By Valerie Smith
For the Oregon Beer Growler
You know from instinct how certain music and sounds make you feel — relaxed, happy and energetic. It might even evoke vivid memories. Music is diverse and exists in every culture around the world. Humans like music. Plants even respond positively to exposure to music. Studies have shown that high-frequency sounds produce more antioxidative enzymes in plants. Would it surprise you that not only do you and your plants “like” music, but beer yeast cells do too? Sounds far-fetched, but it isn’t.
Metabolomics is the study of small molecules in the cells of an organism. In 2011, metabolomics researchers from the University of Auckland (U of A) in New Zealand did a study involving music and yeast cell growth. They used the single-celled organism Saccharomyces cerevisiae (S. cerevisiae), the species of yeast used since ancient times by brewers, winemakers and bakers. These forward-thinking lab geeks tested how S. cerevisiae reacts to sound pressure waves by putting the yeast in shake flasks along with a food source -- a glucose broth with vitamins — and let it sit overnight. They then piped in high- and low-frequency sonic vibration to the rooms where the flasks were being kept. The control for the study was a silent room. The study showed that the brewer’s friend, S. cerevisiae, grew 12 percent faster with music playing. High frequency produced slightly better results than low frequency, so it seems that any music therapy for yeast will prove successful!
Michael Kora, brewmaster and owner of the soon-to-open Montavilla Brew Works, appreciates the U of A’s findings. Kora received a bachelor’s degree in jazz studies from Wayne State University in Detroit, Mich. He played and taught drums and guitar years before delving into Portland’s brewing community. Because of his background, Kora believes music’s effect on yeast makes sense. “I think since yeast are living things, they may have some sentience, maybe on some form of preliminary consciousness. At any rate, I think that music on a very fundamental level is full of vibrations, wavelength and frequency patterns. All these measurements seem to correlate on some level with the rhythm of nature and definitely the fermentation of beer and yeast-powered products.”
Kora begins with the yeast selection when building recipes for Montavilla Brew Works. According to Kora, “Yeast is the unsung hero -- they do so much work! You treat (them) like a living thing and they’ll react like that. It’s almost like they’re human in a way. If you’re good to them, keep them healthy and happy, they’ll give back to you.” He nurtures beer development with seasonal music tracks: reggae, funk and the Grateful Dead in the summer, classical and blues in the winter and everything in between at other times. Jimi Hendrix and rock play during the cleanup.
The expansive and beneficial relationship between music and yeast may have come about because of brewer intuition, superstition or other cultural influences during the millennia. Today, the U of A’s metabolomics study proves serenading developing yeast has more benefits than anyone previously recognized. So play whatever rocks your brewhouse and the yeast will love you back.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.