To varying degrees, craft beer drinkers are by nature ‘yeast prospectors”; always searching for that new or unique flavor in a beer that unbeknown to them comes from yeast. Many do not know the role of yeast in producing flavors, look and aromas. Those unique tastes and aromas that gives each craft beer a distinct style signature is from, to a great extent, the contribution of yeast. The adage is: no yeast, no beer. Interestingly, yeast has always been ubiquitous in nature-Wild Yeast. This does not diminish the fact that barley and hops are important too. You can read about the endless beer varieties and which of them are preferred by customers on usreviews.
One word describes what makes the craft beer industry unique–innovation. Craft brewers are willing to think outside the box. Some brewers have carved out a niche by experimenting with ‘prospected’ wild/natural yeast. These are strains of yeast ‘prospected’ directly from nature. And are strains of yeast literally collected/harvested from trees, plants, fruits, etc.
Obviously, there are risks in using wild yeast because a brewer never is sure how beer will turn out once fermentation is complete. But this is the risk in yeast prospecting and innovating. However, this does not stop researchers from looking to wild yeast for some new commercially viable yeast. It all about flavors and understanding the performance of various yeast.
I am mentioning wild yeast upfront because that is how beer came about 10,000 years ago-naturally. Today there are brewers that have resurrected this art form and specialize in only wild strain yeast beer. Wild Mind Ales in Minnesota started their brewery by going around the state prospecting/collecting yeast strains from various wild fruit bushes, trees, and wildflowers. They wanted the unique and wild flavors from natural yeast used in their saison, farmhouse and sour beers.
“The cool thing about wild, isolated strains is that you can have something that is both truly local and also proprietary to you,” says James Howat, co-founder-Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales in Denver. Further, “Yeast is really a way for a brewery to distinguish themselves,” says Eric Lumen, co-founder-Green Room Brewing. “All breweries have access to pretty much the same raw ingredients, yet wild yeast can set a unique and interesting flavor to a product.”
Yes, there are innovations involving wild yeast. The latest new yeast development was announced in June 2020 by Lallemand, an innovative yeast manufacturer. This new patented yeast is named Wildbrew Philly Sour with a technical designation-GY7b. The strain 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 Sciences. This yeast strain was found as part of a project. This new yeast is one of more than 500 yeast species for beer. According to Soft School there are thousands of varieties in total.
There are a lot of benefits of this new yeast in producing beer with unique flavors and aromas in the sour beer category. This is a huge commercially viable discovery 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 for faster brewing time for making sour beer, because the yeast itself makes lactic acid, for the first time there is no need for brewers to introduce bacteria in their sour beer production line thus avoiding contamination 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 couple of decades. In fact, there are a few brewers who produce only 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 plus years as a fermented beverage. It wasn’t until the late 1860’s, when Louis Pasteur isolated the yeast cell, that the ancient mystery of fermentation was defined,” said Eric Abbott, Global Technical Advisor for Lallemand yeast manufacturing. “Before Pasteur’s discovery, brewers accepted that somehow wort simply started growing a foamy substance that made a delicious beverage. Now we sell yeast to brewers that are specific to their specifications for flavors and compatibility with their grains and hop requirements.”