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Simpson College student, professor help create ‘butterfly beer’ at Indianola brewery

Student Ethan Madden and professor Aswati Subramanian collaborate with West Hill Brewing Company to create beer brewed from butterflies


A Simpson College student and professor have collaborated with West Hill Brewing Company to create a unique new beer brewed from butterflies. 

Biology professor Aswati Subramanian and research assistant Ethan Madden spearheaded the lab work and fieldwork behind Pearl Crescent Butterfly IPA, the Indianola brewery’s newest release. The distinctive ingredient in the West Coast-style IPA is a brewer’s yeast isolated from a local butterfly species. Subramanian and Madden isolated the yeast after a small team performed extensive fieldwork at several Warren County and Indianola parks.

Simpson College biology professor Aswati Subramanian and senior student Ethan Madden swab a butterfly from a Warren County park.In all, the team netted and swabbed the legs and mouth areas of seven butterfly species before releasing them back to the wild. The swabs yielded 22 starter cultures which led to the creation of more than 160 culture plates. Madden eventually isolated a pure colony of brewer’s yeast that defined the new beer. 

“It’s been exciting to use my interests in biological research in a way that resonates with the community,” said Madden, a senior biology major from Creston, Iowa. 

The wild yeast contributes slight esters of banana and an added dryness on the palate, according to Doug Gaumer, head brewer and owner of West Hill. The 2005 Simpson graduate came up with the idea for the butterfly beer during the COVID-19 shutdown. He and his staff brought the idea to Subramanian and the assistant professor of biology embraced the challenge.

Simpson College biology professor Aswati Subramanian and senior student Ethan Madden organize culture plates extracted from butterflies.
Simpson College biology professor Aswati Subramanian (left) and senior research student Ethan Madden organize the more than 160 culture plates extracted from local butterfly species. Madden isolated a brewer's yeast from one of the cultures that became the distinctive flavor in West Hill Brewing's limited-release Pearl Crescent Butterfly IPA. 

“This project was a lot of fun – a perfect blend of art and science,” Subramanian said. “It really shows what we can achieve when Simpson faculty and students come together with the Indianola community.”

Proceeds from the limited release of Pearl Crescent Butterfly IPA benefit butterfly conservation at the Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge in nearby Prairie City, Iowa, providing funding for internships and research on native butterfly species.

“We wanted to find a way to support outdoor areas and wildlife in the state,” said Gaumer, who owns and operates the brewery with his wife and fellow 2005 Simpson graduate, Heather Norris Gaumer. 

The butterfly beer will be available for purchase in the taproom of West Hill Brewing Company at 219 West Salem Ave. in Indianola starting in mid-December. Special limited-edition cans will also be available. 

About Simpson College
Simpson College is a private, liberal arts college located in Iowa with campuses in Indianola, West Des Moines and online. Founded in 1860, the college has 1,078 undergraduate and graduate students. Simpson offers 75 majors, minors and programs in addition to three graduate programs. Outside of the classroom, Simpson is a member of the NCAA Division III American Rivers Conference, hosts eight Greek houses on campus and sponsors many extracurricular options for student involvement.
Contact Information
Bryan Geelan, marketing communication director
Direct: 515-961-1608
Email: bryan.geelan@simpson.edu