Summer Research at Fernson

The following article was written by our summer intern, Dan Schmidtman. Dan spent his summer learning about brewing and trying to isolate native brewing yeast, this is his account of that experience.

I spent my summer researching beer. This statement, while completely accurate, is often greeted with laughter and interest by my college-aged peers. I received a South Dakota BRIN¹ grant this summer that allowed me to work alongside Dr. Paul Egland—a microbiologist at Augustana University—as well as the team at Fernson Brewing Company in hopes of honing the skills I have learned as a biology major at Augustana and making meaningful contributions to a local business.

While the duties of my job spanned from production to distribution, I had one overarching goal: to isolate wild, South Dakotan yeast strains that could be used in the production of beers made exclusively using locally sourced ingredients.  That is, each of the four ingredients (grain, hops, yeast, and water) used to produce this line-up of beers will be sourced within the borders of our beautiful state. So, why would Fernson invest in isolating yeast from South Dakota? Beyond producing ethanol (the compound that gives you the feel-goods after throwing back a few Lion’s Paw Lagers), yeast produce compounds known in the microbiology world as secondary metabolites (not to worry, this is as science-y as this post will get). Secondary metabolites ultimately constitute the array of flavors you taste in beers produced using different yeast strains. And yeast, as a living organism, will produce different secondary metabolites in response to the different environments it is isolated from. This means that a yeast strain isolated in South Dakota may produce a beer with a much different flavor profile than an identical yeast strain found in California, for example. So, there is a certain amount of pride found in creating a locally sourced beer because of its uniqueness to any other beer ever produced.

I share the focus of my research with you because it highlights the most powerful takeaway from my work this summer: every beer tells a story. At the precise moment a customer in Sioux Falls purchases a Fernson brew, she immediately establishes a connection--a relationship--with the maltster in Germany, the hop farmer in Oregon, the brewers working at Fernson, and the bartender working in our taproom. When you drink a Fernson beer, you enjoy the culmination of a complex process that draws on the efforts of many different people. A beer produced using the yeast that Fernson Brewing Company isolates locally will be unique in that it will, for the first time ever, tell a truly South Dakotan story.

¹Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network