Decoding the Best Craft Beers: It’s in the Yeast


If you’re constantly on the search for the best craft beers, have you thought about looking at the yeasts to help you? It turns out, the secret to a those delicious craft beers may not be in the hops, barley or other major ingredients, but in the yeast.

Now, scientists are “mapping” the yeasts in some of the world’s best craft beers. A Southern California yeast distributor called White Labs has documented the DNA of 240 strains of brewing yeast.

Besides yeasts from breweries like Sierra Nevada, Duvel Moortgat and Stone, “we’ve thrown in a few wine, bakers, bio-ethanol and sake yeasts to compare,” Kevin Verstrepen, director of the lab in Belgium told the New York Times.

What makes yeast so important, is that ingredients between beers can be identical. The only difference is the yeast that’s used in the fermentation process. Yeasts are proprietary, like Coca-Cola’s “secret formula.” Budweiser protects its yeast with an armed guard.

And with the boom among craft breweries—up from fewer than a dozen in 1980 to close to 2,500 today—the uniqueness of a yeast is fundamental to making a brand.

Understanding the differences in yeast can help to explain why the best craft beers are the best. “Yeasts can make over 500 flavor and aroma compounds,” said Chris White, the founder of White Labs. This has a significant impact on a beer’s alcohol level, clarity and texture, reports the Times. “But while brewing yeast is one of the best-studied organisms in molecular and cell biology, exactly how its genes translate to brewing properties is still poorly understood.”

And for the beer lover, this could mean even more delicious beer ahead. “With this information, we’ll be able to select different properties in yeasts and breed them together to generate new ones,” said Dr. Kevin Verstrepen, director of the lab in Belgium. “In a few years we might be drinking beers that are far different and more interesting than those that currently exist.”

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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