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Florida beer used butterflies in the brewing process

On the left, a frosted elfin butterfly stands on a cotton swab, at right, a can of Frosted Elfin New England-Style Session Pale Ale. [Geena Hill via Florida Museum of Natural History and Times staff]
On the left, a frosted elfin butterfly stands on a cotton swab, at right, a can of Frosted Elfin New England-Style Session Pale Ale. [Geena Hill via Florida Museum of Natural History and Times staff]
Published May 22, 2019

A tiny brown butterfly from Florida provided a key ingredient for a new conservation-minded beer from Gainesville's First Magnitude Brewing.

The yeast for Frosted Elfin New England-Style Session Pale Ale originated from the bodies of live frosted elfins in the Apalachicola National Forest. The butterflies once ranged from central Florida to Ontario, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said, but have declined nationwide due to habitat loss.

The beer was a collaboration between the brewery and scientists at the Florida Museum of Natural History, who netted the butterflies and gently swabbed them for yeast before releasing them back into the forest. Those yeast samples were multiplied in petri dishes to produce what was needed for brewing.

That flowery-smelling yeast was part of what resulted in a tropical, fruity, hoppy and hazy pale ale that went on sale at First Magnitude's tasting room on May 17 for $12.50 per four pack. The beer is also being sold in some stores around Gainesville, including Lucky's Market. The brewery will hold another release event at the Brass Tap in Tallahassee on May 25.

Jaret Daniels, a professor at the University of Florida and director of the museum's Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity told U.S. Fish & Wildlife he was looking for a way to engage a new demographic, specifically beer drinkers, in conservation.

A portion of the proceeds from every can is going directly to butterfly research. The researchers also hope the exposure raises awareness for the frosted elfin.

The butterflies naturally collect yeast on their bodies from the forest's plant life. In a news release posted to the museum website, Daniels noted although the scientists could have collected the yeast straight from the host plants, they thought "it would be much cooler to get it off the butterfly itself."

Wild yeast from plants has been collected for beer-making before, but the project appears to be the first time it has been collected from an insect.

Contact Christopher Spata at cspata@tampabay.com or follow @SpataTimes on Twitter.

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