There was a time, some of you will still remember, when you could count the number of well-known national breweries in the United States on the fingers of your mug-holding hand. I won’t do a commercial here and name them, but you know which ones I mean. Many are still around today. And then, in 1980, something happened: Eight “micro” or “craft” breweries gushed onto the scene, and by 1994, that number jumped to 537. Today, there are more than 1,600 craft beer factories.
Apart from carrying imaginative brand names featuring fish and dogs and descriptors like “flying” and “sappy slappy,” brewers develop these microbrews with special care because they aren’t produced in gigantic quantities. The American Brewers Association defines a craft brewery as a small, independent brewery that produces less than 15,000 barrels of beer a year. Compare this with the more than 18 million barrels that the nation’s biggest brewer delivers annually.
With the increase in popularity of the craft beers has come an increased attention to flavor and appearance, including the head –– the foam at the top of the glass or mug. So those beer-lovers who enjoy a rich foam will be pleased to hear about the results of a new scientific study.
Scientists have discovered in the yeast used to make beer what they believe is the first gene for beer foam. And this is a good thing because the finding may well lead the way to improving the frothy head, according to researchers. Tomás G. Villa and colleagues identified the gene, which they call CFG1. They say it’s similar to one in wine and sake yeasts that also contributes to foaming. They found that there is good reason to believe the gene also could pump up the foam in beer, the world’s most popular alcoholic drink.
The researchers, writing in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, explain that the head of beer is made up of bubbles filled with carbon dioxide gas, which the yeast produces during fermentation. Proteins gather around the gas, forming the bubbles in the foam. Studies have shown that proteins from the yeast stabilize the foam, stopping the head from fading away too quickly. Until their discovery, however, no one knew which yeast gene created the foam-stabilizing protein, the researchers say.
So, armed with this new information, scientists are off and running toward putting an even fuller white mustache on the faces of beer aficionados.