Technology has made 2019 a golden age for shipwreck discovery.
The cognac and Benedictine must be analyzed for drinkability after 100 years.
Divers for a company specializing in “salvaging alcohol from shipwrecks” have brought 900 bottles to the surface of the Baltic Sea from a 100-year-old shipwreck. The team, assembled by spirit salvagers Ocean X, dove to more than 250 feet deep with remote-controlled vehicles in order to retrieve the bottles. The condition of the ship and the surroundings of the wreck made the scenario too dangerous even for trained deep divers.
Some bottles are from an exigent brand called Benedictine, kind of a boozy Dr. Pepper cousin with “27 herbs and spices.” The company was just 50 years old when Germans bombed the doomed steamship Kyros in 1917, sinking 300 bottles of Benedictine and 600 bottles of a long-gone cognac brand called De Haartman. The description makes Benedictine sound like a bitters, but like cognac, it’s a full-throttle 80 proof, which could make both items more likely to have lasted in drinkable form for 100 years.
Ocean X was behind the so-called “shipwreck wine” found in the North Sea earlier this year. These bottles were over 300 years old, found in the midst of a much more deteriorated wooden ship at a depth of just 120 feet. The deterioration was bad news for the salvagers, but likely made for a safer dive that could still be done by people in deep diving suits rather than robots.
In deep, freezing cold, dark water like that of the Baltic Sea and the North Sea, items are in a de-facto cold storage. The divers from the Ocean X team scout these regions for wrecks that could hold an antique, but tipsy cargo. In their work, they’ve also alerted authorities to wrecks they spot that aren’t in their specific wheelhouse, like an intact Russian submarine found in Swedish waters.
The ambitious Ocean X team is looking to expand its territories into Panama, where an island chain populated with indigenous people offers rich wreck-diving potential. And while not everyone finds 900 bottles of fine spirits or 300-year-old wine on their scuba trips, wreck diving is one of the most popular forms of diving, to an extent that artificial wrecks have sprung up to serve tourists the same way the world is now dotted with artificial coral reefs. No word on whether these artificial wrecks are stocked with 100-year-old cognac.
What will happen to the hundreds of bottles pulled up from the Kyros? Like the 12 surviving bottles of wine from the North Sea, they’ll likely be auctioned. One bottle of 300-year-old Madeira wine sold for $39,000 in 2017. Christie’s estimates auction prices between $500 and $1,000 for some wines that are around 100 years old, and those weren’t found in a shipwreck 250 feet underwater.
Ocean X has made huge news with its two recent shipwreck finds, but the world is apparently chock full of antique liquors trapped on the seafloor. In 2014, divers found a bottle of a gin-like spirit in a 200-year-old shipwreck in the Baltic Sea. Salvagers found a “vast” amount of rum as part of a treasure-laden shipwreck in 2015.
Wildly, this 2015 list of the most valuable treasure from shipwrecks includes nine collections of gold and other precious metals and gems and one collection of 300 empty, millennia-old Roman wine jugs, betrayed by much more biodegradable stoppers. The wine-dark sea, indeed.
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