Cuban Beer

No, it is not beer brewed in Cuba. Neither is it beer from the days when Cuba was free. It is something completely different and fascinating, and a Cuban is behind it, a Pedro Pan Cuban:

Amber Ale: Brewing Beer From 45-Million-Year-Old Yeast

An aroma like bread dough permeates Raul Cano‘s lab. He has just removed the cover from a petri dish, and the odor wafts up from several gooey yellow clumps of microorganisms that have been feeding and reproducing in a dark cabinet for the past few days. Cano, a 63-year-old microbiologist at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, inspects the smelly little mounds lovingly. “These are my babies,” he says, beaming. “My yeasty beasties.”

The dish contains a variant of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, known in culinary circles as baker’s or brewer’s yeast. But Cano didn’t get this from Whole Foods. Back in 1995, he extracted it from a 45 million-year-old fossil. The microorganisms had lain dormant since the Eocene epoch, a time when Australia split off from Antarctica and modern mammals first appeared. Then Cano brought the yeast back to life.


Born and raised in pre-Castro Havana, Cano still has a noticeable Cuban accent. After the revolution, his parents were unable to escape the country, but they managed to secure him a visa and a plane ticket to Miami in early 1962. His parents would eventually follow him to the US, but for a few years Cano was on his own in a strange new country. “I was 16 at the time,” he says. “I went from foster home to foster home.”


The brewer began experimenting with the ancient strain. He indulged its idiosyncratic behavior, letting it ferment for an extra month in a cold storage tank. He modified the hops, a plant that adds a characteristic bitterness to beer, to complement the flavor imparted by the yeast.

Cano’s Saccharomyces coupled with Hackett’s know-how to yield a very tasty libation, which is now made and distributed under the name Fossil Fuels Brewing Company. “We won the lottery,” Hackett says. “It’s such a random thing. A yeast cell, captured in amber, found by a mad scientist. For it to perform well, for it to perform uniquely … I wouldn’t have bet on it.”

Fossil Fuels pale ale caused a stir among beer aficionados like William Brand, a former critic with The Oakland Tribune who raved about it on his blog. He noted its “light copper color and an intense clove aroma.” He liked its sweetness and the “intriguing, very odd spicy note” in the finish.

Celebrator Beer News described the ale as having a “complex and well-developed taste profile” with “fruity flavor characteristics and just a touch of lemony sweetness. The fact that it is made with such old yeast is fascinating, and given how good the beer is, no mere novelty.”

Read the entire fascinating story HERE.

H/T Carlos Eire