- Cornell professor Sam Alcaine’s research has yielded an alcoholic drink made from leftover acid whey from New York’s Greek yogurt industry, according to the Dairy Reporter.
- Alcaine is working on a few different approaches to convert the lactose into alcohol. The methods have so far produced a 2.7% alcohol by volume beer with a sour and salty flavor comparable to gose beer.
- "Brewers use farm products like corn, rye and barley to make alcohol. Dairy is a natural addition, especially now when consumers are demanding novel and interesting flavors,” Alcaine told Dairy Reporter.
Does a dairy-based beer have what it takes to make it to the mainstream? In the early 2000s, consumers may have wondered the same about fruit-infused beers, which have since helped bolster the craft beer market.
Alcaine told Dairy Reporter the dairy brewing opportunity opens up “an entirely new economic arena for entrepreneurs to explore and innovate.” As the former product innovation manager at Miller Brewing Co., he has some experience in recognizing R&D potential.
Consumers have indicated they want more diversity in their beer choices, as illustrated by the craft brew category’s rapid growth in the U.S. If the concept gets off the ground, it would most likely start at a smaller craft brewer willing to take a risk in exchange for the product's novelty and differentiation.
There are a number of angles a producer could leverage to excite consumers and get them beyond a potential ick factor. Alcaine told WNBF Radio that the beer's creation came after the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation asked Cornell researchers to find a solution for the leftover acid whey from Greek yogurt. A marketing campaign should talk up the beer's waste-saving aspects because a recent survey from Nielsen indicates that millennials are interested in sustainability, and willing to spend more for a product if it’s sustainable.
The taste could also be a hook for some. Acid whey is rich in sugars, producing a sour and salty flavor comparable to German-style gose beer and Mexican-based pulque, according to the Dairy Reporter. Sour beers are on quite the upswing: According to the Brewers Association, 45,000 cases of sour beer were sold in the U.S. in 2015, versus 245,000 cases in 2016. Another 9% growth is expected from 2017.
Additionally, it is worth communicating that the idea of whey-based beverages are nothing new. UK-based Black Cow Vodka and New Zealand-based Broken Shed Vodka are also made from whey and have generated positive online reviews.
In order for this concept to gain traction it will take an abundance of education around these points and getting consumers to try it in the first place. Alcaine is off to a good start — he held a taste testing for 100 people, noting great feedback and positive responses. If these hurdles are cleared, dairy beer’s potential is substantial.