Carlsberg Brews Lager with Historic Yeast

By Annie Tobey | August 16th, 2016

Take a sip of beer history with 133-year-old yeast.

A bespectacled scientist lurks in the cellars of a historic Danish brewery, poking through old crates till he lands upon a true original: one of the very first Carlsberg lager beers brewed with pure Saccharomyces carlsbergensis yeast. He smuggles the bottle back to his 21st-century lab, discovers that the tiny cells are still alive! He feeds the yeast the food it has been craving since 1883 and –

The drama, secrecy and mysterious scientist are exaggerated, but the essence of the tale is true. Carlsberg has recreated that early lager, using the same pure yeast and the same recipe as in 1883.

The Carlsberg name holds significant meaning in beer history. In 1845, brewer J.C. Jacobsen traveled from Copenhagen to the Spaten brewery in Munich to acquire special yeast, lager yeast, and opened the Carlsberg brewery. A believer in science as well as brewing, Jacobsen established a laboratory (reportedly the world’s first large industrial enterprise to invest heavily in research), which shared its findings with other breweries.

In 1883, Carlsberg researcher Emil Hansen realized that “bad beer” resulted from bacterial infections and contamination by wild yeast (after all, yeast for beer up to this point were merely leftovers from previous batches, open to the air, letting in all sorts of unwanted little critters). So Hansen worked to isolate a single cell of good yeast, creating a pure culture to brew not-bad beer. “Carlsberg bottom yeast n.1” was used for the first time in November 1883. Most lager beers in the world today originate from that yeast.

Carlsberg has re-brewed this original beer to celebrate the 140th anniversary of its laboratory. Upon tasting the lager, beer writer and Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver said, “There are very few instances where we get to taste what anything tasted like [years ago], so to taste this right now as a re-creation is a fascinating thing … I could definitely drink three or four of these.”

The response to the re-brew has been so positive that Carlsberg plans to launch a commercial version in 2017.

For more information on the Re-brew Project, click here.

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