Danish Scientists Cloned a Beer From the 1800s, and I Tasted It

Wil Fulton
Wil Fulton

In a secluded laboratory in Central Copenhagen, the brewmasters behind Carlsberg beer have spent the better part of a year tinkering with 130-year-old yeast, digging through archived recipes, and playing beer-gods in ways that would make Jurassic Park-era Jeff Goldblum furious and probably lead him to say "uhhh" a lot. 

These tall, inexplicably beautiful Scandinavian scientists essentially pulled a full-blown Michael Crichton move and cloned a lager from 1883 -- taking a sample from one of the first "pure yeast" beers in the world (the yeast is "saccharomyces pastorianus,"  if you want to get annoyingly specific about it), and then following recipes and specifications from the era to recreate the brew as faithfully as possible. The end game was Re-Brew, Carlsberg's authentic recreation of a 19th-century beer, recently dug up in pristine condition from a dusty Danish basement. It was unveiled at a recent dinner at the Carlsberg Museum, held to commemorate the 140th anniversary of Carlsberg's research laboratory.

So, it wasn't exactly cloning... per se. But the only way I can wrap my feeble mind around science is by comparing it to '90s movies, so here we are. It sounds a little complicated, right? Well, it was. But, to paraphrase the great Goldblum, "Denmark... uh... always finds a way."

danish beer
Wil Fulton/Thrillist

Head brewer Erik Lund (pictured above, tapping that sucker at the official unveiling, a few hours before dinner) said he was "incredibly nervous" for the first public tasting, because minute but noticeable variations in the beer could have occurred when the oak cask was moved from the Jacobsen Lab (their research facility) to the the Carlsberg Honorary Residence where the sampling took place. Naturally, his worries ended up unfounded.

When the beer was poured after some well-warranted ballyhoo, it came out smooth and remarkably... normal. It was definitely on the bitter side, but hey -- let's see how you taste when you're 130 years old, buddy. After his transportation worries were assuaged, Lund said he was extremely pleased with how it came out, and the warm reception it received from the room full of professional beer drinkers.

Later that evening, over dinner, the Crown Prince of Denmark received an honorary bottled edition of the Re-Brew, and seemed pleased with it -- at least I think he was pleased, because I was not allowed to approach or take pictures of him. Though he does seem like a decent dude. We made eye contact. Don't tell anyone.

They didn't have a T-Rex, but they had a damn good, 130-year-old beer. Hopefully one day, you'll be able to taste it, too.

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Wil Fulton is a staff writer for Thrillist. If he could clone anything, he would choose himself. Follow him: @wilfulton.