A DNA study helped a group of scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison to learn more about the history of lager beer and how exactly the 15th Century Bavarian monks managed to brew it despite their country’s cool climate.
Scientists long speculated that those monks mixed a foreign type of yeast with the traditional yeast found in their region to be able to brew lager although they didn’t have the necessary warm temperatures to allow them to do it.
The team discovered the mysterious yeast four years ago, but it is only now that they were able to map its DNA. The analysis provided researchers with a couple of interesting insights.
First, they learned that there are genetic signs of domestication in the lager yeast used by modern-day breweries. Second, they found that two popular types of lager yeast – Saaz and Frohberg – do not have a common ancestor.
Chris Todd Hittinger, lead author of the study, and his colleagues have spent years trying to solve the mystery behind lager’s production. Ale is usually made from a common type of yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is also used by bakeries to bake bread. But that type of yeast requires relatively warm temperatures for a full effect.
In the 15th century, however, some monks from Bavaria, Germany, must have mixed, or hybridized, traditional ale with a yeast strain that was not local. That mix helped them invent lager beer. But for more than 500 years no one knew what kind of yeast they used to produce it.
Four years ago, Hittinger found the yeast dwelling on the trees in Patagonia, a relatively cool region located in South America. He dubbed it Saccharomyces eubayanus. Ever since, he and his team looked for more strains of the yeast across the southern hemisphere (and they found plenty) and in the northern hemisphere, where the lager yeast was scarce.
The team only managed to find it in Wisconsin and China, so apparently there were no traces in Europe. So, how the German monks managed to find a sample and use it in their beer remains largely a mystery.
And the DNA analysis didn’t help researchers either. But it did help scientists learn more about Saaz and Frohberg’s origins. Apparently, they don’t have a common strain of S. cerevisiae from which they emerged. They formed from two different types of sources and hybridized separately throughout the history. The DNA study also showed why Saaz became so unpleasant that made brew makers drop it from the brewing process.
Image Source: The Rubi
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