Sunday, June 1, 2008

Eighth grader finds 100 year old beer

Associated Press

The beer bottle engraved with William Esser, proprietor of San Antonio based Lone Star Bottling Works in 1891.

SAN ANTONIO — When Collin Lindsey followed a local archaeologist for a job-shadowing assignment recently, he had no idea he might get a taste of San Antonio's history.

Collin, an eighth-grader at Legacy Middle School, spent a day washing and handling artifacts at the University of Texas at San Antonio's Center for Archaeological Research and became so taken with an old, corked bottle found at the River Walk extension project that he went home, did some research and came back with a theory: The yellow liquid sloshing inside was likely century-old beer, brewed by a predecessor to the Lone Star Brewing Co.

His discovery so delighted archaeologist Lynn Yakubik and her colleagues that they agreed to test the liquid to see if Collin's theory bears fruit. Or hops.

"That's San Antonio past right there in your hand," said Yakubik, director of the center's education and outreach programs. "He was so excited about what he had done that day, he went above and beyond, looked it up for us and sent us an e-mail. He is such a cool kid."

Collin Lindsey, left, examines his discovery with archaeologist Jon Dowling.

Collin, a 13-year-old who loves to collect rocks, arrowheads, cannon projectiles and other curiosities, jumped at the chance to follow Yakubik around for a day as part of a career exploration class at his school in East Central Independent School District. She gave him a tour of the center's vast warehouse of 10 million artifacts all meticulously labeled then put him to work washing artifacts as archaeologists toted them in from the field.

An old bottle waiting to be analyzed caught Collin's eye.

"It was amazing to see that something so old could still have liquid in it," he said. "There was even an air pocket inside of it."

Collin examined the bottle and found an embossed star and the name William Esser. He went home, got online and found a history of Texas breweries that listed Esser as the proprietor of San Antonio-based Lone Star Bottling Works in 1891. It was later bought by Anheuser-Busch.

The bottle is stopped with a Hutchinson spring stopper, patented in 1879, said Jon Dowling, a project archaeologist at UTSA. It also lacks seams on the lip found in older bottles, dating it between 1879 and 1907.

Dowling said he found the bottle sticking out of the riverbank in late April while monitoring construction of the river extension to north downtown.

Because archaeologists can't be sure it's beer, hazardous materials experts must open the bottle, Dowling said. Once opened, they can send a sample to Lone Star or another brewery to be tested in a lab.

"When Collin turns 21, he's going to come back and sample the beer," Dowling joked.

"It may have aged really well," Yakubik added.

As for Collin, he wants to be an archaeologist more than ever and plans to attend more digs with UTSA staff.

"It makes me want to do it more now because of how nice they were, and how nice they were to each other," Lindsey said. "It was a real friendly, good work environment."

He's eagerly awaiting the test results, though he thinks he's already got the answer: "I really think it's beer."

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