Yeast is the most avoided element of brewing in America. We tend to obsess over either the hops of our various pale ales, the malts of our stouts, porters, and even our hazy IPAs. But even sours that have become so popular often simplify the phenolic profile by using a “team player” yeast, like the Chico strain, in conjunction with domesticated strains of lactobacillus and pediococcus. The idea is to get a more mechanized dump of lactic acid, which is reproducible, but not as complex in flavor and smell as a lover of lambics might want them to be. A brewery like Ommegang will always be an outlier and considered “Belgian,” while it would strike people as ridiculous to label Sierra Nevada an “English” brewery, rather than simply an American one.
Nowhere is yeast king like in Belgium. When yeasts eat sugar, they produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. Usually that is all we are told, but in fact they produce a whole range of other flavor compounds called esters and phenols. So when someone says that a Hefeweizen tastes like banana and cloves, they are not being fanciful, but rather responding to particular compounds. While we often think of yeast as only producing alcohol and carbon dioxide, in black and white, it actually produces a whole spectrum of flavor compounds like a prism. No country respects the fact that yeast is a rainbow more than Belgium. This month we will look at three highly phenolic beers we have in store that showcase the complexity which comes from using a suite of very expressive yeasts: Cuvee Soeur’ise, Rodenbach Grand Cru, and Jilted Comrade. Two come from Belgium and one is from one of the American breweries taking a consciously Belgian approach to the little bugs that give us beer and its prismatic flavors.
Join Jackson here every Friday for a new post! The theme changes every month and we’ll be reviewing and highlighting some of the great brews we have at the store.