Belgium produces hundreds of beers, but that is nothing compared to the varieties of yeast used to make them—around 30,000 are kept on ice at just one laboratory by scientists seeking new ingredients.

Credit: Paul Joseph / CC BY SA 2.0Credit: Paul Joseph / CC BY SA 2.0A team from the University of Leuven and Life Sciences Research Institute (VIB) is examining and cross-breeding yeast strains, adding modern genetics to a search for brewing that dates back centuries.

By analyzing the chemical and genetic basis of a beer's flavor and aroma, the scientists say that they are breeding yeast strains that promote the characteristics for a good beer.

Their work has caught the attention of commercial brewers wanting to tweak their recipes to eliminate, for example, a certain smell or to speed up the fermentation process.

In addition to its yeast research, the lab is also working on a beer database. Meeting twice a week, Verstrepen and his students sip and spit out beers in a "technical tasting" to detect subtleties and differences between the taste and aroma of each brew.

Each drink, served in unmarked, identical black glasses, is evaluated and subjected to chemical analyses.

Their aim is to characterize some 250 commercially available Belgian beers, creating what Verstrepen calls a "scientific map" of beer to help drinkers select their next drink. They plan to publish their findings in a book in the coming months.

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