It has been said that “brewers make wort and yeast make beer”. While this perhaps over simplifies our involvement as craft brewers in the beer making process, it certainly is true. We regularly refer to our miraculous microscopic friends as “the most important workers at the brewery” and there is good reason for that. The happiness of yeast during fermentation can make the difference between world class beer and undrinkable beer, and the diversity of flavours that different yeast strains can produce is astonishing.
In the world of craft beer, it’s so often hops that tend to be the talking point. But, for even the hoppiest of beers, the majority of the beer’s flavour is delivered by the yeast through fermentation. As a brewery we go to great lengths to keep our yeast happy and healthy so they can go on to produce consistently great beer.
When it all started at Wild Horse back in 2015, we made the decision early on to manage a liquid yeast* and selected a ‘house‘ strain that we felt would work great for the three core beers we launched with – Buckskin, Palomino and Dark Bay. San Diego Super Yeast (WLP090) was tested and selected due to its clean, crisp almost lager-like fermentation profile. Over the last 3 or 4 years we’ve experimented with quite a few other yeasts (both liquid and dried) for many of our one-off brews as well as our newest core beer, Nokota.
Ever since we launched Nokota back in August, it has been fermented with a dried yeast strain called LalBrew New England. This yeast was selected for it’s fruitier ‘East Coast’ ester profile, taking our core range in a slightly different direction. We’ve been extremely happy with Nokota and how well it has been received – we’ve struggled to keep it in stock and were unable to fulfil many orders last year. As with all of our beers, we are constantly critiquing them and making tweaks to recipes and processes. Nokota has been no different and we have made small changes to each batch to make it even better than the previous. The one area of the Nokota recipe we’d always planned to revisit was yeast – whilst LalBrew was giving us a great flavour profile, we had always suspected that some of the liquid yeast strains available could lift the beer to new levels.
The doubling of our fermentation capacity (which took place in December) allowed us to start thinking about adding a second house yeast strain. We knew that for our second strain we wanted a yeast that delivered more fruitiness and softness than San Diego and after some trials on our pilot system (the Black Cloak collaboration Tornado and Galaxy IPA) we made the decision to add London Ale III (1318) as our second house yeast.
In January we pitched our new house strain into Gyle 230 (the ninth batch of Nokota we have brewed). It was packaged this week and we’re absolutely over the moon with the results. The fruity ester profile of the new yeast has lifted the tropical hoppy notes as well as softening the whole beer to give it more balance and flavour. Cases and kegs have been heading out to our trade stockists this week, we have fresh bottles in the fridge and we have tapped a fresh keg at the brewery today. If you are interested in the flavour differences between the two yeasts, we’ll keep a keg of the previous version on tap for a while so you can taste the two yeasts side-by-side.
As you may suspect, a new house yeast strain coupled with more fermentation capacity can only mean one thing – more new beers! We have lots planned on that front and will be revealing all very soon. Watch this space.
*Brewers can buy yeast two formats – liquid and dried. Because of the high cost of liquid yeast, it is only usually commercially viable to use liquid yeast when it is used to ferment several different beers (yeast is harvested from one beer and then used to ferment another in a relatively short space of time). Often brewers will manage liquid yeast as a ‘house’ strain and use it to brew many of their beers. Dried yeast can be as low as a tenth of the price, so it is commercially viable to brew with these yeasts just once and then discard them. The main problem with dried yeast is the limited availability of strains – there are so many more liquid strains available.