Lager has won over ale by a near landslide, dominating over 94% of the market.
Scientists sometimes dedicate years of their life toward the most refreshing types of research, and have recently uncovered that lager was first made by 15th century Bavarian monks. However, they have no idea how a specific type of yeast even reached that far, as they had searched high and low for clues, quite actively travelling for answers.
Any self-proclaimed beer aficionado should be able to tell the difference between ale and lager, and know that the variation implies the type of yeast used in its making. Though, in all fairness, ales have seen quite a drop in the market, in favor of the lighter and smoother lager that has now taken over 94% of the beer market.
And, it’s needlessly said, that it’s one of the most popular alcoholic beverage worldwide. However, its seemingly unmoving success does not come without its mysteries. An evolutionary geneticist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Chris Todd Hittinger, has delved deep into the extensive history, travelled, tested and examined the type of yeast used in lagers.
For centuries, Saccharomyces cerevisiae (S. cerevisiae), a kind of yeast, has been used to make popular products such as beer, wine and bread.
But 500 years ago, Bavarian monks have reportedly made their mark in history that is well felt today, by discovering a new type of yeast that allowed them to brew beer in colder temperatures, specifically a cave during winter. So, that is where one of the world’s most popular drinks has been invented, in a mountain somewhere in the freezing cold.
However, further investigation turned out that the yeast was not precisely a new species, but a hybridized version of S. cerevisiae and, a previously unknown type, Saccharomyces eubayanus (S. eubayanus).
First found on the beaches of Patagonia, S. eubayanus has been observed to be more common within the Southern Hemisphere than the Northern Hemisphere, which lead to further questioning as to how it landed in Europe in the first place. Its biogeography is still a puzzle yet to be completed.
Some questions have been answered about the Saaz and Frohberg yeast lineages and the historical difference between them. While both resulted from S. cerevisiae, they hybridized with different strains of S. eubayanus, and that one simple difference has deemed one more popular than the other. Frohberg is dominating the market while Saaz has been set aside due to properties that make it less appealing.
The study raises the question if there any other strains of yeast yet undiscovered, hiding throughout history that may improve on the quality of today’s lager. It could be said almost for certain that someone is pursuing that goal right now.
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