Sure, penicillin may cure all sorts of illnesses but for those of us who are big fans of ales and sandwiches, there really is no competition. 

The irony of course is that until comparatively recently we did not really know what yeast was or how it worked.  For most of brewing history, fermentation was considered a mysterious gift from the gods – which in many ways it still is. [1]

Most of the key breakthroughs in understanding yeast came in the 19th century as some of the best scientific minds in Europe really put beer under the microscope.  While they were beginning to figure out how yeast worked – largely due to the work of the legendary Louis Pasteur [2] – they still struggled to help the brewers produce a consistent beer because each generation of yeast was slightly different.

Carlsberg founder J C Jacobsen wanted to eliminate the element of chance created by variable yeast quality.  A keen scientist himself, Jacobsen invested massively in his laboratory and researchers.  Pete Brown tells the story in his book “Three Sheets to the Wind”:

“In 1876, J C hired Emil Hansen, a brilliant young scientist, to work at the Carlsberg laboratory.  There, Hansen demonstrated that yeast was not a homogeneous substance but could be broken down into a number of strains, of which only a few were right for brewing. 

In 1883 he isolated and propagated single-strain yeasts for the first time, finally allowing brewers enough control over the fermentation process to guarantee a consistent product, brew after brew.  It was beer’s equivalent of splitting the atom.”

However, there was a darker side to this process than the rather self-congratulatory Carlsberg histories recorded.  Brown continues:

“You might think that J C, the great scientific brewer, would be ecstatic at this development – it was precisely the kind of thing the laboratory had been set up to achieve.

But he wasn’t happy at all.  If Hansen’s work was right, then some of the tenets of Pasteur’s work must be wrong.  Pasteur was a friend and idol, Hansen a mere employee.

Jacobsen refused to recognise the achievement, refused to patent it, and even as brewers like Heineken took the breakthrough and ran with it, Hansen received no recognition, financial or otherwise, from his employer.  Things only changed when Pasteur himself came to the brewery to congratulate Hansen on his breakthrough.  Lager yeast is still known as sacharromyces carlsbergensis in Hansen’s honour.” [3]

Little Creatures – one of Australia’s best craft brewers – takes its name partly from the live yeast cells in beers and partly from the 1985 Talking Heads album “Little Creatures.” 

This album included the hits “And She Was”, “Road to Nowhere”, and, to a significantly lesser degree, “The Lady Don’t Mind.”  There was also a song called “Creatures of Love” which gave the album and the brewery their names.  [ 4]

Established in 2000, the initial brewery building was previously a crocodile farm.

Operations have expanded dramatically and the brewing complex now contains several massive sheds and a popular café and restaurant.  Little Creatures have helped to blaze a trail for others to following, particularly by introducing Aussie beer drinkers to the hoppy American Pale Ale style.  It was almost certainly the first APA I ever tried. 

That first beer is still their flagship – Little Creatures Pale Ale (5.2%).  The brewers say “there are no great secrets to brewing this type of ale but there are most definitely no great shortcuts.”  It involves the generous use of Australian and American hops, the whole hop flowers of Cascade and Galaxy.  There is a famous story of Australian Customs being more than interested in the first shipment of US hop cones because of their strong resemblance to another botanical product…  In any case, the final result is an intense yet drinkable bitter APA with notes of citrus, pine and grapefruit.  It is currently available in the Malthouse fridges.

On tap is Little Creatures Bright (4.5%).  When I first heard of this beer, I worried it would be a low-carbohydrate lager or similar nonsense. [5] I was delighted to be proved wrong by this juicy golden ale.  It is made with pale malt, Carapils, Wheat and Vienna malt with plenty of US Cascade and NZ Motueka hop flowers.  The result is a smooth, quenching beer with touches of pineapple and passionfruit.  It has been described as “sunshine in a glass.”

Little Creatures now has a little sibling – White Rabbit Brewery which was opened in the Yarra Valley during 2009.  They are possibly the only brewers in Australia using open fermentation vessels which brings a greater complexity to the beers.  Their signature beer is White Rabbit Dark Ale (4.9%) which is a rich, malt-driven beer with a floral nose, a soft body of chocolate and stone fruit then cleaned up by a firm bitter finish.  This beer was a hit at Beervana and is on sale, on tap at Malthouse very soon.

My research for this piece took me to Little Creatures Facebook page [6] where they noted that all their staff also suffer from one of my personal phobias.  It is Cenosillicaphobia – fear of an empty glass.  Drop it into conversation tomorrow.

[1] Well, the results certainly are.
[2] Trying to make up for inflicting milk on generations of school children to come.
[3] Which modestly essentially means “the first yeast from Carlsberg”.
[4] Which contains the lyrics “a woman and a man can be together/If they decide to/they’ll make little creatures/Watch ’em now/Little creature of love
[5] See: Cooper’s Clear.
[6] Don’t laugh, most of a journalist’s work these days is reading Facebook, Twitter, blogs and overseas news wires.


Beer Writer
Real Beer New Zealand
Beer and Brewer Magazine


Pete Brown: Three Sheets to the Wind –

Little Creatures Brewery –
White Rabbit Brewery –
Malthouse on Twitter –
Malthouse Facebook Group –
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