Tuesday, 6 September 2022

Stupid GE bans

One cost of regulation is the innovation you never get to see. 

We know about how New Zealand's stupid ban on genetic modification is causing problems for GHG reductions in agriculture. Even field trials of promising rye grasses have to be undertaken over in the US because the government bans them here.*

Michael Donaldson over at The Pursuit of Hoppiness points to another problem. Perhaps even more important than global warming and the climate response. This one's about beer.

Before I explain just how world-leading this product is, we first need to understand thiols.

Simply, thiols are organic compounds that contain sulphur. They are present in varying levels in different varieties hops as well as other plants.

Thiols come in all sorts of chemical configurations. Most create odours reminiscent of rotten eggs or garlic while others produce can pleasant flavours such as those found in coffee or grapefruit. The thiols that brewers most want deliver potent characteristics of tropical fruit, notably passionfruit and pineapple.

Popular hops such as Citra, Simcoe and Mosaic include plenty of thiol precursors, but New Zealand hop varieties such as Nelson Sauvin, Motueka and Southern Cross have overly high levels of thiol precursors, which is why they are so prized.

Ruffell has always been intrigued by these flavour compounds.

“I’ve been thinking about thiols since around 2013. We have high levels of thiols in New Zealand hops and we don’t really know why and that’s always interested me.”

He then learned that Marlborough-grown sauvignon blanc grapes are unique in the world for their high level of thiol precursors.

Ruffell says there are number of factors that make Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc grapes so high in thiol pre-cursors. Some of it has to do with terroir, some with specific UV light in that part of the world, and he understands there is also “a stress response from plant” so machine-harvested grapes have higher levels of thiol precursors than hand-harvested grapes.

“In 2018 I had this concept which eventually became Phantasm,” he explains.


In terms of flavour delivery, Ruffell says thiols are so potent the equivalent of “thimble-ful in a swimming pool” is enough to make an impact.

“I joke about it as MSG of beer — add a little bit and it just helps everything really pop.”

At the moment, the brewers getting the benefit of this flavour bomb are in America, and there’s a regulatory reason for that: genetically-modified yeasts.

To get the best out Phantasm, it helps if you can use one of the new genetically-modified yeasts on the market, known as thiolising yeasts.

New Zealand’s strict regulation on genetic modification (and ditto for Australia, Canada and many European nations) means those yeasts are not available here.

“At the moment Phantasm is almost entirely sold into the United States and that’s because they can use genetically-modified yeasts to unlock the best characters of Phantasm,” Ruffell says.

“We’ve kept Phantasm under the radar here and we sell exclusively to America because of those GMO yeasts. We can get pretty good results with non-GMO yeasts but it’s not quite the same.”

Ruffell expects that to change in the future, noting that Omega Yeast’s Cosmic Punch is an example of a yeast that could have been developed through breeding “but they just have a precise, elegant way of doing it” in the lab. (For geeks, what Omega have done is take the IRC7 gene in the Chico yeast strain, where it’s inactive, and inserted it into London III strain and “connected the pathways” to make it active).

Where ever it’s been used in America, the reaction to Phantasm has been incredible.

Brandon Capps, owner and head brewer at New Image Brewing in Colorado said it helps him create the “ultimate realisation of what hazy IPA could be”. 

“Does it taste like citrus? Does it taste like papaya? Maybe overripe nectarine or plum would be the closest description I can find. It’s just this really interesting flavor that tastes like biting into a piece of tropical fruit.”
Emphasis added. 

Hippies are a problem. 

HT: Glenn Boyle. I'd caught the article on Twitter, saw an interesting new Garage Project beer that I wanted to try, didn't get down to the important stuff below the fold. Glenn read the whole thing. 

* A set of regulations so intractable and impossible to comply with is identical to a ban, so pedants can go soak their heads. 

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