First Mag Frosted Elfin

Attendees at First Magnitude's event line up to donate and purchase t-shirts, pins and glasses to support the Frosted Elfin butterfly. 

Butterflies do their fair share in the world. They help pollinate flowers, provide food for other animals and now help provide beer for us. That’s right: beer.

On Friday evening, First Magnitude Brewing Company and the Florida Museum of Natural History hosted a launch party for a new kind of specialty beer, the Frosted Elfin New England-Style Session Pale Ale, which is named after the butterfly that helped make it.

The family-friendly event took place from 5 to 8 p.m. at First Magnitude Brewing Company. Attendees could donate $10 to the museum for $1 off each beer they purchased, or donate $15 for a signature glass on top of the $1 discount.

According to the Florida Museum’s website, “all proceeds from the event will directly support imperiled butterfly recovery efforts in Florida.”

Beer was sold in four-can packs or by the glass. T-shirts, pins and glasses were also sold at the event. Families enjoyed food trucks and games together. 

Phil Harmon, a 42-year-old associate professor of plant pathology, attended the Friday launch with his family to try the beer. He described the drink’s taste as “fruity, floral and poppy.”

This is the seventh beverage collaboration between First Magnitude and the museum but the first to be brewed with yeast harvested from a butterfly, said Jaret Daniels, the associate curator and program director of the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity.

Yeast is typically taken from plants and flowers. To create this brew, researchers and brewers — along with partners in Tallahassee and the U.S. Forest Service — took a trip to the Apalachicola National Forest and spent a day netting the butterflies and swabbing them for yeast, Daniels said.

The main purpose of the event was to raise awareness and develop new funding for the Frosted Elfin butterfly, Daniels said.

The Frosted Elfin butterfly, which is native to areas of Florida, lives across much of eastern North America. The population is declining and undergoing a species status assessment with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Daniels said.

More research is being conducted to fill in the data gaps and determine if the butterfly will be placed on the endangered species list in a few years.

“Most people don’t know about these butterflies at all,” Daniels said. “They don’t even know how rare these are within Florida.”

The yeast from this butterfly adds a floral flavor to the beer, said Arthur Rudolph, the quality manager at First Magnitude. The drink also contains unique yeast grown in-house at First Magnitude. Last year, the brewery acquired its own lab to grow the yeast that is combined with hops, alcohol and low-or-high acid to create the beer.

“This was the first chance we had to actually go out before the beer was made to see the butterflies and collect the yeast,” Rudolph said of the trip to the national forest.

Rudolph took the swabs back to First Magnitude to isolate the yeast and grow it in the beer environment. Then, the brewers chose the strain that tasted best in the beer.

Rudolph said the collaboration between the brewing company and the museum was a natural fit.

“As a company, First Magnitude has always had a conservation-oriented mindset,” he said. “It’s a great way to contribute to a cause we feel strongly about.”

The team is also holding a second launch party at the Brass Tap in downtown Tallahassee on May 25.

“It’s a panhandle butterfly, so we really want to make that connection within the habitat,” Daniels said. “We’re reaching a different group of people and exposing that information to people that may not directly come to the Florida Museum of Natural History.”