If you're into brewing beer, would you like to use a yeast that’s been around since the 1940s or perhaps even earlier? You can get one thanks to Britain’s National Collection of Yeast Cultures. The archive is trying to save endangered beers, a fairly noble pursuit if you ask me.
Of the 4,000 strains of yeast in the collection, 800 of them are brewing yeasts. Yeast is a living organism. It can be split into batches and the same strain of yeast can be used over and over almost infinitely, but if the strain dies, that’s it. That particular yeast is lost forever, and for some beer makers that means their brew will never be the same.
The National Collection of Yeast Cultures is one way to ensure that a strain of yeast won’t disappear. Samples of yeast are deposited in the center’s living database. Samples are “suspended in agar in glass vials and then frozen.” A backup is created, too, in the form of a freeze-dried yeast powder.
Why is this important? When it comes to beer, it means that breweries that have the foresight to have the strain of yeast they use preserved will have a backup (and a backup of the backup) if something tragic happens and they lose their yeast.
In the larger picture, the National Collection of Yeast Cultures preserves our bio-heritage. It’s kind of like saving seeds so we preserve our edible plant heritage and don’t loose varieties of food like Glass Gem corn or any number of heritage tomatoes that taste so much better than the tomatoes bought at the grocery store.
Saving yeast makes it possible to ensure that not every beer tastes alike or that there are a variety of yeasts available for the kombucha loving crowd. It also makes sure we don’t lose an important bio-heritage.
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