Sunday, February 27, 2011

Prehistoric Beer in California

Fossil Fuels Brewing, a small group of breweries in northern California, is producing beer from a yeast strain that is 45 million years old. The yeast was discovered in a block of amber by Raul Cano, a biology professor, while he was doing research in Myanmar. Sometime during the Eocene epoch, or 45 million years ago, the yeast would have become trapped in the resin from a tree, where it was preserved until its discovery by Cano. Incredibly, the yeast turned out to be an ancient relative of Saccharomyces, also known as brewer's yeast.

After the lineage of the yeast was confirmed, it was first used in brewing to create an experimental batch for the casting party for 1997's thriller "The Lost World: Jurassic Park," the sequel to the original film from 1993. These films were made with the premise that dinosaurs were resurrected from history using DNA inside mosquitoes that became encased in tree sap, similar to the yeast in question. It was first used commercially in 2006 to make a batch for Stumptown Brewery in Guerneville, California. Fossil Fuels now produce a wheat beer and a pale ale using the prehistoric yeast, and have plans for an amber ale and an Oktoberfest.

The beer brewed from the ancient yeast is not only a historical novelty, but apparently delicious as well. Critics describe the beer as tasting of clove-like spice, as well as ginger and pineapple. In addition, the unique genetic makeup of the yeast produces a highly clear product due to the way the strain ferments sugars. Fossil Fuels' beers are currently only available in northern California, but hopefully they will soon expand their production, as this is a beer I would love to try some day.

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