Can You Brew Beer On The Moon?

Can You Brew Beer On The Moon?

When some apocalyptic event in the near future forces humans to scurry to another planet, we’re probably going to have the same question.

Can we still get wasted?

Image: NASA/Adam Clark Estes

A team of University of California, San Diego students are competing to send an experiment aboard a spacecraft built by Indian startup TeamIndus, which received one million dollars ($1.3 million) as part of Google’s Lunar XPRIZE competition. The students, like all of us, want to know whether yeast can survive to ferment beer on the Moon.

The proposed experiment starts with wort — malt and water mixed together, prepared on Earth and placed into a special experimentation vessel. The vessel would allow the fermentation process, where the yeast turns sugar to alcohol, and the carbonation process, of getting the bubbles into the beer, to occur simultaneously without releasing any excess carbon dioxide.

“[The canister] contains three compartments — the top will be filled with the unfermented beer, and the second will contain the yeast. When the rover lands on the moon with our experiment, a valve will open between the two compartments, allowing the two to mix,” explains Srivaths Kaylan, a University of California, San Diego nanoengineering major and the team’s mechanical lead, in a press release. “When the yeast has done its job, a second valve opens and the yeast sinks to the bottom [to] separate from the now fermented beer.”

Image: Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications

Image: Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications

It takes a specific kind of yeast to brew under the stressful conditions of space. “Different strains [of yeast] have different survival capabilities,” Lance Shaner, owner of Omega Yeast Labs who will supply the students with yeast, told Gizmodo. “Someone recommended one of our strains,” called HotHead, for “having a wide temperature tolerance for the unknown conditions and fluctuations.” He said the strain could create a tasty beer under a broad temperature range, from 16 to 38C.

Gizmodo also asked Matt Simpson, Beer Industry Consultant and founder of The Beer Sommelier LLC, what he thought about the project. “I see no reason for the experiment to fail. Provided gravity, or lack thereof, is the only factor that will substantively be changing in the fermentation process, typical ale brewing yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) should still thrive,” though he pointed out that yeast requires certain levels of oxygen in order to survive, reproduce and do its fermentation work — there will be a little bit of oxygen in the canister. Simpson noted that the students might end up with a cloudy beer, since lower gravity may prevent the yeast from dropping out of suspension. “I see no reason it won’t simply ferment in that environment,” said Simpson.

TeamIndus plans to launch their craft 28 December 2017, and the UCSD team is still competing with 24 others for the spot on board the ship. But man, I hope they’re the ones that get picked.