Those of you who frequent the Aeronaut establishment will astutely notice (it is assumed that Aeronaut customers are both astute and highly sophisticated) the dynamic nature of the space–from the art on the walls that changes monthly, to the ever-changing beer menu. You’ve probably also noticed that we put up a new fermenter every few months. Perhaps you’ve come in one week to find a shuffleboard court, and then come back a few months later to find a 9-course tasting restaurant in its place. Well, Aeronaut has another new addition that you may have noticed if you’ve strolled our halls in the past two months–a new laboratory!
Now, to be fair, we’ve had a yeast lab all along, since day one. But it was out of sight, tucked away in the far corner of the brew space, behind the pallet storage. The only way one of our guests would have seen it is if they were on a VIP tour. The setup back there was a bit cramped, so on the rare occasion when we took a tour to the lab, it was single-file. Despite its diminutive size, this lab enabled us to grow a diverse variety of yeast, experiment with bioreactors and begin to isolate wild yeast strains to be used in brewing. But as we grew the lab’s functions, it began to outgrow that corner space. So we decided to move it to the far end of the building, in the Foods Hub near Tasting Counter. This space is much bigger, isolated from the grain dust of the brewing area, and more visible. We are very proud of our lab and what we do in it, so why not give it some more prominence?
Since all of the Aeronaut founders are scientists, and two-thirds of them have worked in biology labs, it’s been a big priority of ours from the beginning to have a large, capable and sophisticated lab [see post on yeast strains]. Getting the right equipment without breaking the bank has been a long process. Even though we haven’t had the room until now, we’ve been accumulating awesome lab gear, like shaking incubators, a spectrophotometer, a laminar flow hood, gel boxes and a PCR machine, to name a few. While we’ve been waiting to expand the lab into its own space, we’ve kept all of the gear in storage.
With our new space, we were able to pull this equipment out of hiding and start putting it to use. The lab team has grown to 3 scientists, so there’s a lot going on. Broadly speaking, the lab now performs three unique functions. The first is to maintain, grow, monitor and propagate a large variety of yeast (and bacteria) for our production beer. This has been the lab’s bread and butter since day one. The second main function is experimentation. This is pretty far-reaching, and includes testing yeast growth techniques, brewing nano-size batches of beer and purifying and testing wild yeast strains to bring into the brewery. The third function is quality control. This is a very important part of the lab’s functions and includes microbiological checks and measurements of color and bitterness in beer. We’re also developing tools for sensory analysis. As diverse as they are, all of these functions really serve a single purpose: to continuously make our beer better, more consistent and more unique.
We’ve already got our benchtop bioreactor running and are actively testing new growth conditions for our yeast. We’re not only isolating and purifying wild yeast, but we are running test fermentations and selecting the best specimens for genetic analysis as well (we can do that too now!). We’ve developed a system for rapid prototyping of beers so that the brew team has more information to work with when designing recipes for production. Stay tuned, because we’ll be following up with more posts about each of these exciting ongoing projects in Aeronaut labs.