Today in 2010, US Patent WO 2010042896 A1 was issued, an invention of Raul Cano, assigned to the Fossil Fuels Brewing Company, for his “Novel Yeast Strain and Methods of Use Thereof.” Here’s the Abstract:
The present disclosure relates to an isolated yeast strain deposited as NRRL Y-50184. The present disclosure also relates generally to methods of manufacturing of products, including a fermented beverage or a fermented food using yeast cell from the isolated yeast strain or a cell culture derived from the strain.
This is one of three patent applications filed by Cano and Fossil Fuels Brewing, of which this is the earliest. They all have the same priority date of October 10, 2008. The second, EP 2350262 A1, was published August 3, 2011 and the third, US 20110293778 A1, was published December 1, 2011. All three seem virtually identical to one another.
In 2006, I wrote about this story for the Celebrator Beer News, and two years later, in 2008, online under the title Dinosaur Beer, after it was reported in the Washington Post, with several errors and odd discrepancies. Here’s that story, from 2008:
No, I don’t been those lumbering giants making flavorless beer-like industrial beverages which we all hope might one day become extinct, I’m talking about a beer made with roughly 45-million-year old yeast found in a bug entombed in amber, and extracted just like the plot of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. This time around, the story involves Fossil Fuels Brewing Co., whose owners include Dr. Raul J. Cano, the Emeritus Professor at Cal. Poly in San Luis Obispo who originally made the discovery. According to the story in today’s Washington Post, the breakthrough came last month.
“I was going through my collection, going, ‘Gee whiz — this is pretty nifty. Maybe we could use it to make beer,’ ” says Cano, 63, now the director of the Environmental Biotechnology Institute at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.
Last month? Hold on just a second. First of all the article mentions the following:
In April, at the World Beer Cup in San Diego, “we had one judge give us the highest marks, one just below and one who didn’t like it,” says Chip Lambert, 63, the company’s other second microbiologist. “We learned that the issue was that in these competitions, you brew to match the traditional concept of the style, which these yeast just don’t do.”
Ignoring for the moment that the World Beer Cup isn’t judged like that (there are no “highest marks” or anything similar), the Washington Post published this article yesterday, September 1. That would mean the World Beer Cup took place five months ago, not to mention that to enter that competition you have to register and submit your beer well in advance of the actual judging. I’m not trying to quibble with the story, a least that wasn’t my original intent, but this just doesn’t add up. Last month? Setting all that aside for the moment, I wrote about this two years ago, when Stumptown Brewing, in Guernville, California, made a beer called Tyrannosaurus-Rat, also using Dr. Cano’s ancient yeast.
This is part of what I wrote in Fall of 2006 in the Celebrator Beer News, reviewing a beer and barbecue festival held along the Guernville River at Stumptown:
But as good as the barbecue was, I was there for the beer. I was particularly keen to try what Stumptown was billing as a beer made with the world’s oldest yeast. Their “Tyrannosaurus-Rat” — or T-Rat for short — was essentially their popular “Rat Bastard,” but brewed using yeast that was 30 million years-old, give or take a few million years! How it got to be in Stumptown’s beer is nearly as interesting as the beer itself. It was discovered in the Dominican Republic trapped inside of a bee that was also trapped inside of a piece of amber, a terrific preservative. And the bee had been there for somewhere between 25 and 40 million years. Dr. Raul J. Cano, Emeritus Professor at Cal. Poly in San Luis Obispo, made the discovery in 1995 and managed to extract living bacterium, including a few strains of yeast, directly from the bee’s stomach. The ancient microorganisms were patented and also inspired the movie “Jurassic Park II.” It fell into Stumptown’s lap during a ski trip where the Hackett’s met a friend of Dr. Cano, and the rest, as they say, is literally ancient history.
I tried the T-Rat alongside of its modern counterpart, Rat Bastard, as they were the same in all respects except for the yeast. The Rat Bastard is a well-made pale ale, with good aromas and a crisp, clean palate. It has a generous hop bite that finishes bitter, then drops off sharply in the end. The T-Rat was much smoother, with softer, fruity flavor characteristics and just a touch of lemony sweetness that wasn’t tart. The finish is quite clean, with just a quiet hop presence lingering. While they’re both good beers, I think the T-Rat has a more complex, developed taste profile but its smoothness makes it great. The fact that it was made with such an old yeast is fascinating and given how good the beer is, no mere novelty.
There are also other anomalies. In my story, which relied primarily on Stumptown’s information, the yeast was found in a bee from the Dominican Republic. The Washington Post account, however, lists the Lebanese weevil as the yeast carrier. On top of that Dr. George Poinar, who was also involved in finding and extracting the DNA from amber, says on his biography web page that its age was 125 million-years old.
And here is the original press release for Stumptown’s version of the beer, from June 27, 2006:
For the first time, 25-40 million year old yeast has been used to brew a commercial batch of beer (“Tyrannosaurus Rat”) to be made available to the public on July 8th at Stumptown Brewery (15045 River Rd. Guerneville, Ca.). Dr. Raul Cano, Lewis “Chip” Lambert, and Peter Hackett will be celebrating this historic event and available for questions from 11:00A.M. on Saturday July 8th.
The public tasting of the T-Rat is the culmination of coincidences that involved a 20-40 million-year old bee trapped in amber and discovered in the Dominican Republic, a pair of renowned scientists, a ski weekend and an award winning microbrewery.
Amber is nature’s perfect preservative. It desiccates its specimens and protects them from damaging radiation of all types. Man has successfully used it to preserve their dead for thousands of years; Nature has preserved many of its inhabitants, including the recently identified spider web, in their elegant tombs for tens of millions of years.
Dr. Raul J. Cano, Emeritus Professor at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, reported in Science (Volume 268, May 19, 1995) that he extracted a living bacterium from the gut of a stingless bee entombed in amber 25 – 40 million years ago. Independently, Lewis (Chip) Lambert, Fremont, CA, at the time Director of Pre-Clinical Research at a Bay Area biotech company, confirmed his work in a very skeptical scientific environment that has, for the most part, accepted its validity. In addition, Raul’s work became the underlying premise for the movie Jurassic Park.
The patented ancient microorganisms (USPO#5,593,883) became the focus of a new company based on the potential use of these microbial isolates for industrial and medical applications, and the hunt began. From the ancient-amber library came a few yeast strains and with them, the question, could they be used to make beer? The answer was a resounding yes as very good beer was brewed for the Jurassic Park II cast party and Raul’s daughter’s wedding reception.
After this initial success, Fossil Fuels Brewing Company was born with the motto “We bring good things back to life.” Using ancient yeasts that had all been thoroughly tested and selected for their beer-making properties, Fossil Fuels Brewing Co. planned to produce high quality distinctive beers with yeasts that had been isolated from amber.
The partners then proposed trials of these ancient yeasts to numerous microbreweries. Much to their surprise, in an industry that thrives on innovation, found a lack of enthusiasm among commercial breweries.
Fast forward a few years to the snowy slopes of Alpine Meadows where Carla Hackett was taking a ski lesson from Raul’s now friend and business partner, Chip. Carla had all the attributes of a great skier that her husband, an Aussie who owns the Stumptown Brewery in Guerneville, lacks. On the second, never the first, ride up the chair lift, an important relationship was established when the question was raised, “would you like to make some beer with some patented, 35-million year-old yeast?” The affirmative response started a brewing relationship between Stumptown Brewery and Environmental Diagnostics, Inc.
This random path led the ancient yeast to Stumptown Brewery on May 6th where Peter, Owner/Brewer, put the yeast to work. On June 21st came the news that “T-Rat” had finished fermenting and was conditioning. Perhaps most importantly, that it’s “very good, very unique. The yeast character is unusual, exotic, and very pronounced”.
On page two of the Post piece they finally do mention Stumptown’s involvement. The new versions, which include a wheat beer and a pale ale, are made at Kelley Bros. Brewing, which is in Manteca, California. I really enjoyed the pale ale version that Stumptown brewed and will eagerly try these two new versions. But I’m still a bit bewildered by the discrepancies that seem to accompany this story. But I guess history itself is a lot like that, so maybe it’s fitting after all. I wonder what “Cheers” is in dinosaur-speak? “Here’s tar in your eye?”
Subsequent to that in 2008, I got a snarky e-mail from someone chastising me for not covering the story more, but I was unable to find out any new information. Supposedly Cano had set up a company to make the beer with the ancient yeast he discovered, Fossil Fuels Brewing Company, but the website has been static with no news for eight years.
In late 2008, this was posted on their website:
1. WHERE CAN I GET THE BEER?
The beer is available through two of our partners: Kelly Bros. Brewing Co. [now out of business] and Stumptown Brewery. Both breweries are located in beautiful Northern California. These are the ONLY locations as of right now that brew our beer and offer it on tap. The Fossil Fuels beer and atmosphere is always worth a road trip. (Make sure to leave room for the growlers on the way home).
2. WHEN IS THE BEER GOING TO BE DISTRIBUTED?
Rest assured we are working hard to spread our beer around the nation as soon as possible. As a young company the passion to bring our beer to you is immense but equally matched by legal restrictions, overhead, and distribution licenses.
3. IS THE BEER GOING TO BE BOTTLED?
The decision was made to pursue and distribute kegs to pubs and restaurants before we moved into bottling our beer. Luckily most of these vendors will have growlers for you to take home. Bottles are definitely in the works and we’ll make sure you know as soon as they are available.
4. CAN I HAVE A BOTTLE/KEG SHIPPED TO ME?
This is probably the most frequently asked question and the most painful to answer. The simple answer is no. It’s hard for us to reply this way, but it keeps us out of jail. As we grow the company new channels of distribution will allow us to legally distribute through the mail and over state and country lines (SGT Nuckols, Bart W.E. thanks for your service in Korea, we’re working on it). We are thrilled at the level of enthusiasm and interest from everyone and we are aware of all our supporters.
5. CAN I HAVE THE YEAST TO BREW MY OWN BEER?
Our unique yeast is what distinguishes us from every other beer on the planet. However, once the patents are complete and genetic markers have been placed in the ancient yeast, Fossil Fuels will be able to distribute the yeast to our fellow craft brewers (along with a confidentiality agreement, of course).
6. WILL YOU BE AT THE GABF?
Before we released the beer to the public we did enter the Great American Beer Festival (GABF). And, although receiving excellent marks (5/5 from some judges) our beer was a victim of its own uniqueness. We entered our extra-pale ale style beer, but due to its distinct taste profile, it did not fit with more common styles of beer. The assigned “experimental” category was full of chocolate, pumpkin and other bizarre flavors. Fossil Fuels is definitely distinct but in it’s own unique way. After seeing the results of the last competition, the decision was made to forego the GABF for the time being. However, we will be attending other brew fests, competitions and festivals in the future and hope to raise a pint with you.
Pint glasses full of Fossil Fuels Beer are raising eyebrows around northern California. This could be due to the fact that the unique ingredient for the line of Fossil Fuels beer is a yeast strain dating back to the Eocene Epoch, which is about 45 million years ago. A team of scientists, Dr. Raul Cano (Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, CA) and Lewis “Chip” Lambert (Fremont, CA), are partnering with brew masters Peter Hackett (Stumptown Brewery, Guerneville, CA), Joe Kelley (Kelley Bros. Brewing, Manteca, CA) and attorney Scott Bonzell (Oakland, CA) to produce what is surely one of the most interesting and unique beers of this or any time. With the green light from beer critics, brewers and end consumers alike, the team that comprises Fossil Fuels Brewing Co. is gearing up to share the product with the public in the summer of 2008.
The history of the yeast literally dates back before the dawn of man, to a time when the earth was warm, tropical and teeming with life. Modern mammals that we see today were beginning to appear in what is known as the Eocene epoch (from the Greek word eos meaning “dawn”). During this time, a snapshot of biological life was trapped by tropical tree sap. Over the course of millions of years, the sap hardened into amber, which preserved and protected its contents. That is, until Dr. Cano, using amber obtained from locations around the world (including Burma, Central and North America), isolated and revived a bacterium, which had lain dormant in the gut of an encased bee for approximately 40 million years (Science 268, pp. 1060-1064, 1995). During his research, Dr. Cano, periodically working with Mr. Lambert, isolated a few yeast strains that resembled modern Saccharomyces cerevisiae. In other words, they are similar to the yeast we use every day for brewing and baking, except the newly discovered yeasts were much further back in the evolutionary chain. Essentially, Dr. Cano isolated the long lost ancestors of modern brewing yeast.
Through chance and circumstance, a small group of people teamed up to form Fossil Fuels Brewing Co., which is utilizing the unique yeast strains to brew exceptional beer. Although not widely publicized, last summer a select few northern Californians had the opportunity to try some of the pilot brews and they raved about new (old?) pale ale. Jay R. Brooks, the tasting director of the exalted Celebrator Beer News Magazine commented when comparing the Fossil Fuels brew to an identical pale ale differing only in the strain of yeast (Celebrator, October/November 2006, pp:27-29):
“[Fossil Fuels] is smoother, with softer fruity flavor characteristics and just a touch of lemony sweetness that isn’t tart…It has a more complex and well-developed taste profile, and its smoothness makes it great. The fact it is made with such old yeast is fascinating, and given how good the beer is, no mere novelty.”
Peter Hackett, long time pub owner and award winning brew master called Fossil Fuels:
“A remarkably unique beer that tastes like nothing I’ve ever had before, in a very good way.”
Fossil Fuels Brewing Co. hosted a launch party at Kelly Brothers Brewing Co. in Manteca California July 26, 2008 to commence the release of their new beer brewed with its truly remarkable yeast to the public.
The following year, the website changed to a story format, which is what remained there online for a few years, changing once more to a more streamlined tale. Last fall, the site went down, but more recently it’s the current streamlined version, but there’s virtually no information there now, though you can sign up to “be the first to know when something awesome happens,” which seems optimistic, but who knows. The beer I had using the yeast was interesting, but I’m not sure it’s enough to build a successful business around, especially in the competitive market of today. I’ll be happy to be proved wrong, but only time will tell. With the recent changes to the site, maybe they are finally ready to launch it again.