These days there is a huge push to buy local with the thought being that we can support our local businesses and communities, and ultimately have a better product. Buying local also means buying a product that is fresher than something shipped half way across the country and since local companies tend to be smaller, they have more ability to experiment with ingredient combinations. This is also one of the main advantages to homebrewing; fresher beer utilizing unique flavor combinations.
As a homebrewer, there are lots of possibilities for you to make your beer more local. Using locally sourced homebrewing ingredients such as hops, malted barely and even yeast (like my friends at South Yeast Labs) can produce a fresh and unique twist to any beer recipe. Some commercial breweries such as Jester King Brewery in Austin, Texas and Jolly Pumpkin in Dexter, Michigan take local yeast to a whole new level by using open fermentation vessels called coolships to utilize local yeast and bacteria from the environment to ferment their finely crafted beverages. In fact, long before brewers knew that yeast was responsible for fermentation, all beers were produced in this way (but that is a topic for another blog post). As a yeast cell biologist and a self-proclaimed yeast geek I have found experimenting with different yeast strains in my homebrewery to be one of the most rewarding aspects of making beer at home.
Rather than buy locally sourced hops or malted barley in order to make my beer more local I decided to use my knowledge of yeast (and research laboratory equipment) to source a local yeast strain from my area. There are many ways to capture wild yeast but I chose to harvest yeast from a honeysuckle bush in my front yard. Flowering bushes and fruits are a great source of wild yeast since they attract birds and bees, which can act as natural transportation for microscopic organisms such as yeast. To begin the process, I simply dropped 10 honeysuckle flowers into a small volume of cooled wort, aerated it and let the yeast do their work. After 10 days I isolated six single strains of yeast and looked at each under a microscope to examine their health.