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Lab to Pint

Written by Cameron Murphy

Ask a brewer what it takes to create beer and you might get the unexpected response, “I don't make the beer, yeast does.” 

Amazingly, yeast, -- a single cell organism -- is wholly responsible for transforming a liquid combination of ingredients into something completely different and wonderful. Beer!

The earliest examples of beer can be dated back to 3000 BCE or potentially 10000 BCE when cereal grains were first farmed. At its core, beer was a way to keep grain from spoiling. Lacking the understanding of microorganisms at the time, the journey to understand how beer is made was long steeped in tradition and even superstition. Early brewers only knew that when they made their sugar water, bubbles and magic would begin a few days later. 

It would take several hundred years, and some work by a French biologist Louis Pasteur, to discover brewers’ diligent coworkers. As it turns out, brewers had really been cultivating genetically unique organisms. Yeast morphed itself to perform based on the beer’s makeup and terroir of the brewery. Due to the diversity of this process, we are given a wide variety of yeast to choose from that affect the flavor, look and smell of a beer. As the science and equipment improved, brewers began to isolate specific strains and remove the myriad of other yeast and bacteria that also love a brewer’s sugar water (wort).

Brewers often say that they don't make beer, yeast makes beer. In the simplest terms, the brewer’s job is to make food and provide a clean home for yeast. A brewer will start the processes by adding malt and water together, extracting the sugar from those malts. From there the sugar water is separated from the husk (spent grain) and brought to a boil to sterilize. Lastly, the brewer will cool the sugar water and send it to a clean home and add the yeast. 

The brewer then sits back as generation of mother and daughter yeast cells work 24/7 to completely change the contents. Most notably the yeast eats the sugar, creating carbon dioxide bubbles and alcohol. However, the true extent and complexity of everything that adds and changes is still not fully understood. 

Yeast is a renewable resource of sorts. When brewers employ their coworker to make the beer, the population triples compared to what was originally added. This abundance has created a tradition where brewers often share yeast between other breweries. It may sound counterintuitive for companies to share such an influential part of their product. However, this was, and is, an essential part of the culture brewers and breweries have relied on to yield better beer. This collaborative effort leads to more innovation and creativity than any one company or brewer could produce alone.

Here in Portland we are so fortunate to have two world class yeast laboratories -- Wyeast and Imperial -- as partners. This gives our team here at Hammer & Stitch the ability to explore yeast and flavors that have been developed all over the world for hundreds of years. 

The science and tradition of making beer is truly fascinating. And is there a better way to bond with friends than over a perfect pint? We can’t wait to pour you one soon -- Cheers!


 

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