Beer has been around for 500 glorious years, and yet, we still don’t know much about its origin. Sure, we know how it’s made and how to drink more than our doctors recommend, but researchers have always been unclear about where exactly the domesticated hybrid yeast used to make lager came from.
The problem is that the origin of the hybrid yeast used in lager beer is relatively unknown. We know that a domesticated yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) combined with a recently discovered yeast (Saccharomyces eubayanus) at some point to create an interspecies hybrid—but we’ve never understood how the two halves met.
Now, according to a study published by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, we may have greater insight into the origin of the hybrid yeast used to make the cold-brewed lager the world knows and loves.
“The message is that this is a far-flung, geographically and genetically diverse species,” said professor of genetics at University of Wisconsin-Madison, Chris Todd Hittinger in a statement. “In South America, [S. eubayanus strains] are very prevalent and very diverse.”
The history of S. eubayanus could be the missing piece to this mystery. Its existence was only discovered in 2011, and when researchers began looking for it around the world, it was found in places like New Zealand, North Carolina, Tibet, and Wisconsin—all far from the origin of beer in Europe.
More recently discovered strains of yeast from places like North Carolina and Tibet have the closest relatives to the domesticated S. eubayanus half of the lager hybrid. Researchers believe that learning more about this half of the hybrid will give companies a better understanding of how yeast can be tamed and used in industrial products. For now, as the search for our domesticated hybrid yeast’s origin continues, we’re just going to sit back and enjoy a cold one.