One of the reasons San Diego brewers enjoy the camaraderie and success they do is the 1997 establishment of the San Diego Brewers Guild (SDBG). Back then, there were far fewer brewing companies in San Diego County, but visionaries from some of those veteran operations realized that strength in numbers would be key for development and promotion of the local industry. This year, the SDBG will celebrate its 20th year of collective success. In doing so, it will gather its longest-tenured while drawing off the innovation of all of its 100-plus members.
Later this month, Coronado Brewing Company will host a collaboration brew day during which brewers from SDBG member breweries will be invited to participate in the brewing of a special beer to commemorate the big two-zero. The recipe for that beer, a fittingly San Diego-style India pale ale (IPA), was developed by brewers at Coronado, Karl Strauss Brewing Company, Pizza Port, Stone Brewing, San Diego Brewing Company, AleSmith Brewing Company and San Marcos Brewery and Grill.
The beer will come in around 7% alcohol-by-volume and be double-dry-hopped with Idaho 7, Motueka and Vic Secret hops. Additional hops will be donated by Fallbrook’s Star B Ranch and Hop Farm. Yeast was donated by Miramar-based White Labs while remaining ingredients were provided by BSG CraftBrewing. Additionally, El Cajon’s Taylor Guitars is partnering to provide old ebony fret boards from its African mill. That reclaimed wood will be fashioned into tap handles branded with the SDBG logo for this celebratory IPA.
Kegs from the 60-barrel batch will debut during San Diego Beer Week, which will take place from November 3 to 12. Coronado will also take the lead getting the beer out via its distribution partner, Crest Beverage. The beer will be available at retail accounts throughout the county, and make its official debut on November 3 during Guild Fest’s VIP Brewer Takeover at the Port Pavilion on downtown’s Broadway Pier. Proceeds from the beer will be donated to the Guild by Coronado once the beer sells through.
While Coronado is the hub this time around, the SDBG hopes to create collaboration beers on an annual basis and rotate the brewery at which they are produced each time. To get everyone involved during this inaugural brew, SDBG members were asked to submit suggested names for the beer, a short-list of which will be voted on by the membership this month.
From the Beer Writer: Some see beer as an artistic medium, while others view it as a platform for experimentation. Not surprisingly, the scientific minds at Miramar’s White Labs, the foremost manufacturer of yeast for beverage fermentation in the world, fall into the latter category. Last year, their on-site brewing team created something previously (and since) unheard of: a beer fermented using a whopping 96 different yeast strains. What could have come out tasting like a cacophony of competing characteristics tasted very nice fresh, with Belgian yeast varieties coming to the forefront with their bold, fruity, botanical attributes. Yesterday, White Labs released a version of the beer given even more complexity from extended aging in bourbon whiskey barrels. The result is Barrel-Aged Frankenstout, which features a downright lovely aroma reminiscent of dark chocolate truffles and rose petals. The chocolate carries through on the palate and is accompanied by vanilla and chicory, followed by an herbal feel in the finish. In the world of beer-based science projects, it doesn’t get much more exotic than this.
From the Scientist: “The team at White Labs was working on sequencing 96 of our yeast strains for a collaborative research project with Illumina, Synthetic Genomics and a team of scientists based in San Diego and Belgium. The goal was to understand the genetic diversity between strains (i.e., what makes WLP001 California Ale Yeast have such different flavor characteristics compared to WLP008 East Coast Ale Yeast), and some of these findings were later published via the scientific journal Cell in September 2016. Since these strains needed to be propped up in order to do a full sequencing run and fill 96 spots in a multi-well plate, we used the propped-up yeast to do a fun ‘experiment’ and look at what would happen if they were all used to ferment only one beer. Our team tried a few different prototypes before landing on the final recipe for Frankenstout, as they found that the malty backbone played really well with the complex and various flavors created by 96 different strains!”—Karen Fortmann, Senior Research Scientist, White Labs
From the Brewer: “Barrel-Aged Frankenstout rested for more than one year in second-use, bourbon oak barrels. During that time, the brewing team monitored the barrels on a regular basis until we finally landed on the perfect amount of oak and bourbon traits combined with Frankenstout. We found the flavors in Frankenstout really changed over time, and it also picked up a higher alcohol-by-volume (10.1%) from the time spent in barrels. Barrel-Aged Frankenstout carries vanilla, oak qualities and mild notes of bourbon, which pair well with the more subtle phenolics of the matured base beer.”—Joe Kurowski, Brewing Manager, White Labs
From the Beer Writer: I spent my Election Night taking in a fundraiser for the Beer to the Rescue charity campaign at the Miramar tasting room operated by yeast-production company, White Labs. While the evening’s historic upset didn’t sit well with me, that evening provided me a great deal of positives I’ll remember far beyond a four-year stint, namely time with good friends and industry colleagues, awareness and funds raised for the Lupus Foundation of Southern California, and a really, really tasty beer. The White Labs brew-crew infused a version of their house wheat-ale fermented using hefeweizen yeast with blood orange and hibiscus and dubbed it “Bad Hombre” (a debate-debuted term from a future U.S. president that shares the same acronym as my name…it was funny at the time). With $2 from each pint sold, I subsisted on it until the keg blew, enjoying its strawberry-banana bouquet, light but satisfactory body and unsweetened Hawaiian Punch flavor-profile. I couldn’t wait to tell the world about it, until I learned the keg we consumed was the only one in existence. So I turned my attention to the base-beer, White Labs Hansen Hefeweizen (an in-depth description of which is provided below), and found that, while different, it provides a nice drinking experience and its own lovely virtues, namely those big banana aromatics and flavors mixed with a bit of lemon-like citrus flavor and a drying touch of earthy, coriander-like spice from the yeast, which was, of course, produced right on site. It’s a good beer to help on as they adjust to life under a new presidential administration and likely devoid of the San Diego Chargers.
From the Brewer: “White Labs Hansen Hefeweizen fermented with WLP300 Hefeweizen Ale Yeast is part of our flagship Hansen Wheat Ale flight, which we cleverly named after the yeast and fermentation scientist Emil Christian Hansen. The malt-bill is made up of 50% white wheat, 40% Pilsen malt and 10% flaked wheat, clocking in around 17 IBUs (international bittering units). Unlike many beers in San Diego, hops aren’t really stealing the show here, and the Hansen Wheat Ale flight makes up some of the lightest stuff we brew on our 20-barrel brewing system. The batch fermented with WLP300 Hefeweizen Ale Yeast showcases prevalent banana esters in the flavor and aroma, which is backed up by subtle clove and spice characteristics. In recent months, we started using this version as the base-beer for specialty releases. With a low bitterness and body, White Labs Hansen Hefeweizen really allows the qualities from unconventional ingredients to shine through. Just recently, our brewing team infused this recipe with blood orange and hibiscus, which was on tap in the tasting room for a recent Beer to the Rescue event. Since it was such a hit with everyone that attended, you can expect to see it show up again in our tasting room or at occasional beer festivals.”—Joe Kurowski, Brewing Manager, White Labs
From the Beer Writer: Cue the lightning and thunder-claps then start the slow zoom toward the building housing the mad scientist’s laboratory. In this case, Dr. Frankenstein’s lair isn’t nestled within some mountaintop castle. It’s White Labs’ Miramar headquarters, which is on a street with a slight incline, but I digress. Playing the role of the quirkily ambitious doctor is Joe Kurowski, the fermentationist in charge of White Labs’ on-site 20-barrel brewhouse. He has stout wort cooled and transferred into tanks, awaiting the magic moment when yeast is added to transform that unfermented fluid’s sugars into alcohol. Being in the belly of the world’s foremost yeast-production beast, Kurowski could go in almost any direction—California Ale Yeast, Belgian Trappist Yeast, German Lager Yeast or the local-fave San Diego Super Yeast. Rather than choosing one, he does something truly…well…mad. Kurowski opts to ferment the beer using ninety-six different yeast strains, allowing them to battle it out like microscopic yet highly energetic gladiators vying for supremacy to the joyous glee of a spectating supreme. It’s a highly unorthodox method that seems fraught with peril, but when I tasted this 9.6% alcohol-by-volume beer, which is aptly named Frankenstout, there was no shriek of terror. Rather, a nod of interest and respect. The chocolate and roasted coffee notes one expects from an imperial stout are there, but so too are flavors of dark fruit, berries, bubble gum, fennel, lavender and so much more. It’s the yeast that’s responsible for all of those as well as an aroma that, were I blind-folded, would lead me to believe I was breathing in the bright bouquet of a Belgian witbier or tripel. Frankenstout is on tap at White Labs and will debut in bottles on St. Patrick’s Day (March 17 for the laymen) at the company’s tasting room during an event called “Frankenbash” from 5 to 9 p.m., benefitting diabetes charity JDRF.
From the Brewer: Frankenstout answers the burning question, ‘What would happen if we pitched 96 yeast straings into one beer?’ The answer is, well, complex. Each strain struggles for dominance, with twists and turns at every sip. The beer pours black with a thick brown head. Robust coffee and dark chocolate aromas and flavors abound. Belgian yeast strains are evident through spicy and clove-like notes. The beer finishes with a strong cherry oak finish. Frankenstout is a dark, complex beer that throws convention out the window to test the limits of science and defy industry standards. White Labs partnered with San Diego-based biotechnology companies Illumina and Synthetic Genomics to sequence and assemble the full genome of 96 of the company’s yeast strains. The collaboration is fueling ongoing scientific research in the area of genomics as well as pleasing the palates of thirsty craft beer enthusiasts throughout San Diego.
During the early days in my brewing adventures a fellow homebrewer asked how much yeast I was using. Like most beginners, I was pitching yeast directly from the packaging into the fermentor. While I was making some good beer this way, l was informed that in most cases – especially with high gravity beers – I was not pitching enough yeast to get the best possible fermentation. In fact, I had noticed that some of my beers had not attenuated to the desired final gravity, and wondered if this was the reason. So I began to look into ways of increasing the amount of yeast cells used during fermentation to see how that affected the finished product.
Let’s go back to the basics. The amount of viable cells in a package of liquid yeast is going to depend on not only the manufacturer, but the freshness of your yeast. After liquid yeast has been packaged, the percentage of viable cells can decrease around 20% per month. The more yeast cells you lose due to age, the less likely you’ll get a good fermentation.
Underpitching yeast – meaning you haven’t used enough – can potentially lead to off flavors in the finished product due to competition with wild yeast and/or bacteria present thanks to a slow start to fermentation. Underpitching can also cause high levels of diacetyl and/or acetaldehyde. Dry yeast on the other hand has a higher density of cells per gram and is cheaper than liquid yeast. The downside to dry yeast is a lack of variety, and there is no guarantee of purity because of the drying process. Whatever type of yeast you choose, you’ll want to make sure you’re using enough.
The size of the batch of the beer being produced, the gravity of the wort being fermented, and the type of beer being made – lagers require more yeast cells – all play a role in the amount of yeast cells needed to properly ferment the beer. Most brewing software programs such as Beer Smith have a yeast pitching rate calculator built in. If you’re not using brewing software, Mr. Malty’s Pitching Rate Calculator™ is a great free online resource to determine how much yeast you need to pitch for proper fermentation. The Mr. Malty website was created by homebrewer-turned-pro Jamil Zainasheff who co-authored Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation with Chris White of San Diego’s own White Labs.
With liquid yeast, the amount of vials or packs can be staggering if you’re brewing large batches of high gravity beer. A great way to keep the cost down is to grow up more yeast cells yourself by creating a yeast starter. Making a yeast starter is easy, and it will confirm the viability of the yeast you are using. Yeast starters only require some water and malt extract – either dry or liquid, but dry is easier to deal with. Use the yeast pitching calculator to determine the size of the starter needed. A ratio of ½ cup of dried malt extract (DME) to 1 pint of water – or one gram of DME to 10 ml of water – will create a starter with a specific gravity around 1.040. Mix the DME with the water and boil for at least 10 minutes. Feel free to also add yeast nutrient as well. Cool the wort to a temperature within the range that the yeast ferments, and pitch the yeast. Make sure that all equipment post-boil is cleaned and sanitized.
An Erlenmeyer flask is a great vessel for making a starter since you can boil liquid inside of it, cool the wort to pitching temperature, and ferment the starter without having to transfer any wort between vessels. If you don’t have an Erlenmeyer flask, you can clean and sanitize a glass or stainless steel growler to add cooled wort to.
Using a stir plate will also increase the cell count as the starter is constantly stirring in oxygen for the yeast to grow, while getting rid of CO2. The increased gas exchange of a stir plate can produce nearly twice the amount of cells of a non-stirred starter. If you don’t have a stir plate, just swirl the growler of yeast as often as you can. With dry yeast, making a starter is not beneficial – just follow the manufacturer’s instructions of re-hydration or direct pitching.
You will also get more yeast growth the warmer the starter is – with diminishing returns once you exceed 90˚F – but you will want to pitch the whole starter of yeast as close to fermentation temperature as possible. Big drops in temperature can shock and stress the yeast to the point of ruining the benefit of making a starter in the first place. If the starter is too warm, let it completely ferment out, cool to fermentation temperature, and then pitch the yeast after decanting any liquid on top of the yeast, which should be settled on the bottom.