Life Below is the latest project of Bangkok-based entrepreneur Alan Edwards, who is a biomedical engineer by trade. Through this project, Edwards is aiming to whip up the local beer market with a premium ingredient with the potential to catapult flavors to a new level: liquid yeast.
“I’ve always been interested in beer,” said Edwards. “Traveling frequently to the UK and around Europe with my father, I’ve been exposed to beer culture since I was young.”
Edwards’ father, who holds a PhD in biology, and his mother, a food scientist, were key figures who piqued his interest in the science of beer-making. He started brewing as a hobby and became intrigued with the role that yeast plays, as well as its contribution to the quality of the final product.
There are mainly two forms of yeast used by brewers, he explained. Dry yeast is commonly used for brewing as it doesn’t need to be kept in a refrigerated state, but has tradeoffs in terms of the variety and intensity of flavors.
“You are making compromises in terms of quality, compared to fresh, liquid yeast,” Edwards said. Yeast is responsible for producing many of the key flavor compounds in beer through biochemical reactions. One of the reasons why liquid yeast is superior is its cell wall structure and integrity. The drying process crumbles the cell walls and upon rehydration, not all functions of the cell membrane are restored. This process determines the growth and uptake rates of amino acids and sugar, which can ultimately influence the finished product.
Furthermore, not all brewer’s yeast strains can be made into a dry format. “With dry yeast, you may need to use just one to two strains to make five or six different beer recipes,” Edwards said. “The flavor profile can be quite similar across your product portfolio.”
A fresh market
The entrepreneur is entering the liquid yeast market as a first mover. Edwards hasn’t found any other fresh yeast lab in Thailand yet, and is unaware of any elsewhere in Southeast Asia. “I’m spearheading this movement here and plan to expand regionally once we have established our footing,” Edwards said. He is currently in the process of building a production facility and seeking approval from Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA). His friend, venture investor Thanit Apipatana, is providing seed funding and startup advice.
As potential customers, Edwards is targeting primarily the blossoming craft beer industry. “In Thailand, there are a lot of microbreweries opening up every day,” he said. “From my research, there are about 20 in existence, and about another 10–20 planning to open within the next six months to a year.” He believes the upside potential will be significant.
While Edwards sees the overall beer market as quite saturated, the craft beer trend is seemingly still in an early stage of growth. People in the region are developing a better understanding of beer—they are becoming more affluent and willing to spend more for high-quality beverages. “There’s definitely a shift towards higher quality beers, like craft beers,” he said.
Beer producers are responding to that trend by developing products that are more unique, with profound flavors and better ingredients that enable a higher degree of customization. To make an authentic Irish stout, brewers can utilize yeast strains used to produce the traditional stout from Ireland, instead of relying on neutral-flavored ale strains that are typically used for pale ales or India pale ales (IPAs). “This is very appealing to producers,” Edwards said.
Large, dominant macrobreweries, such as Tiger Beer and Singha, are now also tip-toeing their way into craft beers. However, they mostly operate their proprietary yeast labs in-house. Small and medium craft breweries, meanwhile, are shying away from operating their own yeast propagation facilities as they are labor-intensive and require a lot of technical input to manage—it requires a deep understanding of microbiology and access to highly specialized equipment.
Edwards also highlighted the community effect that is building up in the craft beer market. “Brewers just call to tell me they want to produce a certain beer, asking to talk. It’s different from just buying yeast off the shelf,” he explained. From his perspective, this is a new kind of relationship that breweries and brewers can have with their yeast suppliers. This collaborative approach and special relationship that can be formed with customers will give breweries and brewers the ability to customize their products like never before.
As craft beer continues to make a significant impact on the beer market as a whole, paying attention to such details will be crucial for craft brewers to gain more market share over the traditional macrobreweries.
This article was published in partnership with PRecious Communications (on behalf of Life Below).