Expert Topic Genetically Engineered Yeast Leads Innovation in the Category

When it comes to the raw ingredients in beer, hops get all the hype. Malt is increasingly shown the love, and water is universally respected. Yeast has its fans, and there is no underestimating its importance, but it doesn’t come up in conversation with brewers in the same way hops do.

There are some exciting developments in yeast these days that deserve a closer look. From innovations in the non-alcoholic space, the genetically engineered strains, to yeasts that play particularly well with popular styles.

ProBrewer contributor and All About Beer’s John Holl spoke with Brittney Christianson, the Director of Technical Sales for Berkeley Yeast about some of the innovations happening in the exciting world of brewer’s yeast.

John Holl: Where are you seeing innovation in yeast these days?

Brittney Christianson: Yeast used to be this black box to a lot of people. There are so many strains that people were using, but in the last five or six years we’ve really seen a lot of innovation happening. There’s genetically engineered or bioengineered yeast, there’s new strains that are hybrid strains that have popped up, which is also fascinating. And I think, everyone used to say it was all about hops, and now every I feel like it’s like the yeast revolution.

John Holl: That’s fascinating, the yeast revolution, because, obviously, it’s such a necessary ingredient. But I think you’re right, that there was a lot of focus on hops for a very, very, very long time, especially in the craft space. But what do you think has spurred on this revolution? Or this renewed interest? Or this even first-time interest?

Brittney Christianson: I think there’s just so much potential with yeast. And as you said, it was just something that people were just used to using and harvesting, and maybe didn’t put a whole lot of thought into it. Then companies started realizing how much potential there was out there. And just adding new tools to the toolbox, I think was the most important thing for a lot of these companies, and just providing options for people. Whereas, obviously, there’s a lot of yeast strains that already existed a wide variety of non-engineered wild type strains. But, there are companies that are always looking for novel strains that might not be well known, or, just new to the industry, that people are always looking for just new ways to solve problems that maybe yeast can help solve.

John Holl: What’s a good example of that?

Brittney Christianson: A good example is, Berkeley has diacetyl free strains. So, these strains keep diacetyl below flavor threshold. And that is pretty awesome. Because one, clearly, you’re reducing an off flavor. But other benefits of it is you can have a more efficient, faster process. You have to a long diacetyl rest. And you can move that beer faster, and you end up having typically a cleaner tasting beer at the end of it all because some brewers might not even know that they have some diacetyl issues. Then the brewers come back and they’re like, “wow, this is the cleanest beer we’ve made.” So, that’s just one quick and easy example of yeast eliminating off flavors and improving process efficiencies.

John Holl: Earlier you’re you mentioned hybrid yeasts, I can’t say I’m too familiar with what those are. Can you share some more information?

Brittney Christianson: It’s pretty much just taking two strains, and then you’re trying to pull the traits from each strain, the desired traits and putting it into one. It’s a slower process than genetic engineering.

John Holl: Where can brewers use those in practical terms?

Brittney Christianson: There are some yeast buckets. The first is the non-engineered wild type strains that you can get from your suppliers. And those are the strains that people have been using for years. And if that’s what people are comfortable using with, the traditionalists who don’t always try new things, because they like what they know, what they are comfortable with, and that’s totally fine.

The second bucket, in my mind, are these hybrids. Maybe it’s people who don’t like the idea of genetically engineered and they just feel for comfortable with it. Hybrids are a way to still have innovation, but maybe in a comfortability range.

Then you have the genetically engineered strains, and those can be produced a lot faster. . I don’t want to say the possibilities are endless, because that sounds kind of cliche, but that’s what it feels like.

John Holl: On the on the genetically engineered front, I know that for a while there was a hesitancy to talk about it or to embrace it, but I don’t really hear all that much anymore. I wonder if brewers have come around and that they are embracing what you all are doing. How has the genetically engineered conversation evolved and matured in the last couple of years?

Brittney Christianson: I think there was some hesitancy five or six years ago with some people and then you had the other side where people were just diving headfirst, using genetically engineered yeast. As people have become more educated, I think people are becoming more comfortable with that concept. And it doesn’t feel as scary or uncertain. And I think a lot of consumers are also more accepting of genetically engineered yeast. And maybe there’s just not as much hesitancy there.

John Holl: So as people are moving forward with it, as people are a little bit more comfortable with it, what’s on the frontier? What’s on the what’s on the horizon in that realm?

Brittney Christianson: I think that there’s just so much potential. In the last few years, we’ve seen yeasts that make these really tropical beers, and those strains have provided a segue to other kind of flavor forward strains. I think there’s a lot of room in that area.

I think there’s a lot of room in strains that can help improve processes. We have another strain called Galactic that produces lactic acid while it ferments so you don’t have to do a kettle souring you just push the wort over as normal and then pitch.

We’re finding other problems or challenges or pain points in the industry and seeing if there’s a solution to maybe solve something like that. That kind of segment has a whole lot of potential as well.

And I think that’s really cool that people are looking into process improvements because brewers are interested in it and because of that their consumers are interested in it.

The above transcript was condensed and edited for clarity.

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