This story appears on page 1 of the April issue, which you can download or view here.
Yeast often gets overlooked by the average beer drinker for the role it plays beyond producing a beer’s alcohol. But with San Diego’s local yeast producer White Labs moving to a new facility in Mira Mesa, the public can now see and taste what yeast can do to the same combination of malt, hops, and water. With 32 available taps, the beers are brewed in house featuring the lab’s large catalog of yeast strains fermenting different styles of beer.
With analysis equipment, White Labs is able to accurately measure every aspect of a beer from alcohol content (% ABV), color (SRM), bitterness (IBUs), calories, and many other measurements that are useful for beer drinkers. Looking at the performance of various yeast strains based on analysis statistics is one thing, but seeing and tasting the beer is where the true learning experience lies for brewers and beer aficionados.
The initial offerings in the tasting room included flights of saisons, red ales, brown ales, hefeweizens, Belgian style ales and a collaboration series with Ballast Point. Each style used the same wort, or unfermented beer, that was split off into separate batches where each yeast strain was added for fermentation.
West Coaster tried the flight of five red ales from two different batches, the first using WLP060 American Ale Blend and WLP080 Cream Ale Blend yeasts, the second using WLP005 British Ale, WLP007 Dry English, and WLP004 Irish Ale yeasts. One of the first things you’ll notice about the lineup is the difference in appearance. Clarity and slight changes in color are easily noticed because of the different yeast strains. The Cream Ale Blend, which is a blend of ale and lager strains, made for a clean beer with a light mouthfeel and had a touch of that lager sulfur note, ultimately letting the caramel malt shine through. The Irish Ale version in comparison had a bigger mouthfeel and pronounced light fruit notes. The Dry English was one of the clearer looking beers and had almost tropical fruit notes, like pineapple and other bright fruity characteristics. The American Ale Blend produced a very clean beer, allowing the malt and hops to shine through with mild red apple and stone fruit notes underneath. Lastly, the British Ale had similar red apple notes to the American ale blend with a much more pronounced ester character of marmalade and fruit cake.
This is just the beginning of White Labs’ yeast experiments. With so many different styles of beer and yeast strains, the combinations seem endless. Experiments like fermenting a single strain at different temperatures or showcasing off flavor by-products are more examples of what can be done at the facility. The tasting room should be a great resource for brewers, beer judges and Cicerones wanting to learn more about yeast — or, it could be a fun stop for casual craft beer fans curious about how yeast affects all aspects of beer. Current tasting room hours are Thursday and Friday 4 to 8 p.m. and Saturday noon to 8 p.m. with the promise of expanded hours in June. Tours of the facility are available during tasting room hours at 5:30 p.m.