A Big Shout Out for Yeast

Beer labels with tast­ing notes rarely men­tion yeast. They usu­al­ly say “malty with a hop­py fin­ish” or “hop­py with a malty fin­ish” or some vari­a­tion there­on. Stel­la Artois is appar­ent­ly made with­out it. Is that because “yeasty” just sounds nasty to most peo­ple?

In our expe­ri­ence, though, the impact of yeast on beer is too big to ignore. The extent to which it devours sug­ars affects the body and mouth­feel of the beer; and the com­pounds it pro­duces while doing so con­tribute aro­ma and flavour. A lot of aro­ma and flavour. Some­times most of it, in fact, as in the case of banana-bub­blegum Bavar­i­an wheat beer. (The stan­dard learn­ing tool for aspir­ing beer geeks who want an obvi­ous exam­ple of the influ­ence of yeast.)

For a recent home­brew­ing ses­sion, we made a yeast starter using a sim­ple wort of dried malt extract. We couldn’t resist tast­ing it, even though we sus­pect­ed that, with­out hops, it wouldn’t be pleas­ant. Sur­pris­ing­ly, it didn’t taste ter­ri­ble, and we were astound­ed to dis­cov­er just how many of the flavours and aro­mas we’d put down to the hops were appar­ent­ly com­ing from the yeast. Bor­ing malt extract, no hops and good yeast made some­thing drink­able.

We’ve also found in home brew­ing that the sin­gle biggest fac­tor in giv­ing a beer a spe­cif­ic char­ac­ter is the yeast. British malt and British hops with Czech yeast tastes pret­ty Czech. Ger­man malt and Ger­man hops with British yeast tastes British. And so on.

We’re cer­tain dis­agree­able yeast is behind our antipa­thy to the entire prod­uct range of some brew­eries who oth­ers seem to love.

Now we’re see­ing sin­gle-hop ranges from big brew­ers, maybe now it’s time for small­er brew­eries to move on to some­thing else: ranges which show­case char­ac­ter­ful yeasts in the same con­trolled way, as the only vari­able in a range of oth­er­wise iden­ti­cal beers.

If you want anoth­er exam­ple of a big beast of a yeast, check out the one used at Fuller’s: their beers brown/amber beers all taste and smell of orange mar­malade, regard­less of the hops or malt used, because of their assertive yeast.

UPDATE: oh, and we meant to link to this — New Brig­gate Beer Blog’s post in praise of malt. UPDATE 2: and here’s Alan on water, the for­got­ten ingre­di­ent. Now, who wants to take on ‘in praise of gyp­sum’?

46 thoughts on “A Big Shout Out for Yeast”

  1. When I did my 3 way wit­bier brew­ing ses­sion last year I was amazed at the dif­fer­ences the yeasts threw up (I used Wyeast’s Amer­i­can Wheat, Bel­gian Wit­bier and Wei­hen­stephan).

    I might do it again this year, but with a British IPA base, and use Not­ting­ham, Safale US 05 and Safale K-97 for the yeasts.

  2. the yeast series is a great idea. There’s so much more to beer than hops, the ‘glam­our’ side of beer.
    I must admit, I got into Yeast (or rather, what it brings to the table flavour-wise) after home­brew­ing. When I meet a brew­er now, I always ask about what yeast they use – obvi­ous­ly most won’t say! I recent­ly tast­ed 3 Mar­ble beers on 3 nights, and it was real­ly obvi­ous what thi­er yeast was bring­ing to the table – a bub­blegum­my, super-fruity note. It was the com­mon thread that linked and ESB, Dunkel and IPA.

      1. Leigh, I’m obvi­ous­ly out of the loop with things at Mar­ble, but I know the Dunkel was fer­ment­ed with a White labs strain Ger­man Weizen yeast and I’m guess­ing the Old Man­ches­ter and IPA were fer­ment­ed with the Mar­ble house yeast, which, if I remem­ber cor­rect­ly, is a ver­sion of the Gales strain. God, I miss that yeast, despite its ten­den­cy to kick out loads of Diacetyl above 5% abv…

  3. The crit­i­cal con­tri­bu­tion of yeast to flavour has been known for… well, yonks. We use an old yeast from a region­al brew­ery of yes­ter­year – cer­tain­ly dis­tinc­tive, and we plan to com­pare recipe results against a “stan­dard” “mod­ern” yeast. When? Not telling. Pre­vi­ous­ly I worked at a brew­ery with an old dual-strain yeast that was char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly redo­lent of apples. Clas­sic Boddie’s was brewed with yeast that had devel­oped a ridicu­lous num­ber of sep­a­rate strains – 30+? They even­tu­al­ly reduced the num­ber to about 9, but could go no fur­ther with­out detectably alter­ing the char­ac­ter of the beer. So yes – yeast is impor­tant. I taste ours reg­u­lar­ly as an infor­mal qual­i­ty con­trol test. Am I weird? Nope – just a brew­er.

    1. Ha, yes, we should prob­a­bly make clear that we are not claim­ing to be break­ing this news…

    1. Ooh, good video, thanks: “Every­one talks about malt and hops and yeast is the for­got­ten ingre­di­ent.”

  4. Real­ly inter­est­ing post. There is a cer­tain brew­ery whose beers all seem to have a cer­tain fla­vor to them, and I had always assumed all of the beers shared a cer­tain malt or hop. Nev­er even thought it could be the yeast.

    1. Wad­worth imme­di­ate­ly springs to mind? Fullers have a dis­tinc­tive taste, but the beers are nowhere near as “samey” as the Wad­worth range…

      1. check out the one used at Fuller’s: their beers brown/amber beers all taste and smell of orange mar­malade, regard­less of the hops or malt used”

        I’m glad you men­tioned this, and Graeme in the com­ment above – I whole­heat­ed­ly agree. I drank a 2004 bot­tle of the Fullers vin­tage, with and with­out the yeast – it was mar­malade all the way.

        Also, I nev­er real­ly got on with Wadworth’s port­fo­lio. This might be explained by a par­tic­u­lar yeast they use….

  5. Grrr, I was plan­ning to write a post very sim­i­lar to this but you beat me to it.

    Yeast is very unfash­ion­able at the moment. But it’s cru­cial to giv­ing British ses­sion beers their char­ac­ter. At 3.2% with hard­ly any hops or malt, where else are you going to get flavour from?

    Sad­ly an awful lot of new brew­eries seem to use one of the same four or five off-the-shelf yeast strains. It’s no won­der that so many beers all start to taste sim­i­lar.

    1. Worth writ­ing yours any­way, though — it’ll prob­a­bly be longer, bet­ter thought out and cite more evi­dence.

  6. Yeast is vital­ly impor­tant and for most brew­ers is respon­si­ble for their house flavour. If a brew­ery has their own in house yeast it’s some­times eas­i­er to think of them as a yeast farm that hap­pens to make beer as a by-prod­uct.

  7. The fer­men­ta­tion makes or breaks a beer-and it’s the yeast that does it. And it’s not just a case of get­ting a healthy fer­ment but it’s choos­ing the right strain too, not just chuck­ing done in out of a pack­et.

    (Re: Bavar­i­an Wheat, weizen, etc-bub­blegum, esp. when it is more than just a trace, is usu­al­ly a fault due to a less than opti­mal fer­ment – often yeast work­ing at too high at tem­per­a­ture. See Stan’s “Brew­ing with Wheat”, p189)

  8. Great post. For me char­ac­ter­ful yeast is vitaly impor­tant to what makes Eng­lish style ales. Yes yeast is impor­tant to all beer obvi­ous­ly, but where the Amer­i­cans (and on the whole my coun­try­men) have gone in for neu­tral yeast char­ac­ters to cre­ate a ‘blank can­vas’ to build up new world hop char­ac­ters, tra­di­tion­al Eng­lish ales are round­ed out and giv­en com­plex­i­ty from fruity fer­men­ta­tion pro­files. I hope that does­nt get lost as Eng­lish micros increas­ing­ly take influ­ence from the Amer­i­cans.

  9. The British Guild of Beer Writ­ers did a yeast sem­i­nar about 10 years ago and beers were brewed with a vari­ety of yeasts, ale, lager, bak­ers and there was also a plan for human yeast but I don’t know what hap­pened there. I always think that the dif­fer­ence between an ale and a lagered beer is the yeast — the lagered beer is the can­vas on which the colour of the hops and malt are unleashed after the long mat­u­ra­tion, while the short­er matured ale has the yeasty esters, espe­cial­ly after 5% or there­abouts adding their tupenny’s worth. The first time I went into a yeast store, Hold­ens I think, I was blown away by the pineap­ple and banana notes.

    1. there was also a plan for human yeast but I don’t know what hap­pened” Couldn’t find a vol­un­teer will­ing to have their sweaty groin cul­tured?

      Just askin’…

  10. I was going to men­tion Wad­worth, prob­a­bly the most ‘samey’ of any brew­ery in the west coun­try. If only it was good ‘samey’.

    1. Agreed – to me it’s often almost verg­ing on a low lev­el musty type infec­tion, but I’m sure it is just the house flavour. Occa­sion­al­ly the odd pint is pret­ty tasty – like Bish­ops Tip­ple – but I won­der if the hop char­ac­ter mutes the yeast con­tri­bu­tion?

      1. It real­ly is a bizarre house flavour. I had their 2.8% offer­ing (can’t remem­ber the name) about a fort­night ago. It just tast­ed like a watered down 6X. Arkell’s in Swin­don is sim­i­lar though not as promi­nent. Between those two brew­eries they have a major­i­ty of the pubs serv­ing ale sewn up round Wilts/Glos.

    1. That’s caused by a fil­a­men­tous fun­gus. You wouldn’t want to use Can­di­da or Cryp­to­coc­cus but I did once pon­der try­ing to make a beer with Malassezia until I came to my sens­es.

  11. You’ll have to ask a wine guy, I thought it was just tra­di­tion, and a lack of shoes in the wine grow­ing areas.

  12. The most inter­est­ing les­son from the Mikkeller yeast series was the beer made with Weiss­bier yeast. A dead ringer for a Bavar­i­an Wheat Beer – but no wheat malt!

    1. Stan and i did an exper­i­ment about wheat A few years ago to a bunch of beer geeks. One of the wheat beers had no wheat and only wheat yeast and tan­nal a. Peo­ple thoguht this has the most wheat in it. Stan do u remem­ber? Shows a lot about yeast.

  13. Top notch post! Yeast tru­ly is the unsung hero of brew­ing. There are some brew­ers out there that make some beers with dif­fer­ent yeasts. So to an extent one can get cre­ative with yeast the same as ingre­di­ents.

  14. Some­thing def­i­nite­ly worth think­ing about, last night dur­ing a tast­ing ses­sion with a few friends some­one men­tioned a “yeasty taste” and yes I too had for­got­ten what a key role it plays in the flavour of beer.
    It may be that unless the yeast is par­tic­u­lar­ly marked in the flavour then it is lost as the “way that brewery’s beer tastes” some of which con­tains the flavours from the brew­eries par­tic­u­lar yeast strain.

  15. At last we are real­is­ing that “Yeast makes Beer”.
    Now can the tire­some hop­heads please shut up about their extreme beers, please.

    Bel­gian ale, York­shire bit­ter, Czech pivo, Bavar­i­an bier. It’s all in the yeast…

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