More About Yeast and Taste

I was recently in San Diego and had the opportunity to visit with some people from White Labs. This is an impressive company that is dedicated to all things yeast, no matter the application. They also have a brewery operation that allows them to experiment with recipes and do contract research.

White Labs Brewing Co. is part of White Labs, Inc. an international company headquartered in San Diego, California that provides liquid/dry yeast, fermentation products, services, analysis, and education to professionals and enthusiasts alike. Started back in 2012 with a San Diego Tasting Room many of their showcased beers are available to taste. Taste takes us along a path to understanding flavors derived from yeast.

As Erik Fowler of White Labs commented about understand the impact of yeast in creating taste in beer: “tasting side-by-side is the ultimate experience of how yeast impacts beer! For example, at our brewery/pub, enjoy Better Haze AheadTM brewed with WLP518 Opshaug Kveik Ale Yeast, this high temp yeast promotes tropical aromas and a dry finish. Or try Better Haze AheadTM with WLP066 London Fog Ale Yeast, this strain contributes a soft mouthfeel along with citrus-like esters while accentuating hop character.”

Fowler gave some quick answers to some general questions about their yeast.

How are yeast able to impart unique flavors in beer?

Brewers work with specific species of yeast names Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Saccharomyces pastorianus. These species of brewer’s yeast consist of hundreds of strains which impart defining characteristics in popular beer styles. Ever wonder what gives a hefeweizen it’s banana and clove notes or why pilsners are so crisp and clean? It’s the yeast and the byproducts it produces (or doesn’t produce) during fermentation.

How long does it take to develop a new yeast strain?

Almost all strains used in brewing are non-GMO and have undergone natural domestication over hundreds of years. Their continuous use by brewers have selected characteristics and strains that not only impart positive flavors in the beer but also perform consistently and are easy for the brewer to use.

Are there varieties of yeast within a given strain?

Not within a strain but within a species. Think Saccharomyces cerevisiae or “ale yeast” as an example. White Labs banks over 500 strains and each can be used to make any classic or experimental beer style that has been or is yet to be made!

Is there anything interesting that has happened recently with yeast that has a wow! factor about it?

Brewing trends and innovation are always pushing the boundaries with new and unique ingredients and processes. Kveik yeast has been the most recent trend sweeping professional and homebrewers across the globe. Kveik is a type of yeast sourced from Norwegian farmhouse breweries which creates beers fermented at a wide variety of temperatures up to 90°F+/32°C! This characteristic of producing complimenting fruit-like esters at such a warm temperature which speeds up fermentation is unique for brewer’s yeast. Brewers are using these strains to create beers ranging from hazy IPA’s to imperial stouts.

The sugar yeast seems not to like is Destrins, so?

Depending on the beer characteristics a brewer is looking to create Dextrins are important. Dextrins are long-chain sugars that are unfermentable to most brewer’s strains. It will contribute greatly to mouthfeel. Mash schedule affects this much more drastically than strain selection.

There are a lot of manufacturers of yeast around the world. Some sell liquid yeast and others distribute dry yeast. It isn’t hard to find homebrewers and microbrewers with strong opinions about which yeast type works best.


Alicia D. Walker

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