Malt Monday: Out of This World!

10 May 2010
By Richard Pliny

by Richard Pliny, Beer Correspondent

Style: “Blended IPA”
Price Point:
$8 for 22oz
Technical Notes:
From the Southern Tier website, “High in the winter sky, two parallel stick figures are visible & known as “the twins,” or the constellation Gemini. The astronauts of the 1960s flew as teams of two in a program named after the celestial pairing. At Southern Tier, we have our own fraternal twins, Hoppe [reviewed here] & Unearthly. Blended together & placed in this vessel, the mission of our Gemini is to travel high & take passengers on a journey far into the heavens.”

Hedonic Notes: The beer pours a translucent pale orange with very little foam.  That foam which does form is characterized by large bubbles and a brilliant white shade.  There is a slightly cloudy appearance and the bottom of the bottle has a healthy amount of sediment. Floral, aromatic hop notes pervade the aroma.  A slight bit of citrus follows, accompanied by a thick, almost honey like malt backbone.  The hop notes are complex yet subtle, with hints of pine and grass mixing with the stronger floral and citrus notes.

As the beer warms, the subtler hints become more pronounced.  Hop bitterness reminds one of an American style IPA, with prominent pine and citrus.  A delightfully sweet caramel malt forms a subdued yet appropriate contrast and highlights the more delicate aspects of the hop bitterness.  Grapefruit and orange notes dominate, while grass does not play as prominent a role as in the aroma.  Earthy notes are not as noticeable as one may expect in the finish, which is more dry than bitter.

In spite of the 9% alcohol, any sort of solvent texture is minimal, even as the beer warms.  The finish is very dry and imparts a clear astringency that quite distinct from a hop bitterness.  A surprising smoothness accompanies this dryness and astringency, making for a very unique finish.

Overall the beer is very drinkable.  It is more drinkable than Hoppe, though arguably not as good a vessel for exploring the many facets of hop bitterness.  Personally, I found Hoppe a more interesting experience, but perhaps this beer isn’t trying to compete as much as complement.  It should be noted that this beer was aged for a few months, perhaps subduing the hop flavors.  That said, it was quite unique and a delight to drink in general.

Rating: 4 Corks!4 Corks!4 Corks!4 Corks! 4/5 Corks. Gemini is a delightful IPA to drink, but perhaps not as high in the sky as Southern Tier’s Hoppe.


The final frontier: beer in space!

In 2001 Kirsten Sterett, a graduate student at the University of Colorado, Boulder, conducted experiments brewing beer in space.  With the help of Coors, Sterett had a small fermentation experiment fly on a shuttle mission, with a control sample on earth.  Experiments looked at cell counts and protein expression levels.

Sterett's brewery apparatus. Thanks to NASA for the image.

Under the influence of gravity (i.e., on Earth), cells form aggregates and settle out of solution.  This results in a layer of sediment at the bottom of the beer and is largely responsible for the slow progression of aging.  In microgravity, however, the cells remain in suspension throughout the length of the fermentation.  Moreover, carbon dioxide bubbles don’t leave the system since there is no bouyant force in the absence of gravity. In remaining in suspension, the cells are able to consume sugars more rapidly since the diffusion limitations are lessened.

Sterett found, somewhat paradoxically, that total cell counts are reduced when fermentation is conducted in orbit.  However, certain proteins were expressed in higher levels. Later experiments focusing on pharmaceutical production would find that bacterial cells are able to produce better target molecule:biomass ratios in microgravity.

Though the precise mechanism is not clear, efforts are underway to engineer organisms that are able to produce similar results in gravity. The bulk of earlier microbial experiments in space focused primarily on pathogenic bacteria.  Findings from Salyut in 1982 and Spacelab D1 in 1985 seemed to indicate that microbes have increased antibiotic resistance in microgravity.  It appears microbes are able to form more dense biofilms in the absence of gravity, making mass transfer to the center of the population difficult.

The final fronbeer

The ISS would make a great place for a pub. Image courtesy of NASA

So is beer production possible in space?  The question is currently unanswered, but appears promising.  Sterett did taste about 1ml of her beer, but noted that it did not taste very good.  Space beer would no doubt be a rather different drinking experience without a proper head forming (not to mention drinking from a straw and having limited aroma due to container constraints).

Japanese brewer Sapporo offered a beer brewed with barley descended from samples grown in orbit.  The beer launched in early 2009, with a mere 100 liters were produced and sold to a lucky 250 customers chosen from a lottery for 10,000 yen (roughly $110US) per six-pack.  (as an aside, if any readers out there happen to have a bottle of this sitting around I would love to write a feature on it!) Is space beer going to be the beverage of the future?  Probably not… and I’m still waiting for my jetpack.

Further Reading:
Synergism, evolution, and functional ecogenomics of deep-subsurface microbial communities based on molecular analyses NASA Report.

R&D Report for ‘Space Barley’” Sapporo.

Suds in Space. NASA.  2001.

Wilson et al. “Space flight alters bacterial gene expression and virulence and reveals a role for global regulator Hfq.“ PNAS. 2007.

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