Around 45 million years ago, a leaf became ensconced in a small chunk of Burmese amber. It was a mundane enough event at the time, until the piece fell into the right hands.
Today, through the scientific maneuverings of two very dedicated molecular biologists and a rather adventurous East Bay brewer, microscopic bacteria within the amber are being crafted into — go figure — beer.
Dr. Raul Cano, a molecular biologist and retired Cal Poly San Luis Obispo professor, acquired the Eocene Epoch piece of amber in the early 1990s. He successfully extracted a yeast, and then managed to revive it from dormancy shortly thereafter. His achievement, however, was not met with universal applause. As supposedly the first person to pull off such a temporally irreverent feat, critics were naturally skeptical.
Another molecular biologist, Chip Lambert, was one such cynic. Hired by Ambergene, a company Cano helped found to pursue the study of such mycological discoveries, Lambert attempted to disprove these seemingly wild claims of reanimation. But things didn’t go exactly as Lambert anticipated; in following Cano’s method, he ended up corroborating Cano’s claims that an ancient yeast could indeed be revived.
In particular, one of Cano’s many discovered strains wound up being of the saccharomyces cerevisiae variety — or, as it’s more commonly known these days, brewer’s yeast.