As an environmental researcher, Tye works to manage cheatgrass in the West. In her off hours, she and her husband Joe are home brewers who teach others how to turn grains, hops, yeast, and water into ales, lagers, and stouts in Reno, Nevada. When she combined her knowledge of how cheatgrass spreads with her love of brewing, Tye came up with a way to restore cheatgrass-invaded areas while producing beer. "Every time people drink our beer, they are doing something to save their desert," she told a local news outlet.
Cheatgrass lives fast and dies young
Conservationists, ranchers, and fire fighters shudder when nonnative cheatgrass dies to form a carpet of tinder in early summer.
Our native perennial grasses and sagebrush employ a different strategy. Rather than going through the hot, dry summer as seeds, they hunker down and survive as dormant live plants. Rooted in place, they can't run and are easily killed by fire.
Lower nitrogen fertility will begin to starve out the fast-growing cheatgrass. Our native plants, with their more tortoise-like approach to the race for survival, thrive with lower soil nitrogen. Tye will monitor cheatgrass seeds and soil nutrients to know when to reseed the area with native plants to give them the best chance to develop vigorous stands that keep cheatgrass at bay.
Ira Flatow tasted Tye and Joe’s cheatgrass beer and pronounced it "delicious." Tye explained to the Science Friday host that they mix barley with the cheatgrass seeds to brew an amber ale. Barley adds enzymes that cheatgrass lacks, which turn starch in the seeds into sugars. Once the sugars are released, the yeast can convert them into alcohol.
But the couple isn’t satisfied with just one type of beer. Their company, Bromus Tech, is working with Lance Jergensen, an independent malster who specializes in local barleys for niche beers, and Ryan Quinlan, at Great Basin Brewery, to develop several different cheatgrass beers.
Tye points out that agricultural chemicals are rarely used on the rangelands that cheatgrass invades. She plans to use the seeds left after the brewing process to finish organic grass fed beef for market. Soon, you'll be able to have an organic grass-fed cheatgrass-finished burger with your cheatgrass beer.
Once they’ve perfected their line of beers and fine-tuned their restoration techniques, Tye and Joe will share their knowledge with other brewers. Tye envisions small breweries across the West harvesting local cheatgrass and producing delicious beers. "I think that Idaho cheatgrass beer would catch on like wildfire," she told Ira Flatow.