August 24, 2011

Beer Science!

Just in time for me to go pick hops this weekend, a couple of related posts on the history of drinking and brewing beer.

Does Your Beer Glass Matter?

Typically, my beer comes in a pint glass, which seems the standard treatment for this libation: it leaves enough space for a nice head, and allows beer drinkers to appreciate the color and clarity of their beverage. But is it enough to really enjoy the rich notes that fermented barley can produce?

Our relationship with beer dates back some 9,000 years BC when the fermenting process was discovered independently by several cultures. As this is a history that’s fairly accessible, I won’t delve too deeply here. In line with this particular story, however, is the history of “glassware”—the containers that hold our libations reflect the social context of our times. These products reflect the technologies and the knowledge at our disposal through the ages.

Raise your pints to the Patagonian fungus that helped us to brew lager

Ask someone to think of a domesticated species and they’ll probably think of something like a dog, cat, cow or horse. But domesticated fungi are just as close to our hearts or, at least, our livers. The yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiase, has been used to bake bread and ferment wine or ales for centuries. But it’s only partially involved in lagers.

Lager is fermented at a lower temperature than either ale or wine, and the fungus for the job is a cold-tolerant species called S.pastorianus. It has never been found in the wild, and its genes tell us why. It has four of each chromosome, and appears to be a fusion of two different yeast species. One of these is S.cerevisiae but the identity of the second partner has been a long-running mystery. Until now, the best guess was yet another species of cold-tolerant yeast called S.bayanus. But like S.pastorianus, S.bayanus has never been found in the wild.

Now, Argentinian scientist Diego Libkind thinks he has tracked down the real species that merged with S.cerevisiae to help us brew our lagers. And he has found it in a most unexpected place – Patagonia, the southernmost tip of South America.

Enjoy! (Responsibly, of course.)

No comments: