Iowa Sinkhole May Be 150-Year Old Beer Cave

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Last month during a routine inspection, a Cedar Rapids, Iowa bridge inspector found a suspicious looking hole in the ground. At first, he thought it might be a “potentially hazardous sinkhole near an Interstate 380 access ramp,” but as he, and others looked closer, it may actually be a 150-year old beer cave, part of the Christian Magnus Eagle Brewery and Bottling Works. According to a local newspaper report in 1977, “excavators had unexpectedly pierced a beer cave during construction of this stretch of I-380 when they were digging to lay a culvert north of Eighth Street” so it’s seems that’s the likeliest explanation.

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Apparently, a archaeologist and an architectural historian,among others, are investigating, and are keeping an open mind that it could be any number of things. A local historian, on the hand, appears quite certain it’s the beer caves, and in the local newspaper, The Gazette, appears ready to go record with his belief that they’re beer caves:

Cedar Rapids historian Mark Stoffer Hunter is a bit more certain of the findings.

“They are the Magnus beer caves. That’s exactly what they are,” Hunter said after hearing of the discovery. “This is very exciting as an historian.”

The brewery was constructed by Jacob Wetzel in 1859.

Wetzel hired an old world brewer from Germany named Christian Magnus as his brewmaster and foreman, according to The Gazette’s Time Machine. Beer caves were essential to Magnus’ vision for the beer cooling and aging process. The brewery was a five-story complex overlooking Cedar Lake, but the back ran into a hill where the caves were located.

The brewery had five cellars that could hold 2,000 barrels, two ice houses that held up to 2,300 tons of ice, and a capacity to produce 60 barrels of beer in 12 hours.

Magnus bought out Wetzel in 1868, and at the height of production, the Christian Magnus Eagle Brewery and Bottling Works put out 25,000 barrels of 4.5 percent beer in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Hunter said the brewery was possibly best known for Eagle Brewing, a popular beer with a logo of an eagle perched on a beer keg with its wings stretched wide and a man tapping the keg.

The brewery closed because of prohibition in 1915, although it operated for several more years producing soft drinks, among other items, before entirely shutting down in the 1920 and being demolished in 1937, Hunter said.

Hunter said in later years homeless people would use the caves, and they were later boarded up. However, children would break through the boards with “skull and cross bone — do not enter warning” to explore.

A neighborhood then was built on top of the beer caves, before being torn down for I-380, he said.

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The brewery from a lithograph done around 1875.

And here’s a photograph of the brewery, believed to be from 1870, from another piece in the Gazette about the Original Breweries.
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Cedar Rapids, city of. Historical Views. Little caption information available. Photo appears to show a view of the Magnus Brewery (center), looking southwest over Cedar Lake. The brewery was located near present day Quaker Oats plant. The original Eagle Brewery was established in 1859 by Christian Magnus at the corner of Ely and Van Buren, modern D Avenue (D Ave.) and Eighth Street (Eighth St) NE in Cedar Rapids. The brewery produced beer and ale in a structure made from Anamosa stone and was considered one of the best breweries in Iowa. An immigrant from Germany, Magnus originally started a brewery for Jacob Wetzel in Cedar Rapids in 1859. In 1868, Magnus bought out his former employer and continued the European tradition of aging his beer in cold cellars beneath the brewery. When prohibition threatened his local brewing empire, Magnus invested his earning in such ventures as the Magnus Hotel, a longtime downtown landmark which fell to urban renewal during the 1970s.

Couch Trippin’ Contest

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Lagunitas Brewing, my local down the street, is having a fun contest to win a a party in your home. That is, they’ll bring the Lagunitas Couch Trippin’ party to your home. What could be simpler?

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So it is pretty simple, just do the following:

  1. Snap a photo of your couch & Lagunitas
  2. Tag it #couchtrippin on IInstagram and/or Twitter

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So what can you win? Here’s how Lagunitas explains it: “We’re gonna bring the Lagunitas CouchTrippin’ party to your house … A killer band, tasty munchies, and we’ll even bring our own couch… All for you and up to 30 of your friends (sorry, we can’t have the whole town showin’ up). Follow the super simple instructions above. Or see full legal fine freakin’ print.”

Here’s mine, on our new giant sofa. It’s supposed to be a sofa bed, but we just keep it open all the time and use it as a “snuggle sofa” that fits our family of four perfectly, making it great for watching movies, playing video games, or of course, snuggling.

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Let’s see yours. You have until the end of the month, specifically “August 31, 2014 at 11:59:59 PM PST” to post or upload your own Couch Trippin’ photo. But make sure you read the rules first to make sure you don’t disqualify yourself. For example, I’m not actually “drinking or consuming an alcohol product,” because that’s one of the restrictions. I’m just holding the beer, giving it a sniff.

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We’re looking for a house to bring our CouchTrippin’ party to — so show us a pic of your couch with Lagunitas and tag #couchtrippin on Instagram or Twitter.

The Battle Over Beer Label Approval

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The Daily Beast had an interesting profile of Kent “Battle” Martin, the person responsible for approving every single beer label at the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB, in Meet the Beer Bottle Dictator. I’d heard of Martin — um, Battle, I mean — before, but didn’t realize he was the only person approving or denying label applications. I think I assumed he was simply part of a larger staff. I can’t say having a single person in charge of interpreting a fairly vague set of laws in a particularly good idea. There have been some very strange, seemingly nonsensical and contradictory decisions over the years, and I’d always thought that was because those were made by various people interpreting the regulations differently, the way the California ABC does, or the arbitrary way that movie ratings are given. I have to say, I don’t think that should be left to just one individual, no matter how dedicated or hard-working, as Battle apparently is, according to the article.

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Anchor Releases Zymaster #6: Saaremaa Island Ale

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Anchor Brewing has released the sixth beer in their Zymaster® series, Saaremaa Island Ale.

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Anchor’s newest beer was apparently inspired by a trip taken recently by their longtime brewmaster, Mark Carpenter. He and his family vacationed on Saaremaa Island, a part of Estonia, and located in the Baltic Sea. According to Anchor’s press release, this “ancient island has been inhabited more than 8,000 years, and has been occupied by Germany, Denmark, Sweden, czarist Russia, and the Soviet Union. Its culture is a rich and fascinating melting pot. Yet few outside of Estonia have ever experienced its uniquely native beers. Mark enjoyed them so much that he not only brought back his memories of Saaremaa but some brewer’s yeast, as well. Inspired by Mark’s Estonian beer journey, Anchor’s Zymaster No. 6 takes you on a journey to Saaremaa by way of San Francisco.”

Beer is a journey. Wine is defined by time – on the vine and in the bottle – and place, known as terroir. But beer, thanks to the miracles of modern science, can now be made virtually anywhere in any style, transporting the beer-lover to whatever time, place, and flavors he or she desires.

“My wife and I were traveling through the Saaremaa Island countryside and we stopped at a bar,” said the Anchor Brewmaster. “I asked for a local draught beer and the unfiltered brew I was served was completely unique. It was the native yeast that intrigued me and ultimately become the inspiration for Zymaster No. 6. After returning to San Francisco, the Estonian yeast was isolated and cultured becoming the cornerstone of our pale ale which is complimented by the medium bitterness from Northern Brewer, a favorite hop here at Anchor. The result is a one-of-a-kind brew that transports me back to that countryside bar. We hope you’ll enjoy this beer journey, as well.”

Zymaster No. 6 (6% ABV) is a medium-bitter pale ale with Old World hop flavor and aroma. Made with pale barley malt, it has a light body and clean finish. But what makes Saaremaa Island Ale exceptional is the native yeast that Brewmaster Mark Carpenter clandestinely brought back from his Estonian beer journey. It took months for Anchor to isolate and culture this special strain, so essential to the unique character of Saaremaa Island’s indigenous beers. Anchor’s trial brews confirmed that this yeast, reminiscent of some Belgian varieties, contributes a richly complex piquancy to this deliciously distinctive ale with overtones of freshly ground clove and allspice.

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Anchor Zymaster No. 6: Saaremaa Island Ale will be available in limited release in 22 oz. bottles and on draught in select restaurants, bars, and at the Anchor Brewing Taproom in San Francisco.

Craft Beer Continues To Grow

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Craft brewers enjoyed continued growth through the first half of 2014, according to new mid-year data recently released by the Brewers Association, the trade group representing smaller brewers. Craft beer production increased 18 percent by volume during the first half of the year (though the new numbers are based on the revised definition of who is a craft brewer as per the BA, while last year’s numbers were compiled under the old definition). From the press release:

From January through the end of June, around 10.6 million barrels of beer were sold, up from 9.0 million barrels over the first half of 2013. “The sustained double-digit growth of the craft category shows the solidity of demand for fuller flavored beer in a variety of styles from small and independent American producers,” said Bart Watson, chief economist for the BA. “Craft brewers are providing world-class, innovative products that continue to excite beer lovers and energize the industry.”

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As of June 30, 2014, 3,040 breweries were operating in the U.S., 99 percent of which were small and independent craft breweries. Additionally, there were 1,929 breweries in planning. Craft brewers currently employ an estimated 110,273 full-time and part-time workers, many of which are manufacturing jobs, contributing significantly to the U.S. economy.

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Hops & History 2

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Last year, the San Francisco Brewers Guild put together a fun event at the Old Mint with Flipside and the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society called Hops & History, in which I was the moderator of a panel discussion about opening and running a brewery in the city of San Francisco, and also helped with a breweriana display of brewery artifacts from San Francisco and California. I thought it was a great event, and it looks like I wasn’t the only one. Apparently, it was “one of the most popular events hosted by FlipSide for the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society last year.” That’s according to an Op-Ed on the Digital Journal, Hops History event displays that San Francisco is a beer town.

As a result of last year’s success, they’ve decided to another beer event at the Mint this year. The Hops & History 2 event takes place next Thursday, July 24, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at The Old Mint, located at 88 Fifth Street at Mission in San Francisco. Tickets to the event are $30.

Here’s more information about the event, from the San Francisco Brewers Guild website:

Its time to order another round. This 2nd annual event will feature Bay Area craft beer tasting, historical talks, a panel discussion, home brewing demos, local food vendors, and an expanded exhibit of rarely seen historical West Coast brewing memorabilia. Held in the historic 1874 San Francisco Mint, Hops and History Round 2 continues last year’s sold-out celebration of the unique history of brewing in the Bay Area while looking forward to the future of craft brewing in the City by the Bay and beyond.

Don’t get left out in the cold! Get your tickets early to join us to taste the past and enjoy the present of Bay Area craft brewing.

Event Info

Tastings from all breweries included

  • Presentations on brewing history
  • Home brewing demos by San Francisco Brewcraft
  • Exhibit of historic “breweriana” from the private Collection of Ken Harootunian
  • Bavarian pretzels from Bavarian Brez’n, and other local food for purchase
  • Docent led tours of the historic 1874 Old Mint
  • Souvenir sampling mug included
  • Music by DJ Timestretch

Program Info

  • Dave Burkhart and Jim Stitt: Handmade Labels for Handmade Beers
  • John Freeman: Shock Waves of the San Francisco Beer-Quake
  • Taryn Edwards: Lager, Ale, Porter, and Steam: “Healthful fermented liquors” at the Mechanics’ Institute’s Industrial Expostions 1857–1899
  • Panel discussion with SF Brewers Guild brewers from Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery, Triple Voodoo Brewery and Tap Room, and Cellarmaker Brewing Co.: moderated by Jay Brooks of the Brookston Beer Bulletin

Apparently tickets are selling briskly, so order your tickets quickly if you’re hoping to join us for another great evening of brewing history. There’s also more info at Flipside’s Facebook page. See you there.

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Rules For Brewing Circa 1747

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I recently gave a talk about beer and brewing in the time of Johann Sebastian Bach, at the Mendocino Music Festival‘s Bachfest: Bach and Beer this weekend. Bach’s time was from 1685 to 1750. And while commercial breweries were a big part of the story, brewing at home was still very common, especially in larger households, as evidenced by an interesting historical source I happened upon while researching my talk. The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, by Hannah Glasse, was first published in 1747, originally by subscription, but later the same year in a single edition and it had 20 separate re-printings and remained in print until 1843.

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In Chapter 17, she sets out to tell her readers “Of Made Wines, Brewing, French Bread, Muffins, &c.” Here’s her instructions, or “rules,” for brewing beer.

R U L E S    f o r    B R E W I N G .

Care must be taken, in the first place, to have the malt clean; and after it is ground, it ought to stand four or five days.

For strong October [ale], five quarters of malt to three hogsheads, and twenty-four pounds of hops. This will afterwards make two hogsheads of good keeping small-beer, allowing five pounds of hops to it.

For middling beer, a quarter of malt makes a hogshead of ale, and one of small-beer. Or it will make three hogsheads of good small-beer, allowing eight pounds of hops. This will keep all the year. Or it will make twenty gallons of strong ale, and two hogsheads of small-beer that will keep all the year.

If you intend your ale to keep a great while, allow a pound of hops to every bushel; if to keep six months, five pounds to a hogshead; if for present drinking, three pounds to a hogshead, and the softest and clearest water you can get.

Observe the day before to have all your vessels very clean, and never use your tubs for any other use except to make wines.

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Let your cask be very clean the day before with boiling water; and if your bung is big enough, scrub them well with a little birch-broom or brush ; but if they be very bad, take out the heads, and let them be scrubbed clean with a hand-brush, sand, and fullers-earth. Put on the head again, and scald them well, throw into the barrel a piece of unslacked lime, and stop the bung close.

The first copper of water, when it boils, pour into your mash-tub, and let it be cool enough to see your face in; then put in your malt, and let it be well mashed; have a copper of water boiling in the mean time, and when vour malt is well mashed, fill your mashing-tub, stir it well again, and cover it over with the sacks. Let it stand three hours, set a broad shallow tub under the cock, let it run very softly, and if it is thick throw it up again till it runs fine, then throw a handful of hops in the under tub, let the mash, run into it, and fill your rubs till all is run off. Have water boiling in the copper, and lay as much more on as you have occasion for, allowing one third for boiling and waste. Let that stand an hour, boiling more water to fill the mash-tub for small-beer; let the fire down a little, and put it into tubs enough to fill your mash. Let the second mash be run off, and fill your copper with the first wort; put in part of your hops, and make it boil quick. About an hour is long enough; when it has half boiled, throw in a handful of salt. Have a clean white wand and dip it into the copper, and if the wort feels clammy it is boiled enough; then slacken your fire, and take off your wort. Have ready a large tub, put two sticks across, and set your, straining basket over the tub on the sticks, and strain your wort through it. Put your other wort on to boil with the rest of the hops; let your mash be covered again with water, and thin your wort that is cooled in as many things as you can, for the thinner it lies, and the quicker it cools, the better. When quite cool, put it into the tunning-tub. Throw a handful of salt into every boil. When the mash has stood an hour draw it off, then fill your mash with cold water, take off the wort in the copper and order it as before. When cool, add to it the first in the tub; so soon as you empty one copper, fill the other, so boil your small-beer well. Let the last mash run off, and when both are boiled with fresh hops, order them as the two first boilings; when cool empty the mash tub, and put the smallbeer to work there. When cool enough work it, set a wooden bowl full of yeast in the beer, and it will work over with a little of the beer in the boil. Stir your tun up every twelve hours, let it stand two days, then tun it, taking off the yeast. Fill your vessels full, and save some to fill your barrels; let it stand till it has done working; then lay on your bung lightly for a fortnight, after that stop it as close as you can. Mind you have a vent-peg at the top of the vessel, in warm weather, open it; and if your drink hisses, as it often will, loosen till it has done, then stop it close again. If you can boil your ale in one boiling it is best, if your copper will allow of it; if not, boil it as conveniency serves.

When you come to draw your beer and find it is not fine, draw off a gallon, and set it on the fire, with two ounces of isinglass cut small and beat. Dissolve it in the beer over the fire: when it is all melted, let it-stand till it is cold, and pour it in at the bung, which must lay loose on till it has done fermenting, then stop it close for a month.

Take great care your casks are not musty, or have any ill taste; if they have, it is a hard thing to sweeten them.

You are to wash your casks with cold water before you scald them, and they should lie a day or two soaking, and clean them well, then scald them.

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Another Milestone: 3,000 Breweries In America

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I know that many people seem tired of celebrating numerical achievements, preferring to concentrate on the beer itself, or the quality of beers, etc., but I think there is something to be said for the continuing rise of the sheer number of breweries in America. It is, I believe, indicative of greater consumer acceptance and a desire for beer drinkers to want to support local producers. It’s true that the growth of the regional, larger breweries are fueling a lot of the marketshare, but with many of the new small breweries catering to a very local customer base, this growth phase we’re in shouldn’t slow down for a least a little while longer.

Yesterday, the Brewers Association announced that the number of breweries in the United States eclipsed 3,000, as of June 2014 stood at 3,040. Here’s more from the BA’s press release:

The American brewing industry reached another milestone at the end of June, with more than 3,000 breweries operating for all or part of the month (3,040 to be precise). Although precise numbers from the 19th century are difficult to confirm, this is likely the first time the United States has crossed the 3,000 brewery barrier since the 1870s. Wieren (1995) notes that the Internal Revenue Department counted 2,830 “ale and lager breweries in operation” in 1880, down from a high point of 4,131 in 1873.

What does 3,000 breweries mean? For one, it represents a return to the localization of beer production, with almost 99% of the 3,040 breweries being small and independent. The majority of Americans live within 10 miles of a local brewery, and with almost 2,000 planning breweries in the BA database, that percentage is only going to climb in the coming years.

Secondly, it means that competition continues to increase, and that brewers will need to further differentiate and focus on quality if they are going to succeed in a crowded marketplace. While a national brewery number is fairly irrelevant without understanding local marketplaces, 3,040 breweries could not happen without increased competition in many localities.

What it does not mean is that we’ve reached a saturation point. Most of the new entrants continue to be small and local, operating in neighborhoods or towns. What it means to be a brewery is shifting, back toward an era when breweries were largely local, and operated as a neighborhood bar or restaurant. How many neighborhoods in the country could still stand to gain from a high-quality brewpub or micro taproom? While a return to the per capita ratio of 1873 seems unlikely (that would mean more than 30,000 breweries), the resurgence of American brewing is far from over.

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We Totally Let You Win! Newcastle Brown Ale’s Hilarious Independence Eve Campaign

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Happy “Independence Eve” everybody. If you’ve never heard of “Independence Eve,” that’s because Newcastle Brown Ale made it up. But it’s so brilliant, I’m going to start observing it, and maybe even will start a tradition of drinking a British ale every July 3. Perhaps even a Newcastle Brown Ale just to say thanks for this hilarious series of ads.

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There’s maybe fifteen ads on YouTube or at the dedicated website Newcastle set up for the promotion: If We Won. The latest is below, though I’d encourage you to go back and watch them all. Here’s the most recent one, and they keep adding news ones every few hours.

And here’s another favorite one, with Britsh comedian and writer Stephen Merchant. There’s also ones with Elizabeth Hurley and Zachary Quinto. You can check out all fifteen (at last count) at Newcastle’s YouTube channel.

AdWeek has a story about the advertising campaign, Newcastle Ambushes July 4 by Inventing ‘Independence Eve,’ Celebrating British Rule The Redcoats Get Revenge. From the article:

British brands, understandably, don’t have much to say around the Fourth of July—until now. Newcastle Brown Ale, among the cheekiest of U.K. marketers, has turned America’s most patriotic holiday to its advantage by inventing a new, completely made-up holiday: Independence Eve on July 3. The idea of the tongue-in-cheek campaign, created by Droga5, is to “honor all things British that Americans gave up when they signed the Declaration of Independence,” Newcastle says.

“Newcastle is a very British beer, and needless to say, it doesn’t sell that well on July 4. So why not establish it as the beer you drink on July 3?” says Charles van Es, senior director of marketing for Heineken USA portfolio brands. “Unlike the Redcoats in the 18th century, we’re picking our battles a little more wisely. By celebrating Independence Eve, we’re taking liberties with America’s liberty to create a new drinking occasion and ensuring freedom on July 4 tastes sweeter than ever.”

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But not to worry, they’re returning to American beer promptly at the stroke of midnight, when it’s no longer Independence Eve, but officially the Fourth of July, and Independence Day.

Beer In Space: Ninkasi’s Space Program

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Space … the Final Frontier … for Beer. These are the voyages of the Starship Ninkasi. Its 8-year old mission: to brew strange new beers, to seek out new life and new civilizations to drink beer, to boldly brew where no man has brewed before.
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Alright, it’s possible I’ve exaggerated a little, but Ninkasi Brewing in Eugene, Oregon announced their new Ninkasi Space Program, a collaboration with CSXT (Civilian Space eXploration Team), “a team of around 30 civilians interested in private spaceflight.” As a longtime space geek, it’s a pretty cool idea.

Mission One

NSP’s first task is to test the viability of yeast in space. This volatile organism, the living ingredient from which beer is born, requires precise conditions to thrive. Will 16 strains of brewer’s yeast survive Mission One, in which they are jettisoned outside Earth’s atmosphere on a rocket? Once we know, NSP will be one step closer to the ultimate brewery…in space.

Mission one will be launched later this month, around thirteen days from today, according to the countdown clock on the NSP website.

More from the press release:

“NSP is a very serendipitous project,” explains Nikos Ridge, CEO and co-founder of Ninkasi. “I don’t think you could have planned a more perfect pairing of beer and space geekery.”

Introduced through a mutual friend, Ridge met with Bruce Lee, of CSXT, at an amateur rocket launch competition in 2013 where the idea first came about.

“As a result of meeting Nikos, CSXT is pleased to include Ninkasi as a team member for the launch,” says Bruce Lee, principle and range safety officer for CSXT. “Launching brewer’s yeast into space will be an interesting experiment – something we’ve never done before.”

With almost a year of planning, NSP will finally get off the ground this month. Ninkasi’s lab technician, Dana Garves, and RapidMade, a Portland, Ore. company specializing in 3D printing, worked hand-in-hand to design and create a payload container built specifically to safely carry the 16 yeast strains into space and back to Earth for brewing—the first to do so.

“I couldn’t contain my excitement when I first heard of NSP,” says Garves. “We spent hours researching, developing and testing what we think will ensure that the yeast travels safely and returns to us healthy enough to brew with.”

After the launch, CSXT will retrieve the payload and immediately hand off the yeast samples to Garves who will analyze the yeast on-site with a microscope used in conjunction with her smartphone.

“Since we’ll be off-the-grid for the launch, I had to figure out a way to examine the samples remotely,” explains Garves. On-site, Garves will be testing for the viability of the yeast, analyzing the number of dead and live yeast cells.

If successful, the NSP team will return to the brewery with healthy yeast, ready to make its way into a very special beer for craft beer and space aficionados alike.

“Obviously, the fact that we’ve never launched yeast into space presents many challenges in itself even with months of planning,” says Ridge. “While we have confidence in our partners and the process, this is uncharted territory on several fronts and I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds on launch day.”