It’s believed that at some point during the medieval period German brewers began storing their beer in caves. These innovators of beer discovered that aging beer in caves after the initial fermentation produced a cleaner beer, as well as, less susceptible to contamination.
By the 1400s this process, which was called lagering, led to the isolation of yeasts that thrived at lower temperatures more so than yeasts used for ale. This bottom fermenting yeast created a drier beer with almost no flavor or aroma contributed by the yeast itself. When combined with lagering the result created a simple, clean beer.
Despite becoming one of the most widely-consumed and commercially available styles of beer in the world, lager has remained a mystery for centuries. After a five-year search across the world scientists have discovered, identified and named the organism, a species of wild yeast called Saccharomyces eubayanus, as the missing link in lager.
Since the 1980s geneticists have known that the yeast used to make lager, S. pastorianus, was a hybrid of two yeast species: S. cerevisiae (which is used to make ales, wine and bread) and an unidentified organism. After researchers searched in Europe unsuccessfully, which included Chris Todd Hittinger, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the team landed in Patagonia, Argentina.
Patagonia came to the attention of the team when member Diego Libkind of the Institute for Biodiversity and Environment Research in Bariloche, Argentina, located a yeast called S. eubayanus in galls on southern beech trees in the town. Scientists believed that they were in the right area because these galls were rich in sugar, which yeast like to colonize and consume, and natives used to make a fermented beverage from these galls as well.
After the yeast was tested at the University of Colorado, which included analyzing its genome, it was discovered that it was 99.5% identical to the non-ale portion of the S. pastorianus genome. This suggests that it was indeed lager yeast’s long-lost ancestor. However, some researchers were still curious about how the yeast traveled the some 8,000 miles from Argentina to Germany.
Gavin Sherlock, a geneticist at Stanford University who has studied lager yeast in the past but was not involved in this study, suggested that perhaps the yeast was taken back to Europe from early explorers, since Columbus and lager both made names for themselves in the 1400s. Others, such as Hittinger, has stated that the yeast could have existed somewhere else by stating “Just because somebody hasn’t found it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”
In other lager news, Guinness is unveiling their newest line called Guinness Black Lager. I guess you can figure out what it’s going to be like, Guinness on the rocks, or, some sort of unnatural Guinness and lager hybrid.
So, there you have it. The origins of lager have been found after about 600 years and Guinness is now getting into the lager market. Are you intrigued by this discovery? And, will you be trying the new Guinness Black Lager?
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