Drink a beer Randolph Macon Microbiology students helped create

Drink a beer Randolph Macon Microbiology students helped create

Students caught wild yeast and then created eight different beers for us all to try.

Randolph Macon Students working at the Origin Beer Lab. - Courtesy of R-MC Microbiology

There’s a ton of science that goes into making a good beer. Origin Beer Lab and the Randolph Macon Biology Department have collaborated and this Friday, May 12th you’ll get to taste what’s been brewing! Dr. Grace Lim-Fong and her students have isolated wild yeast strains collected out at Agriberry Farm and have brewed 8 different beers for patrons to try.

Randolph Macon Biology students have been spending some time at Origin Beer Lab – not for beer consumption purposes – they’ve been learning about fermentation science.

According to Biology Professor Dr. Grace Lim-Fong, “Many studies on how students learn support the notion that students learn best by doing. As such, I centered my Microbiology course on a hands-on project involving sourcing local microbes from Agriberry Farm.”

Last fall Dr. Lim-Fong, her student Matthew Houle, and Origin owners Chris and Phil Ray took wort out to Agriberry to collect some wild yeast. Dr. Fong and her student spent the semester isolating and growing strains for future Origin experimental beers.

Houle isolated a wild Saccharomyces yeast from under a raspberry shrub that was used to brew a Wild Raspberry Ale released at Origin in mid-April. Saccharomyces is a strain usually active in the first phase of Belgian Lambic spontaneous fermentation, (the main fermentation phase).

The project was taken to another level this Spring, when Dr. Lim-Fong decided to bring her Microbiology students on board to work on isolating more strains from the wort samples. Along with using experimentation to isolate further strains, they participated in a wort share. Brewer Winston Percefull made a basic wort using pilsner malt for students to brew with. The students spent the day watching the mash-in and mash-out process (how wort is made) and got some basic brewing instruction from Harrison Baronian, COTU’s head brewer.

While it is unlikely that the students will go on to a career in brewing, the knowledge they gain from this project will help them towards gaining mastery of microbiological knowledge and skills.

“Brewing is a natural context for learning microbiology: beer is made by a microbe (yeast), which carry out fermentation (a metabolic process) in wort (the product of enzymatic action on starches in malt) that also contain hops (which has antibiotic properties),” explains Dr. Fong.

Each student team was given 5 gallons of wort to make into beer using ingredients of their choosing. Some dry hopped their beer, some added Lactobacillus to sour the beer, and others added fruit.

“There is so much basic microbiology in brewing, and skills my students learn in class can be applied to clinical and diagnostic microbiology. It is a huge privilege to partner with Origin and Agriberry, and the Rays’ enthusiasm for student research cannot be overstated. I am particularly excited that my students have an opportunity to brew their own beer. They developed their own brews which were attentive to their research findings (e.g. How well does their Agriberry yeast attenuate?) and to brewing conventions (e.g. What is the hop aroma of an Australian-style ale?). My students will also present their research at the Biology Symposium on R-MC’s Research Day.” – Dr. Lim-Fong

Beer lovers can get a first taste of the line-up of 8 student beers on Friday, May 12th. Sample pours and full pours will be available, and the students will be available from 5pm-6pm to talk to patrons about their beers.

You can read more about the program on Randolph Macon’s website.



About Richard Hayes 2748 Articles
Richard Hayes is the co-founder of RVAHub. When he isn't rounding up neighborhood news, he's likely watching soccer or chasing down the latest and greatest board game and/or beer.