Do GMOs Have a Future in Craft Brewing?

Hoppy beers are undoubtedly trending. In many instances, the hoppier, the better. 

The problem with hops, however, is that they are not environmentally friendly, because of the amount of water that goes into growing them.

Nearly 100 billion liters of water are used each year to grow more than 44,000 metric tons of hops in the United States.

So biochemist Charles Denby from the University of California, Berkeley, led a project on engineering genetically modified yeast strains, which could potentially reduce the environmental impact of brewers.

These yeasts are created by splicing genes from edible plants into beer yeast, and they mimic the flavor of hops.

Drake’s Brewing in San Leandro, California, has been one of the first breweries to take advantage.

On July 25, the brewery released its collaboration beer with Berkeley Brewing Science, a Pale Ale fermented with genetically engineered yeast, dubbed: Weird Science.

Berkeley Brewing Science team members were at the release party to answer technical questions, while Brewmaster John Gillooly spoke to the brewing side.

“The yeast we are working with — the High Sierra strain — presents an aromatic intensity that we consider the equivalent to a 2 pounds per barrel dry hop,” Gillooly said. “It is certainly possible that through using these yeasts you can cut back on the quantity of hops you use.”

Weird Science was brewed as simply as possible, one malt and hops added only for bitterness, Gillooly said, “so the yeast could fully express itself, and so our customers could get a feel for what it brings to the table.”

For Drake’s, this beer is just the first step in a collaborative process with HenHouse Brewing called Steroid Era.

The crowd voted on hops at the release party based on smells to which would best compliment the yeast’s aroma, and the top three hops — Chinook, Simcoe, and Bavaria Mandarina — will be used to brew a Brut IPA.

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