The world of beer aficionados is generally divided into two camps; hops heads and malt lovers. This particular part of the world, the Pacific Northwest, is chock full of hop heads and rightly so – Washington State is one of the world’s greatest hop growing regions. But as much as I enjoy drinking an over the top Imperial IPA, I’m not a true hop head. Neither am I a true malt lover – although I can’t image ever turning down a malty Southern Brown Ale. So where does this leave me – will I forever be lost in this state of limbo? No, for I am a yeast lover.
Yeast is such an under-discussed and unappreciated ingredient – without yeast beer would not exist and the world would be worse for it. Beer was brewed without hops for centuries and although beer would not be the same without malted grain, a whole plethora of sugary ingredients are out there just begging to be added into the brewing process, but yeast cannot be replaced or substituted. Baking Powder just will not do in this situation.
Yeast can be a completely neutral ingredient, imparting almost no flavour at all in its creation of alcohol and carbon dioxide, which is desirable in many beer styles. On the opposite side, yeast can create esters, and phenols and many other compounds that add a range of fruit flavours and spicy complexity to beer. Not only can yeast create flavour, but it can also add mouthfeel and can draw out or hide the maltiness of certain beers.
The Belgians are masters at controlling spicy, fruity, sour and almost sweet flavours that yeast can create, Germans have brewing with neutral lager yeast down to a science, the English know how to control malt flavours with yeast, and North Americans have embraced a whole gamut of yeast strains to brew with. Brewers understand the importance of yeast, but that understanding does not make it to the consumer often enough.
Yeast is a living, breathing organism that is responsible for the creation of beer and I think these creatures deserve a little more attention in the world of beer. A knowledgeable beer drinker should be able to determine the different hop varieties in a beer and perhaps even the different malts, but I believe only a select few could determine the style of yeast used to ferment the sweet wort into beer.
My obsession with yeast has grown to new heights. So far I have collected two wild yeast cultures; one for bread and one for brewing my very own authentic West Coast Lambic. The third yeast culture was harvested from my last homebrew and is essentially an IPA flavoured Wyeast 1968 ESB yeast. Instead of brewing with this yeast, I think I will try to make pizza dough with the yeast. Add some heat to the pizza sauce and I would imagine the the pizza would pair perfectly with an IPA – both sharing the same yeast.
If you only take away one thing from this post I hope it is this: Yeast creates beer, and without beer where would the world be - would happiness as we know it exist?