Thursday, March 21, 2013


Who knew geology was
so colorful?
Working at the State Museum in Albany I get to interact with a wide variety of professionals—from historians, and artists to chemists and anthropologist. I'm always surprised by the range of skill and expertise my building has to offer, and how often those disciplines overlap and interact. Before working here I probably wouldn't have associated geology with paleontology and biology, but as it turns out the three fields are pretty dependent on each other. Geologist don't simply study rocks, they study how rocks were formed what were the conditions on earth when those rocks came about. That information directly relates the the paleo-flora and -fauna living on earth thousands, millions and in some cases billions of years ago. Biologist can then compare the environment and the animals and plants that live today with their pre-historic ancestors. It's a "you scratch my back, I'll scratch your back" kind of relationship. One of these scholarly colleagues, Dr. Chuck Ver Straeten—a geologist who loves beer almost as much as basalt—passed on an interesting blog post from 2008 that speaks exactly to that point—and it all comes back to beer.

The gist of the article from The Geology New Blog is about how, twenty years ago, Dr, Raoul Cano, a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo scientist was attempting to extract bacteria from a weevil encased in ancient amber in hopes of discovering new—well actually, really old—strains to be used in new antibiotics.

We know hat happens next, right? They clone the weevil and it—and its progeny—run amok on a tropical island.

No, not exactly. 

What actually happen was, that Dr. Cano's experiment failed—no usable antibiotic bacteria. The good doctor, then shelved his experiment for almost twenty years. In 2008, Cano re-opened his collection and realized that while the gut of those weevils didn't have what he was looking for back in 1993, they did have microscopic yeast spores. Yeast that had been dormant since the Eocene.

Eocene? What's that? 

Not what, when—between 34 to 55 million years ago, in fact. The amber dates to about 45 million years old. That's 20 million years years after T-Rex was doing its thing but 44,800,000 years before you and I even thought about tipping our first pint. All said and done, the yeast isn't as old as the dinosaurs, buy waaaaaay older than us.

I think you might be able to see where this is going.

Cano did indeed begin brewing beer with his newly re-discovered yeast. At first in a collaboration with the Sumptown Brewery in Guerneville, California, and later forming Fossil Fuels Brewing Company, distributing a Wheat and a Pale Ale—with what is reported to have a decidedly, unique clove-like flavor—to pubs and bars through out Northern California.

And you thought Ron and Martyn wrote about old beer.

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