Alcohol enthusiasts typically turn to estate sales, auction houses or specialized bars to find rare, decades-old spirits.
Treasure hunters in Scandinavia, however, have recovered dozens of cases of cognac and liqueur from a far more unusual location: 250 feet under the surface of the Baltic Sea.
The liquor was recovered last month from the wreckage of the S.S. Kyros, a Swedish steamship, in international waters between Sweden and Finland, where the ship sank in 1917 after being attacked by a German submarine during World War I. The Germans had determined the ship, which was headed to Russia, was carrying contraband, according to Ocean X Team, a Swedish search and salvage company that participated in the recovery.
“The importance of this event cannot be overemphasized — it’s not only a find of rare cognac and liqueur but also a part of history of the former imperial Russia,” Ocean X Team said in a news release describing the recovery.
The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday night.
The company said that the ship was carrying 50 cases of cognac, branded “De Haartman & Co.,” and 15 cases of liqueur, branded “Benedictine,” a brand now owned by Bacardi. The ship came from France and was supposed to reach St. Petersburg after traveling through Sweden, which remained neutral during the war.
No one was killed in the attack. The crew was transferred to another ship and returned to Sweden, Ocean X Team said.
The S.S. Kyros itself had been heavily damaged over the decades by fishing trawls, Ocean X Team said. But its find has raised the tantalizing possibility that the liquor, which is more than 100 years old, could still be drinkable.
Such discoveries are not without precedent, said Amanda Schuster, author of “New York Cocktails” and editor in chief of The Alcohol Professor, a website compiling information about different types of alcohol.
“These things happen, but it doesn’t happen often,” she said. “Only every once in a while. It’s like a giant squid showing up.”
In 2010, divers discovered 170-year-old champagne in a shipwreck in the Baltic Sea. The champagne was subjected to thorough research, which included a series of tasting sessions.
That same year, three crates of whisky and two crates of brandy were found in Antarctica, left beneath the floorboards of a hut by the polar explorer Ernest Shackleton in 1909, at the end of a failed expedition to the South Pole.
Nobody reportedly drank that whisky. But in 2011, a master blender for Whyte & Mackay, a Scottish whisky company, created a replica of the drink after a “sensory and chemical analysis,” according to the New Zealand-based Antarctic Heritage Trust, which discovered the crates.
Ms. Schuster said it would be unlikely that the cognac and liqueur would be safe to drink. It would depend on many factors, including when the alcohol was sealed and bottled, the specific type of cognac and liqueur, and whether any ocean water or other bacteria had leaked into the bottles.
“If ocean water is in it, forget it,” she said. “They really have to examine the bottles very carefully.”
David Wondrich, senior drinks columnist at The Daily Beast, said the cold water could help preserve the bottles’ contents. He said water pressure could also keep the corks in place and bottles sealed.
Mr. Wondrich said spirits “tend to keep far better than most wines over very long periods.”
“I’ve tasted numerous not just drinkable, but delicious bottles from the 1910s and before,” he said.
Even if the cognac and liqueur is not drinkable, Ms. Schuster said, the discovery — found in a World War I-era wreckage at the bottom of the ocean — is still significant.
“That would obviously give it quite a bit of value in and of itself,” she said.
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