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Brewer Mixes Loves of Paleontology, Microbiology, Beer

  • June Soh

A large batch of new and rather unorthodox beer is brewing at Lost Rhino Brewing Co. in Ashburn, Virginia.

The beer yeast, one of the key ingredients in brewing, was swabbed from a 35 million-year-old fossilized whale bone.

Amateur paleontologist Jason Osborne found the bone at a swamp in Virginia.

"So the idea was conceived, it was basically a brainchild idea of mine to mix molecular biology, paleontology, and beer together,” Osborne said. “It's three things that I love.”

Osborne enlisted his microbiologist friend Jasper Akerboom, who works as a brewing scientist at Lost Rhino.

Yeast from whale bone

Akerboom said he was initially skeptical but decided to experiment.

“We took out 20 samples from all kinds of fossilized materials. This was all done in Calvert Marine Museum in Maryland. And one of the samples started to ferment,” Akerboom said.

The result was surprising.

“It tastes very good. It tastes very fruity, very earthy. It is very dry,” he said.

So the decision was made to brew a large volume for consumers: this time about 2,300 liters.

“The craft brewing in the United States has been very innovative, new beers have been hitting the markets continuously. People kind of expect something new all the time,” Akerboom said.

The co-owner of Lost Rhino, Favio Garcia, said they stay sharp and edgy by bringing out a new style of beer every couple of weeks.

“Well, we have 16 beers on tap right now. You have to take a risk to move forward. So it is a calculated risk,” Garcia said. “But we are happy to take it and create something new and interesting with it.”

The new beer is called Bone Dusters Paleo Ale.

“When people are cleaning the fossils, they dust the sand off the bone,” Akerboom said. “And we thought it would be a cool name to give it.”

Paleontology nonprofit

Osborne, who co-founded Paleo Quest, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing paleontology, hopes the beer will get beer drinkers talking about science.

“Paleontology is really important to the general public because it is good to know what existed prior to us. It also teaches us a lot about evolution, or it teaches us about climate change,” he said.

After a month of fermentation, the beer made its public debut at Lost Rhino’s taproom in Ashburn.

Customer Billy Ozark said, "It is fantastic. It is a pretty courageous move to strike that yeast and kind of develop some[thing] unique.”

Natalie Ozark said, "I am not usually a yeasty, hoppy beer drinker. But it is really good.”

"It is not over hopped, there is not much competing with yeast for flavor,” said Stan Beyer, another customer. “So it really comes through. It is very drinkable."

Garcia hopes innovations like this will help Lost Rhino compete in the growing local beer movement.

A portion of the proceeds from Bone Dusters will be used for science programs at underprivileged schools.

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