Low-alcohol beer made from dairy waste developed by scientists

A beer made from dairy waste could become a new alcoholic beverage on the craft beer front after scientists discovered a liquid byproduct from the production of Greek yogurt that creates a mild fermentation.

A team of scientists at Cornell University, led by professor Sam Alcaine, have found a way to turn dairy waste in to a type of beer using acid whey, a leftover liquid from the production of Greek yogurt which contains very little protein and few profitable uses.

The acid whey is normally just thrown away, however scientists now believe that it can be used to create a mild fermentation that would create sour beer.

Sam Alcaine, former product innovation manager at Miller Brewing Co., acknowledges there may be a place for alcoholic dairy beverages made from whey. He said: “There’s this whole movement around craft beer and spirits, but dairy doesn’t play in that space at all. If we could convert whey into something that people want to drink, it opens an entirely new economic arena for entrepreneurs and brewers to explore and innovate within.”

Turning dairy into a drinkable alcohol is no simple task. Lactose, a sugar in dairy, cannot be broken down and converted into alcohol by traditional brewer’s yeast. Therefore, Sam Alcaine’s lab is working on several fronts to form a solution.

One idea is to combine multiple strains of bacteria and various species of yeast to create a co-fermentation that produces alcohol. The first bacterial strain would digest lactose and give off galactose as a byproduct, which could in turn be converted by another yeast strain into alcohol.

Another variation the research team is looking into uses barley, a traditional source of amylase enzymes that break down starch into simple sugars that are fermented into beer. Barley also contains enzymes capable of breaking down lactose, but they work at different temperatures than those typically used for brewing and have not been used in beer making.

Scientists found that a precise mix of time and temperature can break down lactose into the glucose and galactose needed by brewer’s yeast to produce alcohol.

The new brew which would be a low-alcohol beer – around 2.7% by volume – would be similar to the German-style gose, which has a sour and salty flavour, and other concoctions similar to pulque, a traditional central Mexican drink made from agave.

More research is needed to refine the process, but Same Alcaine believes dairy alcohol could be on the market within a few years. He added: “Right now, brewers use farm products like corn, rye and barley to make alcohol. Dairy is a natural addition, especially now, when consumers are demanding novel and interesting flavours.”

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living. 

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