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Strange Brews: The Genetics of Craft Beer (NY Times article)

Really cool NY Times article…

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/27/scien ... .html?_r=3

Here’s a snippet - check it out, really fascinating stuff. And God - is it not good to be a homebrewer in this era? We are so lucky to have access to all of diverse ingredients we have to play with…


SAN DIEGO — Troels Prahl, a brewer and microbiologist at the Southern California yeast distributor White Labs, sits at his company’s tasting room bar with four half-pints of beer. He describes each between thoughtful sips.

The first has a malty backbone and a crisp body of raspberry, rosemary and banana, he says; the second, a waft of white raisin and final bite of olive brine; the third flows thick and smooth like a classic English ale; and the fourth is perfumed with a dry and subtle blend of nutmeg and fresh straw.

The beers’ colors are as varied as their flavors, ranging from cloudy gold to clear amber. Yet with the single exception of the yeasts used to ferment them, Mr. Prahl explains, they are all the exact same brew.

After thousands of years of unwitting domestication, brewing yeasts — the microorganisms that ferment a brewer’s tepid slop of grain, water and hops into beer — are as diverse as the beer they make. And now two research teams, from White Labs and a Belgian genetics laboratory, are mapping out their sprawling genealogy, creating the first genetic family tree for brewing yeasts and the beers they make.

To understand why beer varies in taste, you need to know its yeasts. William Herkewitz
The laboratories have sequenced the DNA of more than 240 strains of brewing yeasts from around the world. Alongside samples from breweries like Sierra Nevada, Duvel Moortgat and Stone, “we’ve thrown in a few wine, bakers, bio-ethanol and sake yeasts to compare,” said Kevin Verstrepen, director of the lab in Belgium.

By getting a line-by-line reading of the 12 million molecules that make up the DNA of each yeast, Dr. Verstrepen said, the researchers will be able not only to tell how closely related two yeasts are (is Sam Adams’s closer to Stone’s, or Sierra Nevada’s?) but to answer other important questions: which breweries started with the same strains of yeasts, how these organisms evolved over time and, of course, how all of it translates to taste.

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