Frankenyeast and Foreign Kegs

You feeling good today? Calm, happy, relaxed? Well, I've got a little stress test for your Thursday mood. First up, let's visit the new Trump steel tariff—how’s that going? Let’s check in with the known communists at the Wall St Journal ed board.

 “American Keg Company is the only remaining U.S. manufacturer of stainless steel beer kegs. Despite competition from German and Chinese firms, American Keg has only used domestic steel. But now it’s being punished for this domestic sourcing as Donald Trump’s steel tariffs have forced the business to lay off a third of its workforce.”

Steel tariffs are a large, imprecise cudgel. American keg is an example of why. Finished products can come into the US with no tariff, so if you take cheap Chinese steel and then it into a keg before importing it the the US, no tariff. But, if you’re in the US working with raw steel—now more expensive even if it’s domestic—the tariffs drive up steel prices for manufacturers. Here’s American Keg’s CEO Paul Czachor:

 “As the tariff discussions were taking place, domestic steel was starting to increase in the fourth quarter and continue to increase here in the first quarter.... Today you can probably buy an import keg at around $95 and a USA made keg is going to be around $115.... The finished products for kegs and many other products coming into the U.S. is at a zero percent tariff.”

A lot of steel is used in the manufacture of beer--kegs, brewhouses, tanks--and domestic fabricators of all of these are going to be in the same boat as American keg thanks to the tariffs on steel.

The second bit of news comes courtesy of researchers at UC-Berkeley, who have engineered a frankenyeast from mint and basil that produce the flavor profile of hops—sans hops. File it under "cool" and "scary, maybe...?"

Here, we report that brewer’s yeast can be engineered to biosynthesize aromatic monoterpene molecules that impart hoppy flavor to beer by incorporating recombinant DNA derived from yeast, mint, and basil....

In this work, we create drop-in brewer’s yeast strains capable of biosynthesizing monoterpenes that give rise to hoppy flavor in finished beer, without the addition of flavor hops. To achieve this end, we identify genes suitable for monoterpene biosynthesis in yeast; we develop methods to overcome the difficulties associated with stable integration of large constructs in industrial strains; we adapt genetic tools to generate a collection of engineered indus- trial yeast strains on an unprecedented scale; we develop com- putational methods to affect precise biosynthetic control and leverage them to create a iterative framework towards target production levels. Ultimately, sensory analysis performed with beer brewed in pilot industrial fermentations demonstrates that engineered strains confer hoppy flavor to finished beer.

This is one of those technical papers that deliver lines like these, which I can’t even pretend to validate: “HMG-CoA reductase (HMGR) is one of the key rate-limiting steps of the pathway and is controlled by an inhibitory regulatory domain that responds to product accumulation.” And: “Based on these observations, we hypothesized that modulating the expression of tHMGR, FPPS*, t67-McLIS, and ObGES would result in brewer’s yeast strains capable of producing linalool and geraniol during fermentation at concentrations encompassing those typical of finished beer (~0.2 mg/L).” Right-o!

So go have a look and see if this is good research and if so whether it signals a brave new frontier or the fall of civilization. (I’m on the fence.) But reading these two items did leave me feeling somewhat less equanimous.

Happy Thursday!

Jeff Alworth3 Comments