Still 'Drinkable': 200-Year-Old Booze Found in Shipwreck

The 200-year-old Selters bottle contained alcohol that is likely a gin or vodka.
The 200-year-old Selters bottle contained alcohol that is likely a gin or vodka. (Image credit: National Maritime Museum, Gdańsk)

A 200-year-old stoneware seltzer bottle that was recently recovered from a shipwreck at the bottom of the Baltic Sea contains alcohol, according to the results of a preliminary analysis.

Researchers discovered the well-preserved and sealed bottle in June, while exploring the so-called F53.31 shipwreck in Gdańsk Bay, close to the Polish coast. Preliminary laboratory tests have now shown the bottle contains a 14-percent alcohol distillate, which may be vodka or a type of gin called jenever, most likely diluted with water.

The chemical composition of the alcohol corresponds to that of the original brand of "Selters" water that is engraved on the bottle, according to the National Maritime Museum in Gdańsk, Poland.

The bottle is embossed with the word "Selters," the name of a supplier of high-quality carbonated water from the Taunus Mountains area in Germany. Water from Selters was discovered about 1,000 years ago, which makes it one of the oldest types of mineral water in Europe, and one whose alleged health benefits are legendary. [See Images of the Seltzer Bottle and Baltic Shipwreck]

Tomasz Bednarz, an underwater archaeologist the National Maritime Museum, holds the 200-year-old Selters bottle with other shipwreck finds in front of him. (Image credit: National Maritime Museum, Gdańsk)

"The bottle dates back to the period of 1806-1830 and has been recovered during the works on the F-53-31 shipwreck, or the so-called Głazik," which in Polish means a small rock, Tomasz Bednarz, an underwater archaeologist the National Maritime Museum who leads the research on the shipwreck, said in a statement last month.

The bottle, which has a capacity of about 1 liter (34 ounces), was manufactured in Ranschbach, Germany, a town located about 25 miles (40 kilometers) away from the springs of Selters water.

In addition to the bottle, researchers exploring the shipwreck also recovered fragments of ceramics, a small bowl, a few pieces of dinnerware, stones and rocks, Bednarz said.

At the beginning of July, researchers submitted the bottle and its contents for testing to the J.S. Hamilton chemical laboratory in Gdynia, Poland, to see if the vessel contained original "Selters" water, or whether it had been refilled with a different liquid. The final results of the laboratory analysis are expected to be completed at the beginning of September, though their preliminary results suggest the bottle had been refilled with some kind of alcohol.

How does it taste? Apparently, the alcohol is drinkable, the archaeologists involved told the news site of Poland's Ministry of Science and Science Education. "This means it would not cause poisoning. Apparently, however, it does not smell particularly good," Bednarz said, according to the Ministry.

The springs of Selters water eventually went dry at the beginning of the 19th century, and therefore the water became much harder to obtain, according to the National Maritime Museum in Gdańsk.

In 1896, a group of Selters residents decided to look for new sources of the legendary water, and, after they made multiple boreholes, a fountain of water exploded from one of the wells in an area near a local castle.

These days, Selters is sold as a luxury product. Although glass bottles have replaced the stoneware bottles, the water quality is believed to be the same as it was when the water was originally discovered.

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Staff Writer