A Sample Strain and a Lasting Legacy

October 06, 2017

Former University faculty member Marty Dworkin’s microbiology legacy lives on in the kegs of a local taproom.

Dworkin group

Front row from left to right: Caleb Levar, Tim Brickman, Daniel Bond, Jeffrey Gralnick; back: Niko Tonks of Fair State Brewing

Sometimes, things in life come full circle. For a group of microbiologists at the University of Minnesota, that recently took the shape of a malty lager and a local taproom.

“Marty Dworkin thought you couldn’t be a microbiologist without knowing how to brew beer,” says Jeffrey Gralnick, an associate professor in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology. “We appreciate that we can continue with that, brewing a beer named after him that’s going out at Fair State this fall.”

This summer, Gralnick, along with University colleagues Daniel Bond and Tim Brickman, and Caleb Levar, a former CBS graduate student working on opening Oakhold Farmhouse Brewery in Duluth, took their own interest and passion for brewing and channeled it into honoring Marty Dworkin. Dworkin was a longtime member of the University's microbiology faculty and brewing aficionado who passed away in 2014. The group took a yeast strain used in his lab class to brew the aptly named “Dworkinator” lager to go on tap at Fair State Brewing Cooperative in November in northeast Minneapolis.

“We’ve been wanting to brew a beer with this strain for a while,” says Levar, who consulted at Fair State while completing his Ph.D and after finishing his program. “The fact that Fair State opened their new facility in St. Paul gave us the opportunity to take advantage of the open fermenter at their northeast facility.”

This strain has a bit of a story unto itself. Dworkin taught numerous microbiology courses at the University in the 1980s, but at the time was unsatisfied with the way his yeast strains worked with the brewing they did as part of his courses. While on a tour of a Hamm’s brewery, Dworkin was able to obtain a sample of the yeast strain, and took it back to his lab to use with students and fellow researchers. The strain has been passed from his lab on to numerous faculty, as well as now used by Levar on this most recent brew.

“That strain has to be preserved,” says Levar who sent the strain to a yeast bank to preserve it for backup and further uses. “In an industrial setting, you have to make sure you have that backup, it’s no different than in science. You want your strains in more than one place if it’s really important.”

For Levar, Dworkin’s legacy goes beyond the yeast itself. In preparation for a celebration honoring Dworkin’s 50th year of working at the University in 2012, Levar used the same strain of yeast to brew a beer for the evening called the ‘Dworkin Bock’. The final brew was not only served at the celebration, but also helped further Levar’s career aspirations.

“What was really cool to me is that it highlighted that maybe brewing beer was an actual path for a microbiologist,” says Levar. “I mean I did cool science too, but brewing beer got me on a stage with Marty Dworkin, which is still going to be one of the greatest honors of my professional life.” 

-Lance Janssen