I Tried It: 45 Million-Year-Old Yeast Beer

Life finds a way.

A few months ago, I wrote about a new beer made by Fossil Fuels Brewing Company that features yeast harvested from a piece of 45 million-year-old amber. Specifically, yeast harvested from the gut of a prehistoric bee.

Yeah, everyone, just like in Jurassic Park. It's probably not a coincidence that this yeast was harvested in 1995 by Dr. Raul Cano, a mere two years after Jurassic Park was released.

Actually, Dr. Cano harvested 2,000 organisms, and a few resembled the Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast we use today for brewing beer. Just really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really old versions.

The bad news is that the beer isn't readily available for everyone to buy. Depending on where you live, however, you may be able to get some shipped to you. I was curious enough when I first wrote about the 45 Million-Year-Old beer that I contributed to its Indiegogo campaign and received my bottle a little before Christmas. I also received a few pieces of amber, some stickers, and some nicely-scented beer soap.

The 45MYO (how I'm writing it from now on since it's a pain to type out - and yes, I know I could have typed it out in less time than it took me to write this) is brewed in the Saison style. With Saisons, the yeast is what contributes most of its signature flavor, which can showcase a variety of flavors, from fruity to spicy to phenolic.

Choosing a beer style with what the BJCP calls an "expressive" yeast makes sense when you're creating a beer whose focus is the yeast, but also a pretty bold move. I know Fossil Fuels had been through test batch after test batch to develop their yeast, so I'm glad they didn't choose a beer style whose highlight is the malt or the hops just to put out a gimmicky beer for gimmicks sake (SN: the word "gimmick" looks insanely misspelled to me when it's typed out).

So how did it fare?

In a sensory analysis of the 45MYO, it looked, smelled, tasted, and felt like a Saison. That assessment is not as boring as it sounds - it's a very well-made Saison, which is no easy feat. If you've had even a small variety of non-macro beer, then you've probably had the experience of tasting a beer that purports to be of a style that it very much isn't.  

The 45MYO Saison poured an orange-y amber, which is characteristic of Saisons. It had the signature dense, rocky white head, but not quite as dense or rocky as the most famous Saison, Saison duPont. It was also highly effervescent. Looking at the beer made me excited to try it, which is always a good sign.

The 45MYO Saison had a pleasant lemon note in both the aroma and flavor. There were other citrus flavors evident, but the lemon shone through and contributed to the beer's refreshing quality. It had moderate peppery notes and that underlying earthiness (in a good way) flavor that reminds you that this style evolved in the countrysides of Belgium and France. Growing up, my grandparents had a root cellar and drinking a well-made Saison or Biere de Garde always reminds me of the smell and feel of going into their root cellar. It was damp, cool, and musty, and smelled like the dirt that made up the floor and walls.

The malt was noticeably biscuity, but stayed in the background like any good malt bill should in a Saison. The hops contributed to the earthiness of the yeast. The finish was pleasantly dry and was balanced by the high carbonation. Overall, the 45MYO was as refreshing as its style promised it would be.

Before I give you my recommendation, I'll point out that I get that this is a gimmicky beer. I get it. I contributed to the Indiegogo campaign because I wanted to try this gimmicky beer. However, if this beer were packaged and marketed any other way, I would still absolutely recommend trying it. It is a delicious Saison. It fits the style guidelines, if you're into that sort of thing (which I am - rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men). While it doesn't rise to the level of Saison DuPont, the 45MYO beer - even with ancient yeast - is a great modern example of what Saison can be.