It came from the forests of Patagonia and now it lurks in my garage.
This beast is ancient and it has travelled a long way.
Back in the 1400s it slipped on board a ship and headed for the Old World. From the shores of Renaissance Europe, it began plotting world domination.
But none of those early sailors would have noticed the hitch hiker that rode with them, it was too small for the naked eye.
I can’t see it either, but I hear it at work.
That traveller was a spore of yeast and in my garage its descendant sits snug in a vat filled with hops, malt and water.
The yeast’s name is Saccharomyces eubayanus, the grand daddy of the miracle stuff that turns hops, water, sugar and barley into Lager beer.
For a long time scientists and brewers have searched for it.
Geneticists knew that lager yeast was a hybrid of two yeast species Saccharomyces cerevisiae, commonly used to make ales and wines, and some other yet to be identified organism.
This missing link of the brewing world was identified and named after a five year global search. They tracked it down to Argentina, where it lives on beech trees.
Somehow S. eubayanus made its way to the monasteries of Bavaria.
It didn’t mind the cold mountain temperatures and settled in nicely. A chance encounter with S. cerevisiae, begat something that was to change the way we live.
Over the last 40 years Lager beer has come to dominate the world.
All the major beers on the market now are lagers. It is tough making it ideal for industrial production.
During winter it is lager yeast that keeps me in homemade beer.
It is a forgiving yeast for amateurs like me.
“This yeast is so strong you could blast it with a shot gun and it will continue living,” the owner of the Home brew shop Alex Barrow once told me.
That little beast, I believe, probably helped humankind in its march to civilization.
Back in medieval Europe hygiene was a problem
Water quality was bad, the rivers filled with disease.
To survive the population turned to beer. Beer was safe to drink, the water in this alcoholic beverage had to be boiled in its making.
The population increase of the 16th century might have been in part because of beer. The rise of Western civilization thanks to a micro organism that had a little wanderlust.