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There could soon be some extra Nova Scotia content to some beer brewed in the province.
Researchers at Acadia University have isolated wild Nova Scotia yeasts and cultured them to provide enough for fermentation experiments in a collaboration with Saltbox Brewery in Mahone Bay.
Russell Easy, a professor in Acadia’s biology department, lives on the South Shore and met with Saltbox co-founder Patrick Jardine last summer and asked if he’d be interested in the project. He was.
Yeasts are naturally occurring, and everywhere, on any surface.
The first step was to collect swabs or materials. A student researcher collected about 300 from various places and materials, including plants, the rocks of Blue Rocks, churches in Mahone Bay and even the hull of the Bluenose II. The yeasts were then isolated from the samples and tested to see if they would ferment.
DNA sequencing was then done to make sure there wasn’t anything toxic.
After that, they were grown to see if they would ferment.
Of the 300 samples taken, there were 14 that were viable for brewing, and none were toxic. Saltbox then took the yeasts and did some small-batch brewing.
They included ones from blueberries, the Bluenose II, lobster traps and poison ivy.
“The end game is to get a novel yeast, and get a novel beverage from that yeast, either individually or in combination with other yeasts, commercially prepared or whatever,” Easy said.
“The intent is not only to have a palatable beer that tastes good, but also something that we can say is isolated from a tree, or a unique Nova Scotia landmark,” he said.
The researchers just got additional funding for a second part to their research, which will look at the chemistry of yeasts, and see what makes them taste the way they do and act the way they do.
He said yeasts can be as individual as snowflakes, with proteins and amino acid components impacted by their environment.
Allison Walker, also a professor in the biology department, said the second part of the study will collect more years samples.
“The goal is to make a catalogue of wild yeast strains that all craft brewers can use, so they’re collaborative and interested in sharing the results of the study,” she said.
The work could even result in the discovery of new species of yeasts that are new to science.
“With the explosion of the micro-brewing industry, people are looking for something that tastes good and different.”
Jardine said the prospect of using yeasts from the province instead of something imported is exciting.
“There are not many yeasts that have been isolated from North America,” he said.
Big Spruce Brewing in Cape Breton did one last year, “and this is playing on that and taking it to the next level. Being able to find yeasts that are from Nova Scotia ... they’re going to be unique in the world. If we can develop a good beer from that, it’s going to be truly Nova Scotian.”
He said the early results from the small batches are good.
“You never really know what you’re going to get. It’s called wild yeast for a reason,” he said. “But this has been great so far. We weren’t expecting the beers to be so palatable, to be honest.”
He said the brewery is looking forward to finding a yeast to make a big batch with and make it available to the public.