Out-Of-Control Yeast

Homebrew Yeast on the Rise
by Daniel Gray

What We Recently Learned About Beer – Saturday School Session 2

There are two living organisms that participate in the brewing process: humans and yeast. As a living organism, yeast has the ability and the power to eat, grow and ferment wort into alcohol. Like human brewers, yeast is volatile, picky, demanding, and sometimes, down-right rebellious. We learned this the hard way on a recent brewery tour.

Without proper sanitation and sterilization procedures after fermentation, yeast will remain alive and active, eagerly awaiting the next batch of beer to begin its tour-de-force of eating. This is sometimes a good thing, as home and commercial brewers can reuse yeast a few times before it wears out (though this is usually a heavily controlled and monitored process).

But if the brewer was not intending to use the same yeast for their next beer, problems can rapidly occur. While dining and tasting at a brewery this month, Lindsay and I kept tasting the spice notes of Belgian yeast, but in both an American-style IPA and amber. Nothing on the menu indicated that the brewers were using or seeking a Belgian approach.

Another person who we were attempting to enjoy the beers with often has a rather violent acid reflex and allergic reaction to Belgian yeast.  Within ten minutes, he had to leave the restaurant/brewery to seek out benadryl and fresh-air relief.  We let our server know what was happening, and sure enough, he wasn’t too surprised.

It turns out that about six weeks ago, after brewing a Belgian-style beer, the yeast took over the brew house facility and literally infected the fermentation of the other beers.  For several weeks they listed all of their beers as Belgian this and Belgian that, until recently when they thought they’d resolved the problem.

The brewery handled our situation with a great deal of compassion and generosity; I found their approach to the situation quite sophisticated. I just wish they had left the Belgian-style indicator on their beer menu one more week. So it goes. Lesson learned: yeast does the critical job of fermenting the beer, but give it too much space to breath and it will surely get out-of-control.

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