On November 10th, members of the Oregon Brew Crew in conjunction with Breakside brewing, got together to review the results of a yeast experiment! With 50 gallons of a Belgian Pale as the base brewed at Breakside, the beer was then divvied up between ten lucky OBC members, who were given an anonymous yeast to pitch (I hear some were also part of witness protection) and store. The yeasts were generously donated by Wyeast but I don’t recall if anyone from that company was there or not.
Once the brews were ready, members set up shop at the Hollywood Senior Center which, because of our presence, clearly became much more hip than it had been in decades and members of the OBC and Breakside gathered to try the beers and guess which beer had which yeast in it. It was the best kind of test: a multiple choice test. With beer.
If only college had been so good to me.
Picking out yeasts is very, very difficult and I think there are a few reasons for this. First, there are just so many different kinds of yeast. Becoming familiar with each and every one is a task for scientists for a reason: they have equipment and experiments to help them make distinctions to do so.
Second, I don’t think we focus much on yeasts in the Northwest. Hops, water and grain all get attention because we have them in abundance and at a certain quality (usually high) so naturally we celebrate those ingredients.
But after this experiment, I think I may have to get some education on yeasts.
The stunning thing for me was that each beer tasted different. Not just kinda-sorta different but distinctly so. Yes, there were similarities but to any discriminating drinker, it was quite easy to distinguish from one pale to another. Which means yeast has a far greater impact on the flavor of my beverages than I ever realized! I had just been under the impression for so long that yeasts were there to make alcohol and drop out, unless making a Belgian or sour ale, that we had bred yeasts to be as flavorless as we could get them.
This experiment disabused me of that notion very quickly but in such a tasty way, I didn’t feel too bad about that.
What was a little awkward was that out of the ten ales, I didn’t get a single guess right. Completely unable to match a yeast to its appropriate beer.
My girlfriend got four. I later found out that four is the most anyone got. So amongst professionals and serious aficionados, she did as well as anyone!
Which was a little embarrassing. But not really, because that’s awesome.