August 13, 2012

New Yeast Strains Develop New Beer Flavors

John Neumann for - Your Universe Online

Forget the image of a bewhiskered and lederhosen -wearing biermeister stirring golden vats of ale over a fire, the future of beer drinking is in the hands of rubber-gloved hands and face-mask protected flavor technicians and biochemists.

Buried in the corridors of Cara Technology´s research labs in southern England, is a lab containing hundreds of beer yeast strains, some dating back 130 years. All are cryogenicly frozen in tiny vials within a dustbin-sized metal vat, reports The Guardian, and liquid nitrogen keeps the temperature inside the vat at a cool -190C.

The secret of beer, in all its variations, comes down to yeast, and brewers are notoriously protective of their little creatures. Despite being used to turn fermentable sugars into alcohol for thousands of years, nobody really brought yeast to heel until Louis Pasteur´s seminal Studies on Fermentation in the late 19th century.

Pasteur´s studies accelerated the commercial production of pure yeast strains and soon afterwards, Emil Hansen, a chemist working for Carlsberg, managed to isolate the strain of yeast that gave birth to modern lager. Afterwards, in an act of benevolence rare in the industry, the company made it freely available to the brewing world.

The breakthrough and sharing of the yeast strain allowed a previously unimaginable degree of control over the brewing process. Today´s strains and processes affect almost any flavor you´d want in beer, from the citrus notes of a pale ale to the caramel, nutty aromas of an amber ale or the clove-like tones of a classic German wheat beer.

The current researchers in England are able, with modern methods, to develop a new spectrum of flavors. “These things didn´t exist, and we´ve been able to go to a company like Cara and say we´re looking for these particular things that consumers are describing,” says Simon Wade, head of brewing strategy at SABMiller. “It´s about understanding flavor at the molecular level.”

So, while scientific understanding paved the way for the commercialization of yeast cultures and led in turn to identikit “any time anywhere” lager brands, the balance is now swinging firmly back towards innovation and diversity.

In the brewing scientist´s utopia we are all finely-tuned supertasters, glugging exquisitely balanced beers brewed time and again to suit our personal tastes.