The 50 salvaged cases of cognac brandy and 15 cases of herbal liqueur were originally intended for the aristocracy of Russia.
The Swedish dive team Ocean X just recovered 900 bottles of century-old cognac and liqueur from the bottom of the Baltic Sea. The ship carrying this luxurious cargo was sunk by a German U-boat in 1917, leaving its contents lost in the ocean for more than 100 years.
According to Live Science, this shipment was originally intended for Russia’s aristocracy — perhaps even for Czar Nicholas II. It was only a year later that he was executed by the Communist government.
The 15 salvaged cases of the herbal liqueur Benedictine and 50 cases of cognac brandy may still be drinkable today. The cold, shadowy waters of the Baltic provide surprisingly good conditions for preserving spirits. Further testing and analysis will soon be underway to confirm this theory.
Though water pressure naturally pushed some of the corks in, and some sediment found its way inside, many bottles perfectly retained the tin seals during the last century. Experts are confident that the alcohol is not only still worth imbibing, but that the find will be highly valued at an auction.
“This was the last shipment for Russia, and for the czar,” said Ocean X founder Peter Lindberg, who led the expedition.
It may come as a surprise that the sunken ship, Kyros, was Swedish. Though Sweden was a neutral country during World War I, Germany and Russia were enemies. The German navy had orders to sink any ship carrying war supplies into Russian harbors — so they had no qualms about sinking this one.
“It’s a fantastic moment to find these bottles… finally,” said Ocean X spokesperson Dennis Asberg. “It took 20 years to bring up this historic treasure. Many of the bottles are in good condition… but we will now do an analysis on all the bottles.”
According to Fox News, the wreckage had been damaged by fishing nets throughout the 20th century. It wasn’t discovered until 1999. And now, at long last, the bottles of “De Haartman & Co” cognac and Benedictine liqueur have finally been retrieved from the ocean floor, which is 253 feet deep.
“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,” the team said.
But the Kyros seemed to be smuggling more than party supplies into Russia. One Ocean X video showed divers retrieving parts of a German Luger pistol and a bullet from the wreckage. The find suggested the Kyros may have, indeed, been carrying war supplies.
“If it’s more than one, then it’s smuggling because it’s not on the cargo manifest,” an Ocean X member said.
The cargo manifest also indicated that the ship was carrying steel and machine parts, possibly to aid the Russian war effort. Though the voyage from France through Sweden was originally set for December 1916, treacherous ice sheets in the sea of Bothnia led to a one-year delay.
It was on May 19, 1917 that a German U-boat stopped the Kyros at sea, while traversing the Sea of Aland. Upon inspecting the vessel, the U-boat commander made the fateful choice of sinking it with explosives.
Fortunately, the crew was first placed on another ship and allowed a safe passage back to Sweden.
In order to retrieve the wayward spirits, Ocean X decided that remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) were the best course of action. These underwater drones were extremely helpful despite the poor visibility.
Since both the wreck and its cargo are under the international maritime rules of salvage, anyone is legally allowed to retrieve and keep whatever they want. For Lindberg and his diving company, it’s precisely these kinds of scenarios that have proven lucrative in the past.
Back in 1997, the team salvaged nearly 2,000 bottles of Champagne from a shipwreck in the Baltic, from a sunken vessel originally headed for Russia. With each bottle valued at between $5,000 and $10,000 at auctions, it’s certainly a financially buoyant endeavor.
This particular haul is potentially worth millions of dollars — with the Benedictine brand’s contemporary tie to Bacardi possibly being a profitable variable. “De Haartman & Co.” is simply no longer being produced, and could thus have a certain kind of appeal.
“I don’t know yet if the collectors would like to buy vintage cognac of a known brand, or is it worth more or less because it is unknown?” Lindberg pondered.
Ultimately, the resourceful diver and his company will have to wait and see. As it stands, the 1997 Champagne haul and this year’s Kyros haul may have left no more spirits on the Baltic seafloor for anyone else to snatch up.
“This was the last shipment to find,” said Lindberg.
However, Ocean X still has some interesting prospects for the near future, including a hunt for Nicholas II’s bedazzled Faberge eggs. The eerily dubbed “Baltic anomaly” — a circular underwater structure discovered in 2012 — currently holds most of Lindberg’s attention.
“This summer, we found new strange things out there, which make us believe that it may have been a very early settlement,” he said.
After learning about the 102-year-old booze salvaged from the Baltic seafloor, read about five sunken ships that are more interesting than the Titanic. Then, learn about the Nazi gold found on a sunken ship that could be worth $130 million.