One beer brewer in Oregon is taking the concept of “locally grown” to a new extreme, using yeast harvested from his beard to make signature ale. Not satisfied with growing his own barley, hops and honey, John Maier of Rogue Ales turned to his facial hair in order to find new flavors.
To cultivate his very own yeast, Maier took nine hairs from his beard—which he says he hasn’t shaved since 1978—and sent them to a lab in California for testing. The Scientist reports on what he was hoping to find:
Brewers yeast, mostly in the Saccharomyces genus, looks like creamy white, shiny circles, and when scooped has the consistency of butter. Then researchers cultured the yeast to see if it would actively ferment. The beard hair’s yeast surprisingly performed like a hybrid between the brewery’s “house” yeast strain, called Pacman yeast—which is used to make most Rogue Ales—and a wild yeast.
While the thought of drinking some guy’s beard might not inspire cravings for a cold bottle, scientists point out that most fermenting species of yeast are found on animals, insects and rotting fruit, so cultivating yeast from a person’s body might not be that far-fetched after all.
But how unique is beard yeast, and is it really worth all that trouble?
As the New York Times revealed, gastronomists looking to single out their own special strain of microbe may be disappointed to find that signature food bugs seem difficult to come by. For example, 90 percent of the world’s sourdough, a Harvard microbiologist found, contains the same single species of bacteria, regardless of whether it hails from Brooklyn or Bombay. Yogurt, too, tends to be comprised of run-of-the-mill communities of cookie-cutter Lactobacillus and Streptococcus.
Whether signature yeast or other microbes make a difference for flavor, brewing beer from beard yeast does grab attention. Rogue Ales plans to release its beard brew next spring, dubbed New Crustacean. “We want to let the yeast be the star of the show,” Maier told The Scientist.
More from Smithsonian.com: