You’ve probably heard of aging beer before, but never like this. We’re not quite talking dinosaur beer, but it’s close. Dr. Raul Cano, a molecular biologist, and retired Cal Poly San Luis Obispo professor is working to bring the world beer featuring yeast that was born 45 million years ago. Yes, really.
Cano started the project after acquiring an Eocene Epoch piece of amber in the early 1990s. With a little help from a local brewery, Cano and his team have managed to extract microscopic bacteria from within the amber, of which they found the crucial yeast strain saccharomyces cerevisiae, better known as “brewers yeast.” According to Cano, once it was established that was the form of yeast his team had found in the ancient amber, it was then just a matter of brewing by trial-and-error.
“Once you’ve established that the yeast is saccharomyces cerevisiae, or a relative of it, you still don’t know if it’s a brewer’s yeast or baker’s yeast or what kind of yeast,” Cano says. “So then we actually tested them in the brewing process.”
Cano’s Fossil Fuels Brewing Co. has teamed up with the Ian Shuster, founder of Schubros Brewery, a 5-year-old microbrewery in San Ramon. Cano and his team bring the biological expertise, Shuster brings knowledge of the craft beer industry, and what beer this particular ancient yeast might be best used to make. Shuster says he knew right away just what direction to take this unique strain.
“Saison really came to mind because the yeast had this wonderful grapefruit essence to it that it imparts in the beer,” he says. “Some of the most amazing beer I’ve had, in terms of their light, crisp taste but also sophistication and layers, are Belgian and French farmhouse styles. We all galvanized around that thought.”
Schubros and Fossil Fuels have set up a crowdfunding campaign to help pre-sell the beer. Thus far, the brew has tested at 5.9 percent ABV (alcohol by volume) and 31 IBU (International Bittering Units), relatively mild numbers by craft beer standards. Their hope is that the beer will be available for purchase this December, both in draft beer and bottled beer forms. You’ve waited 45 million years for it, what’s a few more months?