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San Ramon brewery preparing for 'ancient beer' release

Schubros Brewery using 45-million-year-old yeast to make beer

After 24 years of yeast and beer development and testing, a beer billed as the world's oldest brew is just about ready to hit the market.

Made from 45-million-year-old yeast recovered from a chunk of Burmese amber in 1992 by microbiologist Raul Cano, the beer is what Schubros Brewery in San Ramon hopes will help beer shake its tailgators-only image, according to Ian Schuster, CEO of Schubros.

Initially, curiosity was what pushed Schuster to give it a try.

"It's a bit like the question 'why do you climb a mountain?' Schuster said. "Because it's there. I tasted it and it was awesome -- the explorer in me was peaked."

The ancient yeast has been used to help make small batches of beer in the past, but Schubros' effort marks the first attempt at large-scale production, Schuster said. The company hopes to have the first batches ready by year's end.

Schuster explained that Cano underwent complex processes with ensuring there was never any modern-day contamination in his laboratories when he was first isolating and initially reproducing the yeast.

Based on the temperature it likes to ferment at, Schuster described it as an ale yeast.

Unlike modern yeast, this specific yeast doesn't store well in the cold, according to Schuster. Normal yeast that isn't being used is immediately stored in the cooler, however this yeast must be kept in temperature around 70 degrees when not being used.

When it is first pitched -- a term for when yeast is introduced into the beer, although the liquid is called "wort" prior to yeast introduction -- the ancient yeast starts fermenting with extreme energy and then very quickly calms down and rests, Schuster said. With most modern day yeast, this pause signals the end of the fermentation process -- a good thing if you have a finished product, but a problem called a 'stuck fermentation' if it happens too early, he explained.

"We need to be much more careful with analyzing these yeast cells during and prior to any use in order to make sure they are truly up for the task for finishing the batch or going into another pitch," said Schuster.

Schubros plans to have the full research and development testing done to see what kind of tastes it produces at different temperatures, the alcohol contents it supplies and what recipes wrap around it best by early November, and the Saison brewing in mid-November.

There will be several hundred bottles ready for supporters of the project through online fundraising website Indiegogo by early-mid December.

"Then we will roll out a 450 gallon batch for April, another for May, and then scale up from there," Schuster said.

The brewery is also working on three other recipes: a wheat, a pale ale and a stout. They have two other strains of brewing yeast as well but since they've experimented less with them, they are "later-down-the-road beers.," he said.

Although some people have been scared by how ancient it is, Cano and Chip Lambert, microbiologist and Cano's partner at Fossil Fuels Brewing Co., have been drinking homebrew and nano-sized batches of beer from the 45-million-year-old yeast, Schuster said.

Cano and Lambert have twice teamed up with small breweries in the past to produce small batches of it -- one of which produced a small-sized batch that was served at "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" movie's cast party, according to Schuster.

The venture with Schubros is the first time they are looking at a sustained long-term, ongoing production.

Also, with the previous small brews, they just threw the yeast into existing recipes for baseline experimenting, according to Schuster, who added. "This time, we are building entire recipes around this yeast's unique taste profile."

"People still don't recognize beer as the epicurean equivalent of wine, but it really is," Schuster said. "Plus craft-beer enthusiasts are always looking for something new and exciting, and this fits that bill."

For more information on the effort, visit the Schubros website.

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