as a beer can be. The second one was a special edition, “The Re-Brew Project”, made to celebrate the company’s 140th anniversary, and brewed in the most historically accurate way possible to reflect a beer as the one people drank in 1883.
To achieve that, scientists from Carlsberg worked for a year after one of them accidentally discovered a hidden treasure in an old cellar: Bottles of the first Carlsberg beers brewed with the original yeast from 1883. Made at a time when innovation was finally allowing brewers to have control over their beers, this was the first quality “modern” lager.
The location chosen to introduce it couldn’t have been more appropriate: Dublin’s Science Gallery, where last Wednesday 31st of August we had a taste, as experts from Carlsberg visited to talk about how they managed to isolate the yeast from the beers found in that cellar and developed the 140th Anniversary Carlsberg.
After achieving that, they went the extra mile and sourced ingredients as similar as possible tothe ones that the original beer would have had. Bjarke Bundgaard, beer expert from Carlsberg, explained to us how they used local cereals and a traditional brewing process.
He eagerly opened a page of an authentic 19th century book with notes and recipes used back then and highlighted a handwritten note from November 12th, 1883, “the first time we used that yeast.” He refers to a brewing yeast that Carlsberg scientists had just been able to isolate and which meant that they were not brewing blindingly anymore, the innovation gave them a ground-breaking control over the quality and consistency of beer.
The result might seem modest compared to modern beers: a darker, burnt caramel coloured brew that wouldn’t be considered a “lager” nowadays. “At the time, this was a revolution”, Bjarke says, and he explains that back then lagers were darker, and that this beer was “the first step in modern brewing, and we kept moving forwards and improving, but it was a leap.”
Birgitte Skadhauge, another of the experts visiting from Denmark, recalls how exciting it was “to take the DNA from the samples, determine the genetic sequence and compare it to the original Carlsberg yeast stored in our yeast bank, with over 6,000 samples.”
Bling tasting Carlsberg’s Re-Brew Project Beer, you wouldn’t believe it’s a lager. Nutty, darker and with favours of brown bread and gingerbread, it is more complex and less bright and refreshing than what we are used to. It has a solid 5,8% ABV, and a gentle hop that feels mild on the palate.
We can only imagine the amazement of beer lovers in 1883, as the innovation lead to massive improvements in the quality over a short period of time. Getting a decent pint was not a lottery anymore and things only got better from that day onward. Who knows what people will say in 140 years if someone finds a box of today’s finest lagers and re-brews it? While we imagine, let’s hope scientists at Carlsberg keep hiding bottles for their future colleagues to surprise the world.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.