British Columbia

Victoria scientists study the secret to better beer

A research lab at UVic has teamed with Phillips Brewery to study yeast cultures and how they age to improve beer brewing.

UVic and Phillips Brewing chemists have teamed up to study how yeast ages

L-R: Thomson, Phillips Brewing president Matt Phillips, Hof and grad student Aman Dheri at Phillips Brewing. (UVic Photo Services)

Two chemists were chatting over a couple of beers when they realized their combined skills could improve their future pints.

Fraser Hof, chemistry professor at the University of Victoria, and Euan Thomson, a chemist at Phillips Brewing, have teamed up to study how yeast ages during the fermentation process.

Using technology invented in Hof's lab, the two friends hope to better understand the aging process of yeast and improve beer brewing.

How old is too old?

Fermented yeast is re-used in batch after batch of beer. Eventually it expires and can cause beer to take on a vinegar-like taste. Knowing when to replace the yeast would help brewers reduce the amount of beer that is thrown out after a taste test.

According to Thomson, one to two per cent of a brewery's beer is thrown out due to yeast problems.

"Being able to predict when a yeast population has hit its exhaustion point, or is about to, is far more valuable than recognizing a problem once it's arisen by flavour analysis," Thomson explained to CBC's All Points West host Robyn Burns.

Hof primarily studies cancer cells. A tool exclusive to his lab can measure and identify protein markers in cells. Using this tool to study yeast cells could help determine many kinds of yeast there are and at what point they are too old to be used for brewing.

Science v. senses

Thomson said he notices a difference in taste in his beer after about 15 weeks of brewing with the same yeast culture. With Hof's help, he may not have to rely on his taste buds to tell him when things have gone wrong.

The goal is to be able to know ahead of time when yeast needs to be replaced.

Thomson's goal is also helping Hof with his. Hof is also currently researching prostate cancer cells.

"By working on yeast we will learn, we are learning, how to analyze cells. Our analysis gets better and better."

With files from All Points West.

For the complete interview, click on the audio labelled Victoria scientists study beer brewing.