British researchers have been given a $1 million euro grant to scientifically engineer yeast. This might possibly have an impact on the beer industry and homebrewing. Homebrewing could be cheaper, faster and produce less byproducts. As this innovation gains traction on the market, it would continue to drop in the price point until it is available to home brewers. The researchers might be able to develop different strains of yeast that make the process of brewing beer at home easier and cheaper. It could also be used to make beer with higher alcohol content (higher gravity) while reducing the byproducts from the brewing process. However, there could also be a number of unintended consequences by genetically engineering the beer yeast.
Without having tried any synthetic yeast, my argument is merely speculation but here are some of the ways this could impact how you brew beer at home:
Imagine cutting down the time it takes to brew beer. Instead of waiting 2 weeks for fermentation, it could be reduced to 2 days. Sounds great right? Ideally it is. However I doubt the flavors would be the same. It could also enable big breweries to push out their inferior beers quicker than smaller, craft breweries. Craft beer and homebrewing have come a long way and it would be unfortunate for huge breweries gain back traction on the supermarket shelves.
One of the biggest problems that occur with people new to beer brewing is regulating the temperature during fermentation. That cellar that you put your carboy in might be a steady 72°F but fermentation can cause the temperature to rise as much as 10°F. Higher temperature in fermentation can cause off flavors. There could possibly be a variation in synthetic yeast which prevents such a rise but how would this affect the flavor? While I’ve never tried synthetic yeast in beer I just can’t see the ability to match the complexities in flavor from natural yeast. For me, flavor trumps a longer waiting period any day. I’d rather wait an extra week for that delicious brew than sacrifice flavor.
Reuse of Yeast
Engineered yeast could result in fewer yeast that work more efficiently than natural yeast. If this happened, you could even reuse the same yeast over and over again because it is engineered to be stronger and more resilient. I love to brew weizen beer however it results in a lot of trub (byproduct layer from the yeasts’ life cycle). Synthetic yeast could be smaller and produce more alcohol without as much yeast. This would be great for big breweries who often have a large amount of leftover trub that they must throw out. Most of these big breweries recycle the byproducts by selling it to livestock farmers who use it to feed their pigs and cattle. Would their be any effect on these livestock if they start eating genetically modified yeast in their food? Would that have any lasting impressions on the meat? I’m not sure but I don’t want to be the first one to try it.
Fake yeast – what’s the verdict?
While the idea of synthetically making the perfect yeast for beer brewing might be exciting, I doubt this would be realistic for homebrewing. If the research is successful, I doubt that it would catch on amongst homebrewers. Without using the yeast, all of this is speculation.
How do you think scientifically modified yeast would affect your homebrew?