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Beer research poses new questions and provides answers: VTT on a mission to develop new taste sensations for beer lovers


VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland was commissioned to analyse the bottles of beer salvaged from the 1840s shipwreck found near the Åland Islands in 2010. Living bacteria found in the bottles were subject to further tests to find out how the cells had survived for so long in the wreck. VTT also develops new brewery processes and beers. VTT was founded in 1942, and beer and brewery research is one of the institute’s oldest research areas.

Both beer lovers and breweries are always looking for new taste sensations. New beer flavours can be created by developing new yeast cultures and by making use of naturally occurring yeast and bacteria. New kinds of yeast are needed, for instance, in the manufacture of non-alcoholic beers. The lager yeast Saccharomyces pastorianus is a natural hybrid of two yeast strains. One of VTT’s most recently introduced research areas relates to the development of new hybrid yeast strains that have new kinds of taste profiles or a better ability to turn sugar into alcohol than the currently available lager yeasts.

Lactic acid bacteria found in shipwreck beer bottles subject to further tests

The Åland-based brewery Stallhagen has embarked on a quest to recreate the 170-year-old recipe and start reproducing the beer. Both the product development process and the brewing technique were selected based on the thorough physico-chemical and microbiological analyses carried out at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

One of VTT’s triumphs was isolating living lactic acid bacteria from the bottles. This type of bacteria plays an important role in the brewing of the recreated beer. The production process was developed in collaboration with Stallhagen and the Belgian university KU Leuven, a frontrunner in yeast and bacteria fermentation.

“We are probably talking about the oldest living non-spore forming bacteria ever found in beer. The beer brewing techniques used in the old days typically caused these kinds of bacteria to grow alongside yeast”, explains Key Account Manager Annika Wilhelmson from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

What scientists now want to know is how the lactic acid bacteria differ from “modern” organisms of the same kind and how they survived in such extreme conditions. VTT and the University of Saskatchewan are studying the DNA of the bacteria to find some answers to these questions. Bacterial strains isolated from the bottles could prove useful to the food and drinks industry in the future.