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From Sugars to Booze, We Thank the Yeast

April 10, 2012

Our second batch of Cow Thieves is almost ready to pop and I’m really excited to get into these guys. Just a few more days in the bottle, and they should be fully carbonated and delicious! We sampled a bit of the “pre-bottled” batch and these pilsners came out really exciting. This time around we chose two distinct hop varietals to use for each batch of one common pilsner recipe. This is just one of the seemingly endless variables beer makers can play with to produce all sorts of good stuff. Thinking ahead to the next production, I’m thinking we might look towards the yeast selection as a means to get even deeper. Considering fermentation has been around for all of humanity, it’s pretty ridiculous that it’s been less than 200 years since we’ve been able to fully explain it…

Fermentation is the process in which microorganisms convert simple sugar molecules to carbon dioxide and alcohols. For thousands of years, humanity was experimenting with the production of alcohol without this fundamental knowledge. Because while I may head down to the hipster beer store in Brooklyn and have my choice of hundreds of commercially packaged yeast varieties, fermenting microorganisms also happen to live everywhere. Ancient cultures were most likely pleasantly surprised that their grape juice and honey waters started to bubble and rendered them a bit more tolerant of the day-to-day, but I can only imagine how quickly that curiosity turned into obsession.

With little more than good old trial and error, the proper conditions of temperature and oxygen availability were analyzed as batch after batch of alcoholic beverages were produced. I don’t imagine they were as picky in the early stages but as wine, beer, and booze production became common place, it’s absurdly impressive how far along the industry was at the time fermentation was finally fully defined in the 1850s by Louis Pasteur (seen above).

So why do we even need all those varieties at the hipster beer shop?

It turns out, all micro-organisms are not made alike. This shouldn’t surprise you so much considering we as humans are all so unique and special. But these little guys have all sorts of distinguishing characteristics (most of which sound familiar). From the food they prefer to their ability to create and then subsequently tolerate levels of alcohol, individual strains of fermenting yeast have the ability to really impact the final product. 

Sounds like I’ve got a lot of experimenting ahead of me…

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