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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