From the “Science is weirder that fiction” category comes news of a new style beer made from a natural yeast found inside wasps. An April 2020 article from October, an online beer portal for drinkers and critics, told the tale of a wild challenge that led to an amazing discovery.
It started when North Carolina State University researcher John Sheppard (with nudging from participants in the North Carolina Science Festival) went looking for a new natural yeast he could try for fermentation. He turned to colleague Anne Madden, an expert on “microbes in unusual environments.”
From the article: “[Madden] knew that wild yeasts lived inside paper wasps. Like a bear in a cave, the yeast hides out in the wasp’s gut over winter. ‘Then the wasps wake up in the springtime and they go after sugar sources, like tree sap or nectar or rotting fruit,’ Madden says. ‘And the yeast hitches a ride.’”
Madden ground up a single wasp and scientifically cultivated its yeast. After researching to make sure it wasn’t toxic, she gave samples to Sheppard. The first round was admittedly terrible, but Sheppard then realized the wasp-yeast was producing lactic acid (brewers usually have to add this supplement if they want a sour beer). “I was not aware that yeast could make a lactic acid,” Sheppard told October.
Article again: “Their yeast, multiple strains of Lachancea thermotolerans, naturally make lactic acid from brewer’s wort, producing a rapid sour beer without the need for bacteria, and unlike conventional sour beer, it has none of the typical funky taste or smell. Rather it is floral, fruity, and its glycerol content makes it feel delightfully soft.”
To learn more about this fascinating discovery (the yeast is now commercially available), read the full story here.