Brewdog: Unleash the Yeast

Module 1: Yeast
Look around you. Look AROUND you. Just look around you.

This pack of beer is aimed squarely at beer geeks: the same base beer (amber coloured, 6.3% ABV) fermented with four different yeasts.

Yeast, the Scottish Wunderkinder argue, is an unsung hero in the brewing process, often overlooked because hops hog the limelight — a thought with which we heartily agree.

We also found something extremely appealing about the idea of an off-the-shelf educational tasting session. Like a chemistry set for grown-ups, it encourages the setting aside of a couple of hours, the clearing of a tabletop, and the taking of notes. This is not drinking, but thinking. With drink.

Beer #1: fermented with Pilsen lager yeast

This is a yeast we know reasonably well from our own home brewing experiments but we struggled, at first, to discern its influence in this case. That might be because we have been conditioned to expect that yeast character in weaker, paler beers, and needed to overcome our programming.

Eventually, we did begin to pick out the familiar sulphurous note; something lemony; and then a faint reminder of Parma Violets.

Though they didn’t deliver a huge aroma, we did find that the use of decent amounts of American hops clashed with the yeast, knocking it out of focus.

What we learned: Pilsner Yeast does not seem, as they say, to allow citrusy hops ‘to sing’.

Beer #2: Bavarian weizen yeast

On the odd occasion we have run tasting sessions, German wheat beer has been our go-to to demonstrate the impact of yeast. Its famous banana-clove-bubblegum character is easy to spot and striking. And that is what we expected here.

In fact, we found a grainy, slightly smoky character, with a whack of harsh hoochy alcohol. It wasn’t very pleasant, frankly, and probably wouldn’t help a would-be beer geek to spot this yeast in action in another beer.

What we learned: wheat beer yeast is not much at home in a strong pale ale; and it needs handling properly to make with the bananas.

Beer #3: American ale yeast

This is where we expected Brewdog to shine, and for a brief break from the educational misery. It smelled fantastic, a big leafy fug of Stoned Love rising above the glass.

It tasted, unfortunately, less exciting — plasticky and gritty, like their big Hardcore IPA let down with water.

Three beers in, we were starting to notice a common off-flavour, and wondered if there was a fundamental problem with the base beer.

What we learned: were there actually more hops in this beer than in the others? If not, then it’s easy to see why yeasts like this one are popular with hophead brewers seeking to maximise their impact.

Beer #4: Belgian Trappist yeast

Cor! Though the common dodgy flavour is still just about evident, this was by far the best beer as beer. The yeast is so strident that it stamps all over the hops, pumping out spicy esters and turning the base beer into baked-apples-with-raisins delight.

Well, delight might be a bit strong: it’s not the best Belgian-style beer we’ve had by a long chalk, but really was both a demonstration of what Belgian yeasts do as well as being tasty.

What we learned: ‘Belgian’ is definitely a flavour.

Final thoughts

We hope Brewdog do this again but, next time, the base beer needs to be better and, more importantly, plainer. Legendary British brewer Sean ‘Rooster’s’ Franklin has often spoken of pale’n’hoppy beers brewed without dark malts as providing a ‘blank canvas’ for other ingredients, and that’s what was probably needed here.

We also think there’s something jarring about the application of the Brewdog branding to this product. The beers are not exciting or awesome, even though one is very nice, and the Rock Horns rhetoric is misplaced. We’d suggest that, next year, they call the pack Understanding Yeast: practical exercises for the classroom (J. Watt & M. Dickie) and package it in textbook white.

We bought our four-pack as part of an online order from Brewdog’s own store. It cost £9.50 + delivery (around £2.35 per bottle).

24 thoughts on “Brewdog: Unleash the Yeast”

  1. You mention a recurring off-flavour, but don’t quite seem to say what it is – phenolic?
    If so, it’s part of the flavour profile of some Belgian ales, so might have been less noticeable?

    1. Honestly, we couldn’t quite put our finger on it. (Guess this disqualifies us from reviewing beer in future…?) A sort of back-of-the-cupboard staleness. Not much of it, just a touch.

  2. …I’ve not used the Aroxa kit, but have used FlavorActiv’s – it’s all interesting stuff & in my experience does hone your palate in to identifying off-flavours.

    BTW, I think Weizen can also have phenolic flavours too!

  3. One quite nice beer (“delight might be a bit strong”), two dull & one positively unpleasant, for only £9.50 plus delivery. At BrewDog they know all about value for money (and how to avoid it).

    1. Like we said up top, this isn’t really about buying four beers to drink, and there’s a value for geeks like us in the experience of thinking and comparing, even if the beers themselves aren’t much good.

      If they do it again, especially with tweaks to the approach, we’ll buy version 2.

  4. Sorry, that was unnecessarily snarky. It just bugs me when a brewer puts out stuff that quite clearly isn’t ready for prime time, particularly when it’s labelled as Teh Awesome!!1!! And it’s not the £ so much as the social responsibility – they could warp the tastebuds of generations of hipsters (“nice IPA, but where’s the dishcloth?”).

    1. A testament to the increasingly slickness of Brewdog’s marketing/distribution setup that, though we’d heard of the Mikkeller yeast series, we had no idea how to get our hands on it. Brewdog’s popped up in our Twitter timeline, was priced attractively (to us, anyway…) and was in our house within two working days of ordering.

      How much did the Mikkellers sell for in the UK? More than £2.35 a bottle, presumably?

      1. & brewing a series of beers in which only 1 ingredient is changed, in order to educate both brewer & drinker has been around longer than Mikkeller have had beer geek breakfasts :-)

        The much-missed Passageway Brewery, Liverpool certainly did a single-hop series in the mid-90s, that was the first I’d heard of.

          1. Did Whitbread do a single-hop series, in this almost scientific way? (E.g. Use the same grist & procedures for each of the beers – same bitterness, etc, but only change the hop variety?)

  5. Not sure about how scientific it was but they were marketed with the slogan ‘Beer Thinkers’ and pitched at ‘connoisseurs’.

    1. I remember some single hop beers from them (I tried the Fuggles Chocolate Porter or someptin?) but didn’t know they did a series using the same base beer to showcase the hop variety?

      1. Don’t think they did use the same base beer — quick look at a few old articles suggests they tailored the beer to showcase the hop, so IPA for fuggles, wheat beer for Saaz, and so on. Still pretty remarkable, though!

    2. A quick Google Groups forage comes up with Fuggles Chocoalte Mild, Glorious Goldings, Ryman’s Reserve & Fuggles Imperial.

      Seems they used 1 hop in different styles, still interesting for an unloved beer-hemoth to be doing.

      Did you spot St Austell’s Roger Ryman’s winemaking brother, Hugh getting in on the act? :-) Here’s M.Jackson in The Independent – http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/food–drink-dry-crisp-and-fruity-not-bad-for-a-beer-take-the-winemakers-skills-let-them-loose-in-a-brewery-and-the-result-is-a-blend-called-rymans-reserve-writes-michael-jackson-1412708.html

      1. Even more amazing when you think that, only six or seven years earlier, brewers were completely resistant to revealing the ingredients in their beer. (More on that in our long piece on Newquay Steam next weekend…)

  6. A good idea, but poorly implemented, it seems to me. Perhaps someone with a better understanding of, or rather more friendly approach to, subtlety would have been able to do it better. (My opinion is solely based on this review and the picture I get from it about the base beer)

  7. In conjunction with your final thoughts and other comments on the general quality of these beers, I take issue with conclusion number one. I’ve had wonderful C-hopped German lagers, Riegele’s Simcoe Kellerbier being a particularly memorable one. The problem is with the brewer not the yeast here, I think.

    1. A great way to educate people about some basal flavours in beer.

      I haven’t tried any C-hopped German lagers but it is important to say too that not all Euro lagers exhibit the sulfury “beer stench” (there is a German brewing term for it but it doesn’t come to mind at the moment). In my experience, about 80% do. Urquell does not for example, at least the one we get exported (it arrives here between 6-8 weeks from packaging, very fresh).

      Personally I like a mild fruity yeast note, which lets the malt and hops do their stuff. In some beers the yeast cuts like a knife almost, I get this for example in the Speckled Hen range and their yeast to my mind is rather Belgian-like.

      Gary

      1. Re: sulphur — we don’t get it in Urquell, but we do get it when we brew at home with the Urquell yeast strain. Guess their process knocks it out and ours (a touch more primitive…) accentuates it.

        1. Interesting… Maybe their aging regimen explains it. They still age I believe for a couple of months although not as long as earlier. Will always remember an interview with one of their brewers who said, the shorter aging has no impact and we used to keep it longer when it took longer to sell. :)

          Gary

  8. They haven’t released this project in my neck of the woods. Although I think I’ve seen a similar project from Mikkeler. I guess Brewdog is doing a “relaunch” here at the beginning of next year once they’ve got enough beer to properly supply more variety. Although I’m a bit turned off by their antics which remind me of one of our less liked in the community locals.

    Pilsner yeast and citrusy hops can go well together. One of my local favorites put out a 26th anniversary “Cascade” pilsner that is just outstanding. Great cascade hop character that is light and delicate but it still has that great “pilsner” flavor with the proper malt backbone and that clean yeast crispness. Really outstanding. I reviewed it a few months ago.
    http://ithinkaboutbeer.com/2013/09/19/full-sail-26-cascade-pilsner/

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