Who doesn’t love a story that intertwines a violent sea battle, Russian royalty, a German U-boat, and a treasure trove that includes a priceless cargo of De Haartman & Co. Cognac? Because that very scenario is not only reality, but said shipwreck bottles of Cognac has just been salvaged from the watery depths of the Baltic Sea where it’s lain, undisturbed, since the height of WWI in 1917.
In a scenario worthy of Captain Jack Sparrow himself, the Cognac was on-route from France to replenish the liquor collection of the then Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II. Despite the on-going war efforts, his Czar-ness ordered 50 cases of De Haartman & Co. Cognac and 15 cases of Bénédictine liqueur, a brand now owned and sold by drinks giant, Bacardi. The 900 bottles were loaded onto the SS Kyros, a vessel owned by Sweden, who was neutral during the Great War.
Doomed because of its “contraband” cargo
Bad weather impeded the trip, meaning an unscheduled stopover on its way to Petrograd (the former name for St. Petersburg). When the crew eventually managed to continue their journey this was brought to a sudden end in the Sea of Aland by the German U-boat, UC-58, whose captain decided that the ship’s cargo, which included machine parts and steel that could’ve been utilized by the Russian war efforts, was a ripe target for extermination . Thankfully no one was killed, but the precious cargo remained in Davy Jones’ Locker for over 100 years.
Until, that is, Swedish salvage team, Ocean X, managed to bring all 900 bottles to the surface at the beginning of November 2019.
Amazingly it seems that most of the liquor bottles are intact, with some even having retained their wax seals. Would it still be drinkable? Well, who knows…
Precious liquor preserved by the briny waves
As miraculous as the discover might seem, it’s certainly not the first time such spoils have been rescued from the depths. In fact, Ocean X—led by Peter Lindberg—had another exciting find back in 1997 when they found another wreck in the Baltic Sea that contained 4400 bottles of 1907 Heidesieck Champagne “Goût Americain”, 67 large barrels of Cognac, and 17 regular barrels of wine. Some of the champagne was indeed drinkable, and some sold at auction for £2,400 sterling per bottle.
But that pales into insignificance when you consider a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Champagne, again found in a wreck at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, sold for an incredible 30,000 Euro (approx. $43,900). At nearly 2 centuries old, the bottle was purchased by an undisclosed buyer from Singapore.
Other significant shipwreck liquor finds
British shipwreck, the Lord Clive, was destroyed by Spanish cannons in 1763, and has since lain at the bottom of the ocean in Uruguayan waters, her treasures intact. The ship contains an enormous stock of rum that amounts to thousands of liters.
Another British ship, the 260 foot-long, SS Wallachia, was sunk in the waters off Scotland back in 1895, taking with her a huge cargo of whisky and gin. Only 7 bottles have so far been recovered, although these are certainly not drinkable, being only half full and drastically discolored.
A further recent discovery is that of an unnamed ship that was also torpedoed by a German U-boat, this time in 1918. Codenamed, Mercury, the vessel was sailing from Bordeaux to the UK with a cargo of Bénédictine liqueur, champagne, fine wine, and Cognac. The discovery was made off the southwest coast of Britain, and as yet no further details have been released, apart from the fact that there are hundreds of intact bottles.
Exciting times, as these wonderful bottles are brought back to the light of day.
Sources: vinepair.com, thevintagenews.com, thedrinksbusiness.com, mirror.co.uk, robbreport.com, oceanexplorer.se, bbc.co.uk