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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Bootleg Biology, Part II: A Chat with Founder Jeff Mello

Cheif Yeast Wrangler Jeff Mello
By Max Spencer

The idea for Bootleg Biology™ and the premade Backyard Yeast Wrangling Kits discussed in Part I of this blog post comes from Jeff Mello. I was lucky enough to get a chance to chat with Jeff about his company and any advice he had for homebrewers looking to use wild yeasts in their beer. Prior to opening Bootleg Biology, Jeff was a political science major doing non-profit work and homebrewing on the side. Jeff found his inspiration after reading about capturing wild yeast using open-air spontaneous fermentation “traps”. He then used the technique to capture a wild yeast species in his own backyard, which he officially named Saccharomyces arlingtonesis, and successfully made beer with it. As he put it, “[some] homebrewers brew for the first time and go, ‘I want to open my own brewery!’ I knew that I wanted to open my own yeast company.”

Jeff’s work extends beyond selling yeast wrangling kits. His company is also collecting yeast from all over the world and compiling a genetic database, relying on contributions from homebrewers. Their current end goal is to genetically sequence at least one yeast from every zipcode. This project is both scientifically and culturally important. Jeff wants to show that beer can be influenced by terroir as much as wine. He pointed out that many people use local barley and hops, and now some are using local yeasts. This genetic database acts not only as a way to explore the genetics of wild yeast, but as a monument to the terroir of beer. For those interested in contributing to the database it is as easy as mailing a sample to Jeff’s company.

I asked Jeff if he had any advice for homebrewers looking to use wild yeast in their beer. He stressed that wrangling wild yeasts takes time and patience — not every attempt will end in success and mistakes happen. That is why it is important to take as many samples as possible to increase the odds of getting at least one usable strain of yeast. Wild yeast can be fickle and have a wide variety of characteristics. He recommended using fruits as a relatively consistent source of wild yeasts. Fruits are typically coated with wild yeasts, that’s what gives apples their shine! He also cautioned against attempting to collect wild yeast indoors as yeast tends to be where the temperatures are warm and other life is vibrant. Persistence, replication and planning will pay dividends in the venture of yeast wrangling.

Yeast Wrangling Kits from Bootleg Biology are available now at Siciliano's Market.

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