Ye Olde Yeast Counting: From Happy Accidents to Marvelous Machines

We all get a little nostalgic sometimes.

The past seems so pretty—full of simpler times when the world was more honorable and quaint than our complex era. It’s all a really beautiful rose-tinged fantasy…

Our modern times may not feel as romantic, but we all know that life today is actually a lot better than it was in the days of old. Indoor plumbing and medical advances definitely top our list of favorite modern conveniences, but we’re also grateful for all the little things technology has brought us that we can’t imagine living without. Remote controls. Waterproof mascara. Frozen burritos. We could go on and on, but can’t forget the beauty and glory that is beer quality control. Oh yes—the ancient art of making beer taste good has seen some mighty fine improvements in the past few centuries—improvements so advanced that modern brewers can now produce billions of barrels of identical tasting beer with extreme precision. We should know; helping them is kind of our jobs.

But where, we wondered, did it start?

When did brewers go from mashing up cereals and praying for wild yeast to land to the precise flavor and shelf-life standards of today? We actually have Louis Pasteur to thank. Yep, the same dude who figured out that you should heat milk to kill microorganisms also figured out that those same little buggers were pretty helpful in making beer. Soon after, Danish scientists in honest-to-goodness fermentology labs were studying the effects of these microorganisms on our favorite beverage and the humble yeast cell was getting its fair recognition. Samples of beer could be inspected under a microscope for their yeast quantity, and adjusted accordingly.

And that’s where yeast counting stayed for a very long time. Counting chambers improved things a lot, as did supplies like pipettes and graduated cylinders for proper sample dilution. And you know what? Those techniques are still in use today because they actually work pretty darn well, if you have the right patience and precision and are working with very small production.

Of course, lovely modern technologies have not only allow us to play Tetris on our phones—we can actually slip a little beer sample into a YC-100 and have an accurate cell count in 30 minutes with little maintenance and cleaning. Heck, these days we can even measure dissolved oxygen with a Hach 3100. Now that’s what we call progress!

Interested in bringing your lab into the future? Contact us today to learn more about Yeast Cell Counting and You. In the meantime, cheers from your favorite lab supplier!