Ninkasi Brewing Company is putting Eugene on the extraterrestrial map. Get ready for the release of Ground Control — an imperial stout made with yeast that has traveled in a rocket ship through outer space. The beer premieres with a hand-drawn, sci-fi label from local artist Neal Williams.
“The first time I saw a rocket launch into space — I think there’s something there that changes you,” says Jamie Floyd, brewer and cofounder of Ninkasi. “It’s powerful. I had no idea how awesome it was until I watched it.”
The idea was an innovative one: to boldly go where no yeast had gone before. It was an experiment, of sorts, to see if brewer’s yeast could survive a trip through space and return safely back to Earth to star in Ninkasi’s famous beer. It’s also an exciting nod toward the future of space travel, Floyd says.
The Ninkasi Space Project’s first rocket launch in July of last year carried live brewer’s yeast into space, but 27 days later, when the rocket was recovered, the yeast had expired. With the help of UP Aerospace, a space launch services company, Ninkasi tried again last October in New Mexico, and this time, the yeast returned alive and ready for brewing.
“We decided that we wanted to make a beer that would age really well,” Floyd explains. “This is a collector’s item, especially with the artwork on the box and the story, so we wanted it to have a lot more brash character to its basic nature.”
Ground Control features Oregon hazelnuts, cocoa nibs and star anise from Mountain Rose Herbs in Eugene. “The chocolate hazelnut touch intensifies the richness of it and makes it almost more on the dessert side,” Floyd says, adding that some proceeds from the beer will go toward supporting science education and research.
Unique beer needs unique packaging, which is where Eugene artist Neal Williams, who has designed poster art for Dave Matthews Band and Queens of the Stone Age, comes into play. He devised a retro, sci-fi design, featuring a Ninkasi astronaut with a rocket launch reflected in his mask and a space collision exploding behind him.
“We all thought the astronaut was a better center piece,” Williams explains, “so we added in this fun sci-fi meteor-spaceship collision on the side. We had talked about making three different labels, but we thought it looked strongest all together.”
Ground Control hits the shelves April 13. Floyd and Ninkasi cofounder Nikos Ridge will be in L.A. on April 9 giving a talk at Google, but Ridge is back in Oregon April 16 for OMSI’s Space Beer Dinner in Portland. Find out more at wkly.ws/1zs.