Rocky Mountain Microbrewery Symposium

February 25, 2015

Guest post by Phillip Richmond

The Rocky Mountain Microbrewery Symposium is an event that was founded by the Center for Biotechnology and Bioinformatics at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. As craft breweries—breweries that produce less than 6 million barrels of beer per year—gain popularity and momentum in today’s market, increased attention gets pulled towards what is essentially a tasty form of biotechnology. The Symposium is primarily targeted towards an audience of brewers from microbreweries across the state (as well as a few out-of-staters). Despite not having a formal biology background, these craftsmen seek out any opportunity to improve upon their art—even if that means exploring the potential of yeast genomics in their translation of wort to beer (more on this later).

The conference included talks about malt production from the self-proclaimed ‘maltoholic’ Tevis Vance at Great Western Malting Company, exploring the cultural and economic impact of craft brewing through documentaries, step-by-step walkthroughs of currently available brewing techniques and standards, a business-oriented view of beer distribution, and a detailed look at the development of sensory panels. By the end of the day my knowledge about brewing science had increased exponentially. One speaker even shed some light on the possibility of the buildup of acetaldehyde coming from either over- or under-pitching yeast into the fermentation tanks. As this is a problem that we are investigating with Avery, a follow-up with this speaker is in progress.

In addition to the talks, there were tables set up around the room with a few vendors offering their products to the brewers. My poster explaining the yeast DNA fingerprint assay we developed with Avery Brewing Company using Next-Generation Sequencing on the Illumina platform was displayed next to one of the brewing-supplies vendors. During one of the networking intermissions, we approached the group known as BSI—Brewing Science Institute—who maintain a catalogue of brewing yeast and distribute to a large number of microbreweries in Colorado as well as across the United States. Their two main competitors—Wyeast and White Labs—were also present at the symposium. The work we’ve done with Avery in genome-sequencing and fingerprinting diagnostics for Avery’s small set of yeast strains could be applicable to the entire catalogue for these yeast curators. Currently, all strain-specificity identification diagnostics for the existing collection—as far as we have determined—has been very qualitative: growth on different media, various smells of different types of yeast, colony morphology, etc. Genome-sequencing has the potential to usher in the next level of quality control for these unique yeast strains, as well as provide insight into some of the genomic differences that lead to different flavor profiles.

By the end of the day we had networked with multiple different breweries and brewing yeast distributors, learned a lot about the brewing process, been introduced to the rapidly growing culture of craft brewing, and sampled a variety of unique and delicious beers.

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