October 16, 2012
Small time craft brewers are always looking for ways to push the envelope of beer taste. They are trying to find variations in beer’s fundamental ingredients — hops, barley, and yeast — that will make their beer distinctive. Of these three, the most important is probably yeast (of course, we’re biased here at SGD!).
Something like 40-70% of beer taste comes from the yeast used to make it alcoholic. This is why brewers search high and low for new strains of yeast that will give their beer that special something which will make it stand out. They have looked on Delaware peaches, ancient twigs trapped in amber, Egyptian date palms, and in lots and lots of other places.
But brewers don’t always have to go far away because sometimes the best yeast is right under their noses. Literally.
A brewery in Oregon found the yeast they were looking for in one of their master brewers’ beards. They are now using this yeast to brew a new beer! This seems uniquely revolting but the beer supposedly is quite tasty. Perhaps if they don’t advertise the source of their yeast, this beer could become popular.
They aren’t sure where the yeast in his beard came from, but they think it may have come from some dessert he ate in the last 25 years or so (he hasn’t shaved his beard since 1978). What would be fun is if his beard wasn’t just an incubator, but a breeding ground for new yeast. Maybe yeast from a dessert from 1982 hooked up with a beer yeast blown into his beard while he was working at the brewery. The end result is a new improved hybrid yeast!
Of course we won’t have any real idea about this yeast until we get some sequence data from it. And all kidding aside, the more yeast that are found that are good for making beer, the better the chances that scientists can home in on what attributes make them beer worthy. So this beard borne yeast may help many beers in the years to come despite its troubling beginning.
Perhaps brewers also need to start searching through more beards to look for likely beer yeast candidates. Beard microbiome project anyone?
by D. Barry Starr, Ph.D., Director of Outreach Activities, Stanford Genetics
Categories: Research Spotlight