Scientists Made a Beer from 5,000-Year-Old Yeast
The resulting brew is described as being funky and complex.
Here’s something your parents probably didn’t want you to know: Making alcohol is insanely easy. Alcohol is just a byproduct of yeast fermentation, and yeast is all around us. The tricky part is finding specific yeast to make your drink taste the way you want it to. For most brewers, that means simply buying pre-packaged yeast, but you can also harvest yeasts from all sorts of places: like rare butterflies, the forests of Patagonia, or even a brewer’s beard. With that in mind, scientists in Israel had an idea: Could yeast be harvested from 5,000-year-old beer and wine vessels to create a new beer with an ancient pedigree? Turns out, the answer is yes.
With the help of the Israel Antiquities Authority, researchers inspected the tiny pores of pottery shards recovered from Egyptian, Philistine, and Judean archeological sites. Even though the yeasts inside had laid dormant for as many as 5,000 years, the scientist were able to “resurrect” them and — in this case — use them to make beer and mead.
“What we discovered was that yeast can actually survive for a very, very long time without food,” Hebrew University microbiologist Michael Klutstein said according to the Associated Press. “Today we are able to salvage all these living organisms that live inside the nanopores and to revive them and study their properties.”
Though plenty of “ancient” beers have been made before by attempting to mimic the way these drinks would have tasted in the past, the Israeli team claims this is the first time yeasts from the actual period have been used in such a project. “This is the first time that living yeast were actually extracted, identified and recreated from ancient pottery vessels, and furthermore, they were used in producing alcoholic beverages that were consumed in ancient times,” Yitzhak Paz, an archeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority, told The Times of Israel. “This groundbreaking research opens ways to other endeavors that will identify ancient remains of foodstuffs in ancient vessels and will recreate them.”
When it came time to actually make the beers, however, the researchers teamed with an Israeli craft brewery used mostly modern ingredients alongside the ancient yeast. The result was a beer with a funky aroma and flavor billed as “spicy, and somewhat fruity, and … very complex,” as brewer Shmuel Naky told the AP.
The next step: Letting the public drink it for themselves. Ronen Hazan, a microbiologist at Hebrew University and one of the initiators of the project, told the Times, “Currently we are working with Yissum, the R&D company of the Hebrew University, to find investors who are interested in commercializing it.”