Discover what Dr. Laura Burns, a renowned scientist in the industry and Director of Research at Omega Yeasts, can teach us about the future of fermentation.
Your brewing journey has been very expansive, from production to working for a yeast company, what are some of the biggest takeaways or advice you can give to brewers?
Brewing is the best kind of experiment. Be observant. Track all of your brews and fermentations with meaningful data, isolate variables and pay attention to what you see, hear, taste and smell. Of course, it’s awesome when it goes perfectly, but when it doesn’t, you still can learn something. If something seems off, it might actually be more interesting than you think.
The North American beer scene is always seen as a trendsetter — what are your trend predictions for 2023?What styles would you like to see not be so trendy?
Trends… argh… I love a crisp lager or a kolsch and fresh takes on hop-forward styles. No doubt these trends will keep trending! Otherwise, I love seeing breweries putting efforts into bettering their communities and reducing their impact on the environment. Non-alcoholic options are a good example for providing a more inclusive beer drinking community. Continuing to see advances in the NA market will be exciting. Working towards more environmentally friendly beers, from sourcing raw materials closer to the brewery, using less water and CO2 , bringing in flavors from yeast, and shifting to more sustainable packaging materials. And if I were to drop a trend, it would be milkshake IPAs… I’d rather treat myself to a real milkshake.
You recently co-authored a paper for the MBAA TQ on genetic engineering — what are the key takeways from this paper?
One of the major goals for this TQ review was to provide a resource for people looking to further understand genetically engineered yeast. If readers take anything away, it is that we are here to help explain this. If you have questions, you can look to this review or write to any of the authors. We hope that it takes some of the mystery out of the process and helps provide brewers with the information to evaluate these products when deciding on whether or not to use them in their brewery.
Where do you see genetic engineering developing in the brewing industry?
I see genetic engineering as both a research tool and a breeding tool. Yeast companies have been successful in using genetic engineering to make brewing more economical and sustainable with yeast that make new flavors, make processes more efficient and reduce losses due to quality issues. For agricultural products like hops and barley, we have seen increasing drought and disease pressures with climate change. Genetic engineering can help narrow in on the genes that are important in providing climate resilience and help develop more targeting breeding efforts. Genetic engineering is an extremely robust tool in many ways, and it has the potential to bring our industry solutions faster.
What beer style is your favorite to brew and to drink?
That is a super hard question for me, but I like a challenge. I really admire brewers that have perfected a lager or an English bitter. It takes really knowing your ingredients, process and yeast. My favorite beer to brew is probably a hoppy pale ale. No crystal, just a nice silky, bready, nutty base to put a spotlight on the nuances of the hops.
Who would you like to have a beer with and where?
Definitely overthinking this one. How about for a celebrity, Reese Witherspoon. For a scientist, Rosalind Franklin. But in reality, just some old friends that I don’t get to see anymore!
About Dr. Laura Burns
Laura Burns, Ph.D., is the Director of Research and Development at Omega Yeast. After studying stress responses in Saccharomyces cerevisiae for her graduate thesis at Vanderbilt University, she decided the best place to apply this knowledge was in brewing. She worked in production brewing for five years as Head Brewer and Director of Quality Assurance before heading back to the bench at Omega Yeast. Her undeniable curiosity drives her to tackle difficult questions that brewer’s face daily.