Despite being a yeast researcher, and supposedly having a pretty good handle on yeast genetics, I have always struggled to fully understand what the underlying genetic differences are between ale and lager yeasts. Thanks to a great article by Martha Harbison from Popsci, and research done by Libkind et al, I have finally figured it out!
Generally ales are fermented warmer with”top fermenting” yeast, and produce more fruity esters as a result. Lagers tend to be fermented cooler with “bottom fermenting” yeast, and produce more “reductive” or sulfur characters.
This description, while great for brewers was always unsatisfactory to me as someone with an interest in genetics and taxonomy. This was further complicated by the interchangeable use of S. calsbergensis and S. pastorianus. Top fermenting yeast are generally just plain old Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Bottom fermenting yeasts are generally more variable and have allotetraploid chromosomes, i.e. 4 chromosomes made up of mixed…
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