Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Lager yeast has Tibetan origins

 The astonishing news that the origins of lager yeast can be traced back to Patagonia has taken another turn, this time to Tibet. An article in Current Biology reports that the Tibetan Plateau is a more likely source of lager yeast's cold tolerant ancestor:

 "Lager-brewing arose in 15th century Bavaria and is nowadays the most popular technique for alcoholic beverage production in the world. The technique is characterized by low temperature fermentation using the domesticated yeast Saccharomyces pastorianus (synonym S. carlsbergensis). It has been clear that the lager yeast is a hybrid with one portion of its genome having originated from S. cerevisiae ale yeast . However, the source of the non-ale subgenome, which endows lager yeast with cold tolerance, had been a matter of debate . Recently, a Patagonian origin hypothesis of lager yeast has been proposed based on the discovery of a new cryotolerant Saccharomyces species from Patagonian native forests of Argentina . This yeast, named S. eubayanus, exhibited the closest known match (99.56%) to the non-ale portion of lager yeast and, thus, was believed to be its progenitor. However, we now show that this yeast species is likely native to the Tibetan Plateau. One of the Tibetan populations of the species exhibits closer affinity with lager yeast than the Patagonian population as inferred from population genetics and genome sequence analyses. We thus provide strong evidence for a Far East Asian origin hypothesis of lager yeast, which apparently corresponds better with geography and world trade history."

I was admit when I first heard the Patagonia news I was more than a little dubious about it. It seemed so unlikely I found it hard to believe, but with strong evidence to back up the claim I had to accept it. Now that it seems that Tibet has an even stronger claim I don't feel quite as surprised. I guess I've only a limited capacity for astonishment. In fact if the next bit of news narrows the source down to a bottle of Tibetan beer a yeti gave to Lobsang Rampa I'll probably just nod along matter-of-factly. 

Friday, 18 July 2014

Beer 101

Dent Brewery in Cumbria has been forced to close due to rat infestation. It was on the second visit of health officals that they served a "Hygiene Emergency Prohibition Notice" and shut it.

While it might not be possible to guarantee rodents will never get at your grain, they'd had three weeks from the first visit to get the problem sorted so they really should have. A bit of inconsistency from a microbrewery I can put up with, but there's no excuse for not having a pest control plan.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Beer in Italy

I was recently in Italy to judge a beer competition, and though it was hard work I have to say it's not a bad way to earn a living. I was staying in Perugia, an amazing looking place with more history than you can shake a stick at.

The beer scene is altogether more modern though, and from the many beers I tasted I'd say inspiration is drawn from around the world.

A short walk from the city centre is a craft beer pub called Elfo. It's a great place with a good selection, and if a lot of the beers did tend towards grapefruit flavour that's not a bad thing. If such beers are now to be found everywhere then it's a step forward from when bland lagers were the only ubiquitous beers.

The competition was open to all breweries (there are over 700 now), and divided into three reigions of Italy, with top and bottom fermented categories.  Ceramic plaques made in nearby Deruta were awarded to the winners.

This one was won by Birra Dell'Eremo, based in nearby Assisi. Drink their beers if you get the chance!

Interest in beer is definitely on the up in Italy, and when I popped in a supermarket there was a premium bottled beers section containing local and imported products. There was even a scotch ale from Tennents. It was nice to see a scotch ale made Scotland, rather than say, Belgium. Shame I've never seen it in Britain but interesting to see it in Italy.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Barrels round

One thing that's always amazed me when looking at pictures of old breweries is the pyramids of wooden barrels. Stacked to an unfeasibly large height they must have been an impressive sight:

As I'm far too young to have seen that sort of thing I thought it was just another bit of history that had gone forever. I know some breweries still have wooden barrels but what with locator boards and fork lifts I doubted they were piled up in pyramids. I should have thought it through though. Breweries might not use wooden barrels much nowadays but distilleries certainly do. When looking up North British distillery I spied a picture of barrels piled up just like they were in 1911.

Bonded warehouse, Addiewell. (Richard Webb) / CC BY-SA 2.0

The picture's from 2005 but there must be a good chance they're still stacking them like this. Is it wrong to want to go to Scotland just to look at a pile of barrels?

Friday, 20 June 2014

lightstrike and oxygen

 I spotted an interesting snippet on lightstrike in the Handbook of Brewing the other day.

Discussing the reaction that causes lightstrike in beer it states:

"The reaction requires activation by near UV, blue light and is also believed to require an electron-like transferring cofactor such as riboflavin. Interestingly, the reaction is blocked by molecular oxygen, which perhaps explains why outdoor drinkers of beer on a sunny day do not often complain of skunky taints forming in their beer."

I hadn't heard that before, and as ever it seems more research is necessary.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The Czech Research Institute of Brewing and Malting

After my freelance research in Prague it was back to the day job. I was visiting the Research Institute of Brewing and Malting. Arriving in the morning we were offered a choice of refreshing beverages: tea, coffee or beer. As there was no kettle in the hotel room I was severely lacking in tea so went for that. I did have a beer later though, it would have been rude not too.

The malting part of the institute is in Brno, with lots of lab equipment and two pilot breweries in Prague. The small one (50L), which is soon to be replaced, had the look of something made by a keen home brewer, though all in copper.

The larger one (300L) was an altogether more modern affair and looked more like a scaled down big brewery. Though they still seemed to do their fermentations in temperature controlled fridges.

They had a big gold statue of František Ondřej Poupě, which is definitely a step up from having a Horace Brown portrait. Poupě was an early Czech brewing scientist, who adopted the use of the thermometer.

 I was there as part of a project about a multi-use sensor, which will include temperature monitoring, so I think Poupě would approve.

Monday, 16 June 2014

A pisshead in Prague

Recently work took me briefly to Prague. It's a long while since I've been and I have to confess my beery knowledge was a bit lacking so I looked for some assistance before I set off. Twitter didn't get much response, and the recommendations weren't near where I was staying. What I needed was something more comprehensive, 'The Discerning Drinkers Guide to Prague' perhaps, or maybe the 'The Beer Geek's Prague Pub Guide'. Unfortunately these publications don't exist, but fortunately a Pisshead's Pub Guide does. Oh well, if the cap fits...

Being there for work I only had limited time for freelance research but the Pisshead's Guide proved to be a great help. After wandering around the main touristy bits the thoughts of my colleague and I turned to refreshment.

We had passed a Good Soldier Švejk bar in our wanderings which appealed, what with Jaroslav Hašek being one of us, even if he did briefly go Bolshy.

But I decided to start at U Fleků, the chance to drink in a pub that's been brewing since 1499 proving irresistible. Over the years the place seems to have developed into a highly efficient operation for fleecing tourists and the Pisshead's Guide proved invaluable in preventing us being parted with excessive amounts of cash.

Soon after we'd settled down with our beers a waiter tried plonking shot glasses in front of us, but forewarned is forearmed, and as we were expecting this we waved him away, despite his repeated attempts to foist unwanted drinks on us. I couldn't really relax as the Guide also warned they'd try and bring us unordered pints too, which sure enough they did, but some slick footwork and swift payment to another waiter lead to us being at the door before our 'helpful' friend could return with more beer.

The beer was good but after my experience there I wouldn't recommend it as a place to visit.

We called in at another brewpub next, Pivovarský Dům. Things were altogether more relaxed here, though it was perhaps not the best of choices as it turned out the Brewing Research Institute my work was with was part of the same building so we ended up back here later. Still, I liked the place so it wasn't too much of a hardship.

The best was saved till last though, and we'd never have found the place without the Guide. Located beside a three lane carriageway, and with closed doors and blacked out windows Kulový blesk did not look appealing. In fact we thought it was shut until we saw someone walk in. But once we'd entered we were soon in a sunny courtyard and away from the traffic. It was great. They don't brew here but had the best beer range of the trip.

I started with a Matuška, which I suspect was an ale, as it tasted of American hops and surely no one would got to the trouble of making a lager with an overwhelming taste of grapefruit?

Being in Prague it wasn't quite what I was looking for but the next beer did the trick. A pale, hazy lager with mouth coating bitterness it was the beer of the trip. They need to look at their fining regime though.

If the glass was right it was from Únětický pivovar. Great tasting, I could have gone exponential on this one, but with work related research the next day we left it at that and headed back to the hotel.