Brewers have pulled yeast from pretty much everywhere to experiment with new strains — one West Coast brewery even brewed a beer using samples from the head brewer’s beard— but Lost Rhino in Ashburn may be breaking into new territory with its BoneDusters amber ale.
BoneDusters was brewed with a yeast that Lost Rhino’s Jasper Akerboom collected off a fossilized whale skeleton at the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, Maryland.
The collaboration came about because Akerboom, a bit of a yeast nut who handles quality assurance for Lost Rhino, is friends with Jason Osborne, a paleontologist who has donated fossilized whale skeletons to the museum.
Osborne asked Akerboom if there might be yeast present on those fossils that could be used to brew beer. Usually, yeast would not live on bone, given that it needs a sugary food source, but Akerboom decided to indulge his friend anyway.
They found a number of yeast strains on the bones, although Akerboom is pretty sure they’re more likely from the swamp where the bones were found rather than the bones themselves.
Several of the wild yeast strains flourished in Akerboom’s lab, but only one of the strains made any decent beer. The others didn’t ferment fully, making for “nasty-tasting” brews, he said.
The strain they ended up using, combined with some darker malts to create an amber ale, have yielded what Akerboom considers a tasty, well-balanced brew. The beer wasn’t made in the Belgian style, but it is “Belgian-esque,” he said, because the yeast has a slightly fruity flavor profile common in Belgian beers.
Lost Rhino plans to launch the beer June 18 at the brewery and begin distributing it to its networks after that, so it could be appearing at D.C. area bars in the next couple of weeks. A portion of the proceeds from the beer will go to Osborne’s nonprofit, Paleo Quest, which runs educational programs in the sciences.
For his part, Akerboom will keep experimenting with yeast in the lab he runs at Lost Rhino. It’s not necessarily common for a small microbrewery to have a quality assurance scientist with a Ph.D. in microbiology on staff. The Netherlands native previously isolated wild yeast from the air in Ashburn for Wild Farmwell Wheat, an “All-Virginia” beer Lost Rhino made in 2012. He now runs a yeast business on the side, and believes that focus on quality control is a big part of Lost Rhino’s consistently good beers.
“I think it adds a lot to the brewery. You have to make sure what you put in those cans is actually clean,” he said. “And you can do these kinds of projects, which keeps it fun.”