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400 year old Ecuadorian beer revived from yeast – Science-Environment News – Report by AFR

In an old oak barrel, Ecuadorian bioengineer Javier Carvajal found the Mushroom of Happiness: a 400-year-old specimen of yeast that he has since been able to revive and use to reproduce what is believed to be Latin America’s oldest beer.

Taken from just a splinter of wood, this single-celled microorganism was key to reconstituting the formula for an elixir first brewed in Quito in 1566 by Brother Jodoco Ricke, a Franciscan of Flemish origin who historians believe may have used wheat and barley in what is now introduced the Ecuadorian capital.

“Not only have we recovered a biological treasure, but also the 400-year-old work of silently domesticating a yeast, probably originating from a chicha, collected from the local environment,” Carvajal told AFP.

Chicha is a fermented corn beverage brewed by Native Americans before Spanish colonization.

Carvajal, who had previous experience of producing other yeasts, learned about the old Franciscan brewery in Quito while reading beer trade magazines.

It took him a year, but in 2008 he finally managed to find a keg from the old brewery.

It was kept in the Convent of San Francisco in Quito, an imposing three-hectare complex built between 1537 and 1680 and now a museum.

After extracting a splinter, Carvajal used a microscope to find a tiny yeast specimen that he was able to revive after a long period of cultivation.

In his lab at the Catholic University of Ecuador, Carvajal takes a small vial of a strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiaerescatada yeast.

“He lives here in a small container. He’s very humble, but he’s the star” of the lab, said the 59-year-old.

– filling the holes –

Carvajal, who comes from a family of brewers, found an article in a trade magazine that vaguely described the 16th-century Franciscan brew’s recipe.

He gradually pieced together information to revitalize the brew with cinnamon, fig, clove, and sugarcane flavors.

“The recipe had a huge number of holes, and my job was to fill in those holes,” Carvajal said.

“It’s a work of beer archeology within microbial archeology” that he had to undertake to salvage the yeast that creates most of the drink’s flavor.

After a decade of research and testing, Carvajal began making the beer at his home in 2018 — but the pandemic thwarted his attempts to commercialize it.

He still hasn’t found a launch date for his product or a price.

Carvajal likens his work, centuries after the Franciscans domesticated yeast, to intensive nurturing at the molecular level.

“It’s like they’re dormant, like dried seeds that have deteriorated over the years. So you need to reconstruct them, liquefy them, hydrate them and see if their vitals come back.”

Historian Javier Gomezjurado, who has written a book on Quito drinks, told AFP that the brewery at the San Francisco Convent was the first brewery in Hispanic America.

It started operating in 1566, but at the time there were only eight monks in the monastery and production was minimal, Gomezjurado said.

With the introduction of machinery into the brewing industry, old formulas began to disappear. The brewery closed in 1970.

For Carvajal, reviving the yeast and age-old methods used to make the ancient recipe was simply a labor of love for “the value of the intangible.”

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