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’?