Lager beer is loved by people across the globe. Beer aficionados know that the main factor that separates lager and ale is the kind of yeasts used for making the two beer types. It’s true that since a long time brewers are aware of the fact that lager is made using a special type of yeast; however, they never knew what exactly make that yeast different.

Evolutionary geneticist Chris Todd Hittinger, who is a representative of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is hoping to gather more information on lager yeast and the factors that make it different from the majority of the other kinds we know. People have been using the same yeast type for making beer for hundreds of years. The scientific name of the yeast species used to prepare beer is Saccharomyces cerevisiae or S. cerevisiae.

More than five hundred years back, the concept of beer underwent a big change in the hands of monks in Bavaria. These people started brewing in a cave during the winter months. The Bavarian monks discovered a new yeast type, which could be used to make beer at low temperatures. This act of the monks gave birth to the first lager.

Hittinger stated that brewers often adopted procedures that appeared to be conducive to passage different yeast strains from one batch of worts to another even before knowing that yeast was the primary factor responsible for triggering fermentation. For those who don’t know: worts are grain mixes containing sugars which get fermented into alcohol after coming in contact with the yeast.

Now it appears that the yeast used by the Bavarian monks didn’t belong to a completely new species. It is a hybrid of the conventional beer yeast i.e. S. cerevisiae and another unknown yeast species. Hittinger set out on a globetrotting trip along with his co-researchers for locating this unknown yeast species. After several years of exploration, he and his colleagues discovered the yeast strain in 2011.

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The yeast was found in an extremely odd location. Its scientific name is Saccharomyces cerevisiae or S. cerevisiae, and scientists lovingly refer to it as the mystery yeast. It was first located in Patagonia, on sides of the beech trees. As Hittinger and his team continued to explore, they came to know that growth of S. cerevisiae was more common in the Southern Hemisphere compared to the Northern Hemisphere.

The entire study has been published recently in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.