Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

A beer made with ancient yeast and New Belgium and Elysian cut a deal

By William Brand
Thursday, July 24th, 2008 at 6:27 pm in Uncategorized.

Oddbits… the craft beer world is churning today, as somebody once said, “there are a thousand stories in the naked city…”. Anyway at the top of the heap… Fossil Fuels Wheat Beer, a beer brewed with 45-million-year-old yeast is about ready to hit pubs in the Bay Area and beyond.

Sounds like science fiction, doesn’t it? But it’s truth. The company is Fossil Fuels Brewing Co. The beer is a wheat. It’s being brewed at Kelley Brewing, the Manteca brewpub. Here’s the short version of this unusual story. Microbiologist Raul Cano, founder of the Environmental Biotechnology Institute at CalPoly, San Luis Obispo, discovered several yeast strains in the gut of a bee caught in tropical tree sap that turned to amber about 40 million years ago.

Working with another scientist, Chip Lambert, of Fremont, they isolated and revived the yeast. “They are similar to Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the yeast used today for brewing,” Lambert says.
Last summer, a friend Peter Hackett, of Stumptown Brewery, Guerneville, made a test batch of pale ale using the ancient yeast side by side with a pale ale made with modern yeast.
There were some striking differences, Lambert says. The test batch had an almost Belgian note with hints of clove, he says.

They formed a company, Fossil Fuels Brewing and cut a deal with Coast Range Brewing, Gilroy. Unfortunately, Coast Range went belly up earlier this year and filed for bankruptcy. “We lost a lot of money,” Lambert says.
Now, the fledgling company’s hooked up with Joe Kelley of Kelley Brothers. He has brewed a wheat beer which he told Lambert is the most incredible beer he’s ever brewed. The initial launch is this Saturday afternoon at Kelley Brothers. This is informal, Lambert said, not a big deal.

The plan is to get the beer – it’s going to be keg only – into pubs around the Bay Area. Lambert said he’s gotten a lot of interest. Interesting, huh. I’m intrigued. Stay tuned.

Oh yes, this was going to be a bunch of short items. OK – item two: Elysian Brewing, a small, but mighty trio of brewpubs in Seattle, has cut a no-money-exchanged deal with New Belgium, Fort Collins, CO. Elysian co-owner and champion brewer Dick Cantwell is brewing his Night Owl Pumpkin Ale at New Belgium right now for distribution in the Rocky Mountain West and on eastward.

New Belgium plans to brew speciality beers, probably starting with Eric’s Ale, a sour peach, Belgian-style ale at Elysian for distribution in the Pacific Northwest and possibly Northern California, New Belgium’s Brian Simpson says. The cooperative agreement was cut between Cantwell and New Belgium CEO Kim Jordan, Simpson said.

Eric’s Ale, by the way, is on tap at a few places around the Bay Area, including La Trappe in San Francisco. If you ever see it, try it. It’s stunning, started out as an experimental beer three years ago, concocted by New Belgium brewer Eric Salazar. Now it’s becoming one of New Belgium’s regular “wood” beers, as in aged in wood. And to think, we could be drinking Bud Light.

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  • Drew

    The Fossil Fuels Wheat sounds interesting indeed! I hope their 45 million year old yeast strain has a deeper value than simply good marketing! Looking forward to trying it when it becomes available around the bay area.

  • William Brand

    Hope so too. I know they’re interested in good beer and Kelley’s is an excellent brewpub, not prize-winning beer, but very drinkable. The scientists and the brewer from Stumpdtown apparently lost a bundle when Coast Range collapsed, They’ve sued. but there’s a long line of creditors.

    I’m heading to Manteca Saturday to taste the beer.

  • brewnot

    Jurassic Brew

    I love it.

  • Jim Larsen

    You can also find Pliny and Blind Pig in bottles at Moraga Liquors in Moraga.

  • P.J.

    As a Cal Poly SLO alumni, I’m glad to read that our school’s partly responsible for resuscitating this ancient yeast strain. I really want to taste it, when will it be coming out? That’ll be one of my goals next SF trip. Nice post!

  • William Brand

    They’re a bit vague, P.J. Right now it’s on tap at Kelley Bros. Brewing in Manteca, CA. I tasted it Saturday, exellcent and way different. They hope to distribute it in kegs around the Bay Area soon. But how soon, I’m not sure.

    don’t know where you live, but if you really want to tray it and you’re within driving distance of Manteca, go there. That’s sure. By the way, Kelley has great barbecue.