The OBC arranged a field trip to the Imperial yeast warehouse and it was extremely illuminating and very cool.
They start off every day by making a really lame wort (that is, you wouldn’t make beer from it), so they can grow yeast in these tanks in the photo. As you can see in the picture, the tanks scale up as you look from left to right. This is so they can introduce more sugars into the system at an appropriate volume, to scale up the yeast while the yeast is still viable and healthy-before it starts to feed on itself.
There’s also this really neat machine that sanitizes everything. I didn’t get a photo of it, but the machine is called an autoclave and one of Imperial’s employees was kind enough to explain to me how it works. Essentially: it heats water to above boiling temperatures, while increasing the PSI in the unit so the water can’t steam away. I asked why they didn’t use chemicals like homebrewers do and the reply was: “This means it’s 100% sterile.” When you’re dealing with yeast cultures, that’s pretty important.
This device has filters that pull air in from the bottom and release clean air onto the counter area. This is where they take cell samples and run tests to see how the yeast is doing, if anything has gotten contaminated, even separating yeast from a culture that has been brought in.
There is another one of these stations at the canning area, where they (go figure) can the yeast for delivery. In this instance, it’s to keep things sanitized and healthy during the canning process.
From there, we were told about what the overall attitude and procedures that Imperial takes, why they ship in cans (so brewers don’t have to smack the yeast to wake them, potentially damaging the yeast), their efforts to make the company as green as possible (the use of cans means users can recycle the product), and their desire to ensure that brewers are using enough yeast with every brew. “We want the yeast to crush your wort,” one of the owners said.
I came away from Imperial pretty convinced that they were moving in the right direction and I look forward to using more of their yeast. I’ve already used it and you’ll be able to read more about those results shortly.