Research takes brewing technology to new high

Paul Mayne // Western News

Chemical and Biochemical Engineering professor Lars Rehmann has partnered with a Canadian company to work on creating a hybrid yeast to be used in crafting beers made from hemp and cannabis.

With Lars Rehmann’s research on biofuels, there are different problems he can run into – but flavour has never been one of them.

The Chemical and Biochemical Engineering professor’s latest project, however, will require the approval of taste buds as he is developing a hybrid yeast to be used in crafting beers made from hemp and cannabis.

“My research for the last few years has been more on the bio-fuel side. Our goal was always to make sure the materials get converted to ethanol and fuel products. In a way, the problem at hand here is very similar,” Rehmann said. “Here, if we don’t convert the plant properly, it has that sweet aftertaste. We’re trying to get rid of that. It’s a similar technique.”

Applying cutting-edge bioengineering tools and advancements in agriculture to the rapidly evolving cannabis industry is creating an exciting environment for entrepreneurs in many business sectors, Rehmann said.

In October 2018, recreational cannabis use became legal in Canada for dried and fresh cannabis, oil, plants and seeds. This past month, the Canadian government legalized ‘edibles’ – cannabis-infused products such as beverages, chocolates, gummy candies and baked goods. But don’t expect them to hit store shelves until the end of the year.

On his work, Rehmann has partnered Province Brands of Canada on a research grant funded by the Ontario Centre of Excellence’s Voucher for Innovation and Productivity program and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Engage program.

The Province Brands process has created the world’s first beers brewed from cannabis, utilizing parts of the cannabis plant with otherwise no commercial value. The overall goal is to have a beverage where alcohol is not the active ingredient, but still has a similar intoxicating effect.

The yeast being developed by Rehmann is expected to be a revolutionary and time-saving technology in crafting the hemp/cannabis beers.

With hemp, you get hemicelluloses materials, which consist of glucose and several other water-soluble sugars produced during photosynthesis. Using regular brewing yeast doesn’t covert these sugars properly.

“If you leave it in, you have a sweeter beer, which is not desirable,” Rehmann said. “You can try and separate it beforehand, which is not trivial.”

‘Taste testing’ cannot be done in his Western lab, with all his findings being sent to the Toronto-based Province Brands of Canada.

“What we’re trying to do is find a yeast that takes that sugar. We’re taking different yeast strains and basically mating them. We’re trying to make a hybrid between the regular brewing yeast to get rid of the residual sugar.”

Where the bio-fuel industry is largely policy driven, Rehmann said the cannabis industry is consumer driven – or even hype driven.

“It’s a fast-moving area. Cannabis regulations are ongoing and still an evolving thing. It’s an interesting area,” he said. “It’s a nice synergy in a way, a nice evolution of the work I’ve been doing, switching away from one industry to another. To develop the technology, it’s interesting from a research perspective and even a societal perspective.”