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Out of Thin Air Came A Key Ingredient That Made Beer
To varying degrees, craft beer drinkers are ‘yeast seekers’ by nature; always looking for that new or unique flavor in a beer they don’t know comes from yeast. Many do not know the role of yeast in the production of tastes, appearance and aromas. Those unique flavors and aromas that give each craft beer a distinct style signature come, in large part, from the yeast’s contribution. The saying goes: no yeast, no beer. Interestingly, yeast has always been present in nature – Wild Yeast. This does not detract from the fact that barley and hops are also important.
One word describes what makes the craft beer industry unique – innovation. Brewers are willing to think outside the box. Some brewers have carved a niche by experimenting with ‘hosted’ wild/natural yeast. These are types of yeast ‘observed’ directly from nature. And are yeast strains literally collected/harvested from trees, plants, fruits, etc.
Of course, there are risks in using wild yeast because a brewer is never sure how the beer will turn out after fermentation is complete. But that’s the danger in yeast research and innovation. However, this does not prevent researchers from searching wild yeasts for some new commercially viable yeasts. It’s all about flavors and understanding the performance of different yeasts.
I’m mentioning wild yeast up front because that’s how beer came about 10,000 years ago – naturally. Today there are brewers who have revived this art form and specialize only in wild yeast beer. Wild Mind Ales in Minnesota started the brewery by going around the state looking for/collecting yeast strains from various wild fruit bushes, trees and wildflowers. They wanted the unique and wild flavors from the natural yeast used in saison, farmhouse and sour beers.
“The cool thing about wild and isolated strains is that you can have something that’s really local and also proprietary to you,” says James Howat, co-founder of Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales in Denver. Further, “Yeast is really a way for a brewery to stand out,” says Eric Lumen, co-founder of Green Room Brewing. “All breweries have access to almost the same raw ingredients, but wild yeast can give a unique and interesting flavor to a product.”
Yes, there are innovations that include wild yeast. The latest new yeast development was announced in June 2020 by Lallemand, an innovative yeast manufacturer. This new patented yeast is called Wildbrew Philly Sour with a technical designation-GY7b. The species was originated from a Dog Wood tree in a cemetery near the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia by a student of Dr. Matthew Farber-Director of Brewing Science. This type of yeast was found as part of a project. This new yeast is one of more than 500 types of brewing yeast. According to Soft School there are thousands of varieties in total.
There are many benefits of this new yeast in brewing beer with unique flavors and aromas in the sour beer category. This is a major commercially viable breakthrough involving an organism that cannot even be seen with the naked eye.
Philly Sour is now being marketed to homebrewers and brewers worldwide. “Philly Sour allows faster brewing times for sour beer production because the yeast itself produces lactic acid, for the first time there is no need for brewers to introduce bacteria into their sour beer production line avoiding hence the pollution concerns. Plus, it’s delicious,” says Dr. Farber.
As an aside, sour beer has been around for a thousand years, but it became more popular in the last two decades. In fact, there are some brewers that only produce sour beers.
This discovery illustrates how a simple living cell, as old as time itself, produces beer. “Beer has been produced for more than 5,000 years as a fermented beverage. It wasn’t until the late 1860s, when Louis Pasteur isolated the yeast cell, that the ancient mystery of fermentation was solved,” said Eric Abbott, Global Technical Advisor. for the production of Lallemand yeast. “Before Pasteur’s discovery, brewers recognized that somehow St. John’s wort just started growing a foaming substance that made a delicious drink. Now we sell yeast to brewers that are specific to their specifications for flavor and compatibility with their grain and hop requirements.”
So what is yeast and why should craft beer drinkers be interested in knowing a little more about it? First, yeast-free beer is nothing more than sugar water. In simple words, yeast is a single cell, living organism, small but still a living being. It likes warm temperatures, humidity and needs oxygen and an abundant food supply. The food supply for yeast comes from the starch in malted grains that are heated in water to release the sugars. Different types of yeast react to the countless sugars in the wort (the result of boiling the malt mixture) to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. Finally, the selected yeast species eat the sugars and release alcohol and CO2. and brings out the best of hops and malts.
But how small is a yeast cell? If a home brewer was brewing a batch or a larger brewer was testing a recipe, they might need 5 to 10 grams of yeast. A 5-gallon bag of dry yeast for fermentation will contain approximately 150 billion cells for an ale and 300 billion for a lager. A 5 gram bag of dry yeast contains approximately 150 billion cells.
The consumer evaluates the final craft beer product due to its alcohol content, visual appeal, flavors, aromas and mouthfeel. All this is facilitated by yeast. Each type of yeast used is responsible for the character of a specific style of beer to be produced. Yeast will also contribute to the ‘head’ in a beer.
Here are some of the yeast byproducts that affect the consumer. Yeast creates esters, ketones and phenols in the process of consuming sugars. To get a great beer, a brewer needs to pamper the yeast. Brewing involves creating the right fermentation temperature, introducing the right yeasts in the right volume, creating the right water composition and keeping the right sugars in the wort for a specific yeast to yield the desired style of beer.
- esters – These create fruity flavors. Interestingly, if you want more esters ferment at higher temperatures.
- ketones – These compounds add the taste of butter or caramel to the beer.
- Phenolics – A compound that produces spicy notes, a common attribute of wine.
Alcohols- Some alcohols can add stress to yeast performance during fermentation, but alcohol contributes to aromas and mouthfeel.
Head/Cream (called head)-Selecting a yeast that will help produce a head in the beer is important.
“To get increasingly unique flavors and aromas, use more than one yeast strain in a given beer and add yeasts at different stages of fermentation,” says Charlie Gottenkieny of Bruz Beer. So it is clear that the process of turning sugar water into beer must be constantly controlled. Making a craft beer is very much a cerebral exercise, it is anything but “brainless”.
The American Home Brewers Association states: “Yeast contributes more than 600 flavor and aroma compounds that add complexity and nuance to beer. Beer can build on, enhance, or even diminish malt and hop flavors. A type of yeast can leave a lingering malt sweetness while another can dry out the beer leaving a noticeable bitterness.”
Yeast manufacturers also publish detailed fact sheets for each yeast variety. These specs give brewers pitching rates, fermentation times, temperatures, attenuation rates, flocculation data and of course flavor data. A flavor and aroma wheel, shown below, is provided by brewers so that brewers can visualize the suitability of a specific yeast for a style of beer.
Each of the yeast houses offers a wide variety of strains. There is some overlap of cultures, but some are unique strains grown by each company exclusively. So it’s hard to say who offers the biggest assortment. But Lallemand seems to focus on innovations in yeast and taste.
While doing research for this article, I watched a webinar on November 12, 2020 sponsored by Lallemand Brewing about Biotransformation. In addition to scientists from Lallemand Brewing, Dr. Thomas Shellhammer gave a presentation explaining the new discoveries and analysis on Lallemand yeast products that are designed to improve the flavors and aromas of hops during brewing processes. (Note: Dr. Shellhammer is the Nor’Wester Professor of Fermentation Science at Oregon State University and is an internationally recognized expert in hops chemistry. His laboratory studies the contribution of hops to beer aroma, foam, and physical and flavor stability .)
The webinar presented new yeast-specific research for a new approach to craft brewing called Biotransformation – defined as the chemical modification made by an organism (yeast) to a compound (derived from oils in hops). These findings also impact casual craft beer lovers, as they recognize the novel interaction of a hop ingredient and a yeast strain that create ‘new’ aromatic compounds. This process is initiated by enzymes in the yeast that work with certain hop components in fermentation. Craft beer drinkers should brace themselves for some new aromas and flavors coming from hoppy IPAs.
The yeast affects the hop character of the beer which is the point that all beer drinkers know and appreciate. This new study is starting to revolutionize the way some brewers think about how yeast reacts with the hop compounds and vice versa they choose for their beers. There are compounds in HOPS that are not aromatic, but with specific types of yeast, the yeast’s natural enzymes can release new aromas/flavors from the HOP components in the beer.
For craft beer “hop heads” this means, “Different yeast species can affect flavor and aroma by interacting with specific hop-derived flavor components, a process called biotransformation,” the study notes. of Lallemand Brewing.
Benefits derived from this new yeast enzyme research include:
Increases the diversity of hop flavors and aromas,
Improves beer feel and drinkability by reducing unpleasant bitterness and
Express more character in beer for consumers by using less sophisticated hop varieties.
Interestingly, some EU brewers have started to label specific yeast types and hop varieties used in their beers as part of a new approach to beer branding.
There is some crossover in yeast research between wine and beer. Dr. Shellhammer received his PhD from UC Davis and did some research there. With more transparency in beer labeling, consumers will become informed and educated about beer brands and styles. When it comes to exploring new yeast from the wild/open environment or new ways to introduce yeast into the hops used in fermentation, consumers will benefit with new flavors and aromas. There is a lot of online information available to consumers who want to understand the specifics about the yeast that a brewer has used in the production of a beer. The “taste wheel” above is an example of the information available.
Continue to explore new craft beer ingredients and brewing techniques because there is a large amount of sophisticated beer science-specific research around the world.
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