On this day in 1883, Emil Christian Hansen was the first scientist in history to successfully create a pure yeast culture for use in brewing. He was head of the Carlsberg Research Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark and his work stood on the shoulders of Louis Pasteur who had published novel techniques a few years earlier.
Hansen’s technique was elegant. By performing serial dilutions of a yeast culture from the brewery he ended up isolating single cells, just like in later plating techniques. Enriching the single-cell solutions by additions of sterile wort lead to multiplication of the cells. From there, Hansen performed a stepwise propagation where a culture was added to a larger volume of wort and left to multiply over and over again. The result was a yeast slurry, wherein all the cells originated from the original mother cell. At last, the first pure yeast culture was a reality!
This innovation was shared with the brewing community in Europe and cured the “beer disease” (i.e. contaminated beer) that was a huge problem in Europe at the time.
129 years have gone by and today and we still use many of the same techniques every day at White Labs.