A glass of lager
Scientists have finally pinned down the origins of lager yeast, the yeast used to make lager beer, the world's most popular beer style. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

For decades, scientists have been trying to figure out where lager yeast came from before it was used in Germany during the 16th century to brew lager-style beers. A five-year search of the globe found the yeast might be from Argentina.

From Patagonian forests

For the past five years, according to the BBC, a group of researchers have been looking for the origins of a strain of yeast commonly called lager yeast. Lager yeast, or Saccharomyces pastorianus, is used to create lager-style beer, according to the Los Angles Times, which was invented in Germany in the 15th century. German monks took to brewing the beer in cold caves, yielding the light and crisp beer familiar to most people today. In the 1980s, lager yeast was found to be a hybrid of two other yeasts, one being the more common Saccharomyces cerevisiae, often called ale yeast. The other strain, which has been named Saccharomyces eubayanus, was a mystery until it was found growing wild in beech forests in the Patagonian region of Argentina.

Cure for what ales

Lager yeast is used to ferment beer at cold temperatures, whereas ale yeast ferments at room temperature. Wild ale yeast is a fungus that grows on trees, according to Discover Magazine, so the research team had to look for yeast fungi growing in forests at cold temperatures. Samples were taken from 123 different types of wild yeasts until a sample from birch trees in the Nahuel Huapi and Lanin National Parks of Argentina was found to be a 99.5 percent genetic match to the unknown of strain of yeast in lager yeast. Diego Libkind, an Argentine researcher working on the project, discovered the yeast and named it saccharomyces eubayanus. It isn’t clear how it got to Europe, but it is presumed that it was accidentally cross-bred with ale yeast to create modern lager yeast. Lagers were already being made by the time it arrived in Europe from South America; the hybrid of yeast strains must have supplanted the previously used lager yeast after someone noticed it worked better. The findings were published in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

Most popular beer in the world

The word lager comes from the German word “lagern,” meaning “to store.” Lager beers, according to Wikipedia, take more than a month to ferment at cold temperatures. Ales only take a couple of weeks, at room temperature. Lager is the most popular style of beer in the world. As of 2008, the world’s best selling beers were Bud Light and Snow, a light Chinese lager made by SABMiller and CR Snow, a Chinese firm. Snow dethroned Bud Light in 2008 as the world’s most popular beer by sales volume. Snow sold about 16.5 billion pints in 2010, according to The Telegraph. Beer brewing has been going on for more than 8,000 years, according to MSNBC, beginning in Mesopotamia and spreading throughout the Middle East and into Europe.

Sources

BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14592877

Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/news/science/la-sci-beer-yeast-20110823,0,5421077.story

Discover: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2011/08/22/raise-your-pints-to-the-patagonian-fungus-that-helped-us-to-brew-lager/

Wikipedia on Beer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beer

MSNBC: http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/08/22/7441151-beer-mystery-solved-yeast-idd

The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2008/nov/21/beer-sales-budlight-snow-china

The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/china-business/8715919/SABMillers-Asia-chief-Ari-Mervis-raises-a-glass-to-Snow-Beer.html

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