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Can Bioengineered Yeast Solve Your Brewing Problems?

Labs and brewers are only beginning to discover the potential benefits of bioengineered yeast strains, from improving the flavor and quality of the beer to quicker turnaround time and potential cost savings.

Don Tse Jul 11, 2022 - 12 min read

Can Bioengineered Yeast Solve Your Brewing Problems? Primary Image

Alvarado Street Brewery in Monterey, California, is among those using customized bioengineered yeasts. Photo: Ash Patino/generic brand human

“If a plant or microbe can do it, we can engineer a yeast to do it,” says Charles Denby, cofounder and CEO of Berkeley Yeast in Oakland, California.

Using a gene-editing technology called homologous recombination—essentially hacking DNA’s natural repair mechanism to insert or remove gene “cassettes”—Berkeley bioengineers yeast strains to do things that are beneficial to brewers.

So far, Berkeley has bioengineered various yeast strains that can:

  • liberate free thiols
  • keep diacetyl below flavor thresholds
  • produce lactic acid
  • produce terpenes during fermentation
  • remove their diastatic properties

While Berkeley makes strains with these properties commercially available, the lab also can bioengineer a custom yeast strain for any brewery. Similarly—to name a handful of examples—Lallemand Brewing markets Sourvisiae (a lactic acid–producing strain), while Omega Yeast markets two thiol-freeing strains (Star Party and Cosmic Punch), plus two strains with phenolic-positive traits removed (Bananza and Sundew).

While relatively new, bioengineered yeast strains already are changing the way breweries think about and make beer.

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Don Tse is an internationally recognized beer writer and beer judge, working from his home base in the middle of North America’s barley belt.