Prof. Alcaine M.S. '07 and a team of researchers are developing beer made from dairy byproducts.

Courtesy of Cornell University

Prof. Alcaine M.S. '07 and a team of researchers are developing beer made from dairy byproducts.

April 13, 2018

Cornellians Develop Beer Made From Dairy Byproducts

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By next summer, the alcoholic drink you buy might be made from dairy byproducts. For over a year, a team of Cornell researchers has been working hard to launch the new drinks.

The former product innovation manager at the Miller Brewing Company and leader of the team, Prof. Sam Alcaine M.S. ’07, food science, said he has “always loved brewing” and has an interest in brewing traditions from around the world, which inspired him to explore new ways to create beer.

“There are stories of whey-based alcoholic beverages enjoyed by the Vikings and there is koumiss, an alcoholic beverage made from mare’s milk, found in Central Asia,” he explained.

“There is all this cool history and tradition around dairy-based alcohol but nothing here in the U.S., and so I took this as a challenge to draw on science and history and see what we could create,” he went on to say.

In an email to The Sun, Alcaine described the process as “tak[ing] dairy byproducts, like acid whey, that some people view as waste, and actually convert[ing] them via fermentation into beverages people will enjoy.”

Alcaine explained that the project began after the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation “came to Cornell looking for ideas on how to utilize acid whey.”

The Alcaine Research Group have already developed a few prototypes, but the “tasty possibilities are endless,” according to Alcaine.

“We held a formal sensory test a few weeks ago. For that we had a prototype that was about 2.5 percent [alcohol by volume] with lime, ginger, and lemongrass in it,” Alcaine said. “We’ve done others in the lab: mango vanilla, strawberry cinnamon nutmeg, blood orange passion fruit.”

The group also faced a few challenges in developing this innovative product both on the technical and the customer side.

“The biggest challenge was figuring the best way to make the sugar available for conversion to ethanol,” Alcaine said. His team tried several different ways to tackle this problem, including using enzymes endemic to barley to break down the sugar and trying non-traditional yeast that can produce alcohol using milk sugar.

At the same time, Alcaine and his team also need to get the taste right for the customers.

“Would people want to drink this?” he asked. “For this we looked at the impact of blending in different fruits to make an interesting product.”

There is still work to be done before the product hits the market. Alcaine said the project has received support from the DEC and New York State Dairy Farmers, but will still need additional partners.

“The next step is identifying partners, both on the dairy side to get the acid whey, and the beer side to brew, and then building a brand/message behind the product,” Alcaine said.