Beer Tailored to Your DNA

If you have an extra $30,000 lying around, the Meantime Brewery in London will custom-brew a batch of beer that literally matches your DNA. Interested? The first step (assuing you’ve got the money), is to provide a saliva sample to be analyzed by the company 23andMe. The analysis focuses in particular on the gene TAS2R38, which contains oral taste receptors.

The next step is an appointment with Meantime’s brewmaster Ciaran Giblin, who will work with you to perfect the beer. An awful lot of beer—some 2,000 pints worth. Optional add-ons (you’ve got plenty of money, right?) include ad agency time to design your packaging, kegs to send to your local pub, and pint glasses molded to your hand.

Forbes magazine correspondent Leslie Wu, who wrote the article about the brewery’s “Meantime Bespoke” beer, has misgivings about it. She wonders who, even in a highly-competitive craft beer market, would pay that much money for beer. And she warns that personalized beer can lead to a “beer dystopia” where people are unwilling to try anything new.

Using DNA to Spot Bad Beer

The Russian River Brewing Company is famous for its Pliny IPAs. It also brews sour beers steeped in Pediococcus and Lactobacillus, which give them their funky taste. Problem is, those bacilli can destroy the taste of IPA. As a result, Russian River has gone to great lengths to make sure the equipment and people associated with the two styles are kept separate.

Tiny amounts of bacteria can ruin thousands of dollars worth of beer. Most breweries use a technique called plating, in which a small sample of beer is placed in an incubator; if the beer is infected, a bacteria colony will appear. However, plating takes time. To find bacteria faster, Russian River has bought BrewPal, a new testing technology from a Philadelphia-based company called Invisible Sentinel.

BrewPal identifies the DNA of the specific types of Pediococcus and Lactobacillus that damage batches of beer. It uses a three-step process. First, a sample of beer is run through a centrifuge, and then into the BrewPal hardware. Second, the sample is heated and then cooled for 2-1/2 hours so that the bacteria’s DNA can be amplified. Finally, the sample is dropped into a disposable plastic reader that resembles a home pregnancy test: it tells whether the bacteria are present, and whether the infection is mild or severe.

A full BrewPal system retails for around $5,000, so it’s affordable for many craft breweries.

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