Ken Carman is a BJCP judge; homebrewer since 1979, club member at Escambia Bay, Salt City and Music City Homebrewers, who has been interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast for over 10 years.
The Topic: Wasps and Beer, a New Beer Frontier
Listening to NPR this morning I heard a report about how the European hornet contributes to the complexity of wine. Apparently they are, unlike other insects, able to pierce the skin of grapes. Inside these hornets there’s a yeast they regurgitate into grapes that helps make wine more complex.
Think that’s “gross?” Well if you like alcohol, then you don’t even want to know what yeast are doing that creates alcohol.
Question: a new frontier for brewers?
Science and beer have always been part of each other because, if for no other reason, how yeast works is basic biology. This is an argument I have had with homebrewers many times, homebrewers who claim it’s “chemistry, not biology!” Huh? I guess they think biology is biology, chemistry is chemistry, physics is physics, and never the scientific trains dare meet least they crash.
Just the opposite: while it’s both, if you have to pick one biology is the better choice.
You remember that yeast is a living organism, right? Now remember what I said about how yeast produce alcohol? But before you say, “Oh, poop,” you’re partially right. No divine deity came down and separated all the disciplines, scientific and other, from each other. Chemical compounds are not exclusively un-biological, and the less biological in origin ones are certainly affected by the presence of biological influences.
In reality disciplines considered, oh, so separate are at least as related as second, or third, cousins, and often so intertwined, so close, they probably smoke ciggies afterward and forget birth control all the time. That’s how new disciplines are born. Science fiction is a marriage between, what? If you don’t know, read the genre’s name again.
And simply because we’re talking about grapes doesn’t mean this has nothing to do with beer. After all, one of the newest: yet quite old, trends, is to put fermenting wort into wine barrels. You think wine barrels were never, ever, used for both in the past, or perfectly cleaned and sanitized between uses? In the more present tense, Dogfish is one of many brewers who have combined wine and beer, grapes and beer… hey if it’s all fermented together, isn’t it part wine as well? Doesn’t matter what yeast you use. As one who has made many a Braggot, I know wine yeast has its uses in beer.
And the border we pretend to perceive between the two, not that there really ever was one except one we’ve insist on, is growing less defined. There are all kinds of ways to mix wine and beer, but one scientists and many brewers may not have considered… yet.
In the 1800s lager yeast was invented. No, damn it, all beer isn’t lager-yeasted, despite mega-brewers attempt to “make it so” in the mid-1900s. Almost all beer before that was ale yeast, or ale yeast related, except those damn Belgians who love to use other yeasties as well to create sour and funky concoctions.
Can I have another glass, please?
Oh, and in the early years of beer, who knows exactly what yeasties they used since they didn’t know about yeast: brewing sticks or just random fermentation from what’s floating around in the air, or on the vessels they used, turned wort into beer. (Or “wert,” is you like to use one of the “olde” spellings.)
Some of my readers may be horrified by my next suggestion, and even think I’m suggesting we build a Franken-yeast, but what about taking that hornet-yeastie, modifying it in various ways, and helping to create more complexity, and more styles, of beer?
While I admit to being a tad short on the science end here, I suspect we may not have to go as far as to create a Franken-yeast, though the temptation to yell, “It’s alive!!!” …or “My name is… Frankensteeeen!” …may be too hard to resist.
Basic yeast-ology tells us that by the time yeast hits about the tenth generation it’s really a different yeast. Why not have our friends at Wyeast and White Labs see if they can get them really horny and create little yeasties of mixed parentage, using the yeast inside the European hornet? Now I know that might break up some yeast families but, what’s the dif since they naturally… split… to begin anyway?
Well, it’s a thought to consider anyway. And if we have to go more genetically Franken-berry-ish, I’m sure the hornet won’t mind. Come over here ya little winged bugger while I stick this needle into…
OW! I forgot to sedate you. Now I have to sedate myself to stop the pain.
Ah, that feels SO much better.