Brewer’s Notes: On Yeast

We’ve got our first beer in process that is fermented with Brettanomyces, so it seems like a good time to talk a little bit about yeast in brewing, and our philosophy with regards to yeast.

Most beer (99.999%) is fermented with a yeast known as Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, which translates from the Latin to “Sugar fungus of beer.” There are various strains of Saccharomyces used to produce everything from squeaky-clean lagers to spicy, fruity and esoteric Belgian ales. Saccharomyces is also used to ferment wine, liquors, the ethanol they put in gasoline, etc. Just about anything with alcohol in it was made at least in part by feeding sugar to a strain of saccharomyces.

 

Brettanomyces, by contrast, has long been considered a problematic intruder in breweries and wineries because while it will make alcohol, it also produces some pretty out there flavors, sometimes described as “horseblanket,” “barnyard,” or just “funky.” In a nutshell, beers made with Brettanomyces are akin to stinky cheeses. If you’ve never had blue cheese, for instance, the first time you smell it you’ll probably be completely turned off. But once you learn to love it, you seek it out. So it is with Brett beers.

Many breweries avoid Brettanomyces like the plague. And rightly so, as it has a wicked tendency to find its way into batches where it isn’t wanted. Imagine a Pilsner with hints of barnyard and you will know the fear that many brewers have of this organism. It also has the ability to ferment the sugars that other yeasts leave behind, which means that it can slowly build up pressure in a bottle and cause it to explode, also a pretty strong negative. So why play around with it, you might be asking? Because it can make transcendently amazing beer if shepherded wisely, and that’s something we’re keenly interested in doing here at Gotahold.

Our philosophy with regards to yeast is that we are trying to make the best possible beers, which means we employ a lot of different yeasts as appropriate for the beer style. We bought yeast from a favorite German brewery for our Oktoberfest, because I think that brewery makes the best Oktoberfest beer I have ever had. Our IPAs use yeasts that throw off a lot of fruity esters, because those go great with the IPAs. We sourced Belgian Ale strains for the Belgian beers we make. And for really authentic barrel-aged sours, and Brett Saisons, we want to make sure we have some Brettanomyces in the mix.

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