THE 45 MILLION YEAR OLD BEER
Pint glasses full of Fossil Fuels Beer are raising eyebrows around northern California. This could be due to the fact that the unique ingredient for the line of Fossil Fuels beer is a yeast strain dating back to the Eocene Epoch, which is about 45 million years ago. A team of scientists, Dr. Raul Cano (Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, CA) and Lewis "Chip" Lambert (Fremont, CA), are partnering with brew masters to produce what is surely one of the most interesting and unique beers of this or any time.
The history of the yeast literally dates back before the dawn of man, to a time when the earth was warm, tropical and teeming with life. Modern mammals that we see today were beginning to appear in what is known as the Eocene epoch (from the Greek word eos meaning “dawn”). During this time, a snapshot of biological life was trapped by tropical tree sap. Over the course of millions of years, the sap hardened into amber, which preserved and protected its contents. That is, until Dr. Cano, using amber obtained from locations around the world (including Burma, Central and North America), isolated and revived a bacterium, which had lain dormant in the gut of an encased bee for approximately 45 million years (Science 268, pp. 1060-1064, 1995).
During his research, Dr. Cano, periodically working with Mr. Lambert, isolated a few yeast strains that resembled modern Saccharomyces cerevisiae. In other words, they are similar to the yeast we use every day for brewing and baking, except the newly discovered yeasts were much further back in the evolutionary chain. Essentially, Dr. Cano isolated the long lost ancestors of modern brewing yeast.
Through chance and circumstance, a small group of people teamed up to form Fossil Fuels Brewing Co., which is utilizing the unique yeast strains to brew exceptional beer. Although not widely publicized, a select few northern Californians had the opportunity to try some of the pilot brews and they raved about new (old?) pale ale.
Jay R. Brooks, the tasting director of the exalted Celebrator Beer News Magazine commented when comparing the Fossil Fuels brew to an identical pale ale differing only in the strain of yeast (Celebrator, October/November 2006, pp:27-29):
"[Fossil Fuels] is smoother, with softer fruity flavor characteristics and just a touch of lemony sweetness that isn't tart...It has a more complex and well-developed taste profile, and its smoothness makes it great. The fact it is made with such old yeast is fascinating, and given how good the beer is, no mere novelty."
Peter Hackett, long time pub owner and award winning brew master called Fossil Fuels: "A remarkably unique beer that tastes like nothing I've ever had before, in a very good way."