Bare-Bones Basics #5: Yeast

Yeast Cells Under a Microscope

Yeast Cells Under a Microscope

The thing that makes brewing beer work, or, more generally, the thing that makes ethanol in general, is yeast. (Now, you can synthesize ethanol, industrially, through the hydration of ethylene, but this involves using some nasty chemicals that don’t belong in something you plan on drinking.) Yeast, as you probably know, eats sugars in your beer and (as Tim likes to put it) poop out alcohol.

Yeast is a single-cell fungus, which is found just about everywhere. All types of yeast reproduce asexually, though there is a process of genetic material exchange between cells. The yeast species you are probably most familier with is saccharomyces cerevisiae, ale yeast. This is actually the same specie as baking yeast, but in general, brewers use a less aggressive yeast strain that produces fewer unwanted chemicals that would give the beer an undesireable taste. Saccharomyces carlsbergenis, called so because it was first isolated by Carlsberg, also known as saccharomyces pastorianus or lager yeast, is, unshockingly, used in lagers. Saccharomyces carlsbergenis is a combination of saccharomyces cerevisiae and a third type of yeast, used mostly in wine and ciders, saccharomyces bayanus.

The thing most important for your beer that you need to know about the differences in these yeasts is that lager yeast generally has higher attenuation, meaning it can eat more sugars, leaving your beer more dry (though the variation in strains of each lager and ale yeast provides a large overlap), and that it works at a colder temperature (about 10-15 F colder) than ale yeast.

All alcohol-producing yeast can work in two different ways, based on if there is oxygen around or not. When yeast eats sugars without oxygen, the yeast gives off the waste of ethanol, and carbon dioxide, along with some energy. This energy does two things, it powers the yeast cell, so it can grow, and warms the liquid it is in. When there is oxygen present, the yeast cell can completely break down the sugar into water and carbon dioxide. This produces significanly more energy for the yeast cell, which lets it grow much faster.

When you add your yeast to your wort, you want some oxygen to rapidly grow your yeast so fermentation doesn’t take a long time. Once the yeast has consumed all the oxygen in the wort, it then switches to anarobic fermentation (without oxygen) and makes ethanol. If you have a large quantity of yeast cells to start with, you don’t have to oxygenate your wort as much, and you’ll get higher alcohol concentrations (and less water) in your beer.

Another stat you may see on the side of your yeast pack is ‘flocculation’. Flocculation means the ‘clumping’ of yeast cells in your beer. This sounds like it might be a bad thing, but actually it’s good. When your yeast cells are done eating sugars, they can do one of two things: with yeast that has a low flocculation, it will just sit suspended in the beer. High flocculation means the cells will clump together and float to the top, in the case of ale yeast, or sink to the bottom, in the case of lager yeast. This will make your beer clearer. Some beer styles are traditionally cloudy with yeast, and has a slightly different taste because of it.

Some of you may notice I didn’t mention brettanomyces, a genus of yeast used in making lambics. This yeast is naturally found in the air in the southwest of Belgium. Lambics are made, not by adding yeast directly to the wort, but by allowing them open access to the air. The yeast particles in the air fall into the beer, instead of physically putting a yeast solution into the beer. This yeast gives lambics a distinctive sour taste. This open fermentation, you might think, wouldn’t work, because it isn’t separated from the air. If the wort is exposed to the air, it will have access to oxygen, and the yeast would never anaerobicly ferment the sugars into ethanol. However, if you remember part of what is released is carbon dioxide. CO2 is heavier than air and sits on top of the wort, creating a barrier between the oxygen in the air and the wort, allowing fermentation.

White Lab Varieties

White Lab Varieties

There are many different strains of each of these species of yeast. Each have slightly different characteristics that will produce slightly different results. More or less flocculation, more or less attenuation, higher or lower prefered fermentation temperatures, etc. These allow you to fine tune your beer, in a general sense, the important distinguishing factor is ale yeast, lager yeast, or lambic yeast. This hopefully helps you understand how yeast works, and gives you a better idea as to what is happening inside your carboy.

Beer Review: Ska Brewing Nefarious Ten Pin

Ska Brewing Nefarious Ten Pin

Ska Brewing's Nefarious Ten Pin - 8.0% ABV

I’ll be honest, a big draw of this beer was the wax seal. You don’t put a wax seal on your beer unless your damn proud of it, right? The fact that it’s an imperial porter didn’t hurt either. I’ve seen quite a few imperial stouts, but I can’t recall another imperial porter that I’ve tried.

The wax seal was immediately annoying. I had to cut it with my wine key before being able to get the cap off.  Once I did it get it, drinking came pretty easily. Tasting notes follow:

The beer pours dark and barely translucent, with a hint of dark copper when held up to the light. There’s a small amount of creamy, almost cappuccino like head.

The aroma has roasted malt acridity with a hint of woodiness and alcohol. The taste is sweet malt with roasted notes followed with a heavy bit of alcohol and a bit of sourness with some dark stone fruit. The beer has a very creamy, smooth mouthfeel that goes along well with the 8.0% alcohol.

Overall, this beer is pretty good, but could use a bit more balance and maybe a bit more of the dark, acrid flavors. The alcohol is a bit aggressive, but still fits in with the style of an Imperial Porter. I’m not sure I’d pick this up again, but it was a fun adventure.

Grizzly Peak Fouch Hill Dark Ale


Grizzly Peak's Fouch Hill Dark Ale

Listed as a “session mild ale,” one of Grizzly Peak’s Autumn offerings for 2010 is the Fouch Hill Dark Ale. An ale with a Scottish flavor, the name seems to foreshadow that, though Fouch Hill is actually located in Northern Michigan, on the Leelenau Peninsula near Traverse City.

Anyway, onto the beer. The aroma is very light, with almost no hint of hops, and mostly a peaty scent (again, reminiscent of imports from Scotland). I could do with a bit more aroma there, actually.

The flavor itself is heavily peat-y, almost something straight out of Scotland, with almost no hint of traditional flavoring hops. There are roasty malts a-plenty, along with a decent alcohol flavor – belying this session beer’s 4.8% ABV. A sweet, malty flavor persists throughout.

The color is a deep caramel, though the beer is a little more transparent than you’d expect from the style. The mouthfeel is a little light for the expectation from the flavor, though it sticks around a bit after swallowing. The carbonation is a little lacking, but that’s more likely a service issue than one from the brewing process.

There are a few (minor) deficiencies with this beer, but in all honesty, it’s the best craft brew I’ve had in at least a few weeks. I’ll be glad to have it as long as it’s on tap at Grizzly Peak.

Tasting Sesh Goes Canning: Keweenaw Brewing Co.

I visited Paul in Chicago for my last free weekend in the Midwest. With me on my trip, I brought two canned brews from Keweenaw Brewing Company. Over recent years, microbreweries have been switching to canned beer for several reasons. Cans are cheaper to produce, more environmentally friendly/recyclable, and, for the consumer, often more convenient.

These beers came in standard 6-pack plastic duck traps. I liked the design of the cans, which, when giving up the aesthetics of a bottle, is at least something to consider. The two we had were the Widow Maker Black Ale, and the Lift Bridge Brown Ale.

Kewanaw Brewing

Canned Black and Brown ales

We’ll start with the black ale. Let me first say this: Ow. I felt like I was drinking tinfoil. 100% of the aroma was metal. No hops, no malt, just metal. It gave me a pain at the base of my skull just sniffing it. The flavor was little better. Metal again was the dominant force in the mouth, with a few nutty malt notes, but little else. It was over-carbonated, and had the texture of Sprite. Paul and I fought over who had to finish it.

The brown ale was a little better, but, well, not normal. Here, the metal was significantly reduced, and the nose had a noticeable malt aroma, with a few notes of chocolate. The head was extremely frothy, almost milky, and mixed with the chocolate malt notes, gave it a strange milk chocolate taste. This, strangely, didn’t translate to the heavy body you’d expect, and left me feeling confused. As with the black, there was almost no hop aroma or flavor, and while the metallic taste was less than the black, it was still there, scraping across my tastebuds.

Now, I don’t want to come out and say all canned beers are bad and metallic and damn close to undrinkable, but, wow: D+ would not buy again. I don’t know if we just got a few bad cans, but even through the metal, there wasn’t much there in the beer to really interest me. The brown wasn’t awful, but I didn’t feel like I was drinking beer. I felt like I was drinking carbonated chocolate metalmilk. I want to try these same beers, non-canned, for comparison, but as it stands, if you some brown cans with a nifty design chilling at your local beer store, take a sidestep and try something else.

Beer Review: Sierra Nevada Northern Hemisphere Harvest

Sierra Nevada Northern Hemisphere Harvest Wet Hop Ale - 6.7% ABV

Sierra Nevada Northern Hemisphere Harvest Wet Hop Ale - 6.7% ABV

I was back in Ann Arbor last weekend, so naturally Tim and I had to brew some beer. We went to Adventures in Homebrewing to pick up the ingredients for our beer and there were in the middle of packaging their fresh hops. Unfortunately, our schedule is kind of tight, and we had already decided to reprise our S’More Stout to be ready by the holidays.

Since seeing pound upon pound of fresh hops, I’ve had a hankering to try some fresh hop beers. I’ve had some home brewed wet hop beer made with home grown hops at our local brewer’s guild meeting, and they have a very different taste and feel to them. So, when I was at Binny’s for the Leinenkugel event and saw the Sierra Nevada Harvest ale, I picked it up.

Sierra Nevada writes on their website:

The cornerstone of our Harvest series is the beer that started the modern-day fresh hop ale phenomenon in America, our original Harvest Ale.

Created in 1996, Harvest Ale features Cascade and Centennial hops from the Yakima Valley in Eastern Washington. These hops are harvested and shipped as “wet” un-dried hops—the same day they are picked—to our brewery in Chico where our brewers eagerly wait to get them into the brew kettle while their oils and resins are still at their peak.

The beer pours a light amber with a very small head that has still not completely disapated, but has gently laced down the glass. The aroma has a wet or oily hop note that is both a bit floral and resiny. This is a very different character than most of the west coast pale ales. The taste has that wet, floral hop profile in the front, which is quickly followed by a strong, malty sweetness. There is a very coating, lingering bitterness in the aftertaste. The beer is a little thin, but the body isn’t what makes this beer.

Of the two fresh, wet hop beers, I enjoyed the OREgasmic ale a bit more. It had a better balance while still highlighting the hops.

Summer Beer Fest Tasting Notes

I’m attending the Harvest Beer Festival tomorrow, so I figured now is as good a time as any to finally get around to publishing our notes from the summer beer fest.

These… these were composed in progressing states of intoxication, with the help of a devoted secretary who unfortunately isn’t as well-versed in beer as we are (and may have freelanced on a few notes). Paul, Nate, and I all tasted pretty much every beer listed here. Some of them we didn’t provide notes (or only provided drunken mumblings that were beyond transcription), so bear with us.

Arcadia Brewing Company

  • Cereal Killer Barleywine
  • Bourbon Barell Old Ale

Dragonmead Brewing Company

  • Lancelot’s Cream Ale. “Blah”
  • Sin Eater Dark Strong Belgian. “Good”

Frog Island Brewing Co.

  • Chocoberry Porter
  • Bengal IPA
  • Raspberry Wheat
  • Ypsi Citizen Chocolate Porter

Kuhnhenn Brewing Co.

  • Solar Eclipse Imperial Stout “Nice alcohol burn”
  • ET’s Reese’s Pieces “Smells good” “flavor mmm mmm”
  • Alien Ale Spiced with Pepper “smell spicy”

Sherwood Brewing Co.

  • Mistress Jades Hemp Ale
  • Daily Grind Kona Porter “Coffee in nose” “good” “:)”
  • Strawberry Lemonade Wit “all the delicious smell of a girly drink in a beer”

Bell’s Brewery

  • Batch 9000
  • Oracle


  • Kodiak Killer Bourbon Barrel Barleywine “good and peppery”
  • Rebarbora Saison

Liberty Street Brewing Co.

  • Sully’s Kolsch “standard kolsch”
  • Belgian Tripel “doesn’t taste like a tripel”
  • Mine Smoker Rauschbier

The Livery

  • Pipenbock Maibock
  • Hoppelbock “#1 sour bock”

New Holland Brewing Co.

  • Envious Ale Aged on Oak and Fruit “good fruit” “dark caramelized malt”
  • 2009 Pilgrim’s Dole Wheat Wine “wheaty”
  • Night Tripper Imperial Stout “om nom”
  • 2008 Dragon’s Milk Bourbon “:)”

Schmohz Brewing Co

  • Pickle Tink Strawberry Wheat “bland as f” “disappointing” – (secretary).
  • Treasure Chest ESB
  • Miracle off 28th Street Olde Ale

Bastone Brewery

  • Infernale Chili Beer “mild” “smell not that spicy”
  • Peanut Butter Beer “light” “not thick”
  • Witface “tastes like saison”

B.O.B.’s Brewery

  • Mango Chipotle Ale “starts off chipotle, then smooth mango” “great mix of flavors” “awesome :)” Side note – this helped inspire our Chipotle Porter and Round 2 of same.
  • Robert the 4th Bourbon Barrel Ale “dark mild” “bourbon overwhelming”
  • Honey Pot Tawny Ale “meh”

Dark Horse Brewing Co.

  • Bourbon Barrel Plead the 5th “more” “fuck yeah”
  • Pam’s Kitchen Beer “very little lime” “so weird” “lightly seasoned”
  • Louie’s Donut Beer Brown Ale “aight”

Founders Brewing Co.

  • KBS Imperial Coffee Stout “well balanced” “with an emphasis on bourbon” “good doesn’t even begin to describe it”
  • Black Biscuit Old Ale and Baltic Porter “smell not spicy” “aged pineapple and raspberry” (?)

Right Brain Brewery

  • Black EyePA “tastes like IPA and black Ale” (thrilling analysis there, I know).
  • TC350 IPA XXX “juicy, floral, oak” “bouquet of hops”
  • Snuggle Bunny Cinnamon Vanilla Stout “dark, slight coffee” “nothing special”

Traffic Jam & Snug

  • Frambwosso Barrel Aged Sour Raspberry “very fruity”

Big Buck Brewery

  • IPA “ok”
  • ESB
  • American Ale

Original Gravity Brewing Co.

  • 440 Pepper Smoker
  • OG Ginger Ale

Short’s Brewing Co.

  • Nicie Spicie “standard” (here referring to the fact that we’ve all had it before, not that it isn’t good).
  • Stellar Ale IPA “cascade IPA”
  • Strawberry Short’s Cake Fruit Beer “good” “strawberry comes through flavor”
  • Imperial Spruce India Pilsner
  • Black Licorice Lager “very floral” “good body for a lager”

Waldorff Brewpub

  • Strawberry Rhubarb Cream Ale “good” – (secretary)
  • Bee Sting Honey Rye
  • Cobain’s Ale Dark IPA

For more info on the festival (and what beers we missed out on), and tomorrow’s event, check out

Goose Island: Lincoln Park

Goose Island Clybourne

Goose Island Brewery via Malted Barley and Hops

I live about a block away from a Binny’s, so I thought the John Leinenkugel event would be very convenient. Fortunately, I checked the event details early enough to realize that it was in the Lincoln Park Binny’s. Being new to Chicago, I fired up Google Maps to find the best way there, and to my delight, I saw that it was right across the street from the Goose Island Clybourne Brewery and Taphouse.

So after Binny’s I headed across the street with the smell of malt and wort in the air. I’m not sure living in that smell would be great, but as someone who has been homebrewing-deprived, it was beautiful.

Map to Goose Island

Right between the Red Line stop at North and the Brown Line stop at Armitage

The bar itself seems much older (in a good way) than you would expect from a brewery with a 22 year history. My bartender immediately suggested I try the R.I.P. Ale, a rye pale which, if you have followed the beers I’ve reviewed lately, is obviously up my alley. The service was friendly and fast, and the bartenders were always quick with a taste or to explain a beer. The food smelled amazing, but my budget was for beer only.

I tasted a few of their beers, trying to focus on the ones that I don’t see that often in the stores. I thumbed out some quick reviews as I was drinking them:

  • Partial Eclipse – 5.5%: dark belgian wit brewed with Chicago Brew Society. Spiced with Szechuan peppercorn, coriander, Seville oranges, and star anise.

Notes: spices nice in the nose, not overpowering in the taste. Flavor dominated with malt and wit taste with a bit of the spice lingering through the end

  • Oatmeal Stout – 5.1%: A classic English style stout with an aromatic blend of oats, chocalte and roast malts.

Notes: poured like motor oil out of the cask tap with almost no head. The taste is velvety and sweet with a hint of stone fruit. It finishes with a very strong, but appropriate acrid note from the roast barley.

  • R.I.P. Ale – 5.8%: “Mad Brewer” Jared, balancing caramel and rye malts with Chinook and Nuggett hops, crafted this crisp, dry autumnal ale.

Notes: copper color, citrus hops and a nice spice from the rye.

Rogue 21st Anniversary

Rogue Ales is celebrating their 21st anniversary this summer with the release of Rogue 21. The beer was available in a limited number of 750ml bottles and 21 kegs were released to 21 of Rogue’s oldest bar patrons. As it happens, Ashley’s is one of those lucky 21, and we took in this event back in the late days of summer. Without further ado, the beers:

Rogue 21st Anniversary Ale

Quite a sweet, malty flavor – It tastes like it’s a scotch or old ale. There’s a very low hop presence, and almost none at all in the aroma.

There’s alcohol taste on the tongue, but it’s not overwhelming. As sweet as the finished beer is, they certainly could have fermented it down a little more to remove sweetness and make it a little stronger.

The description says it’s brewed with molasses (which helps bring the scotch-ish flavor) and brewer’s licorice, though I don’t think there’s any anise flavor or aroma.

Rogue J.J. Hazelnut

The John John beers are aged in Whiskey barrels, and the Hazelnut is a brown ale brewed (of course) with hazelnut flavor.

There’s no strong aroma of anything before you sip. No real hops or sweetness on the nose. The flavor is overwhelmingly oak whiskey barrel-aged, to the point of covering up any other flavor. There’s a bit of dry acridity to it that you expect from a whiskey-aged beer.

My hypothesis is that this beer was aged too long, and took on too much flavor from the barrel, covering up the original flavors of the hazelnut brown. Practically the only flavors come from the barrel.

If you let the beer percolate in your mouth a bit prior to swallowing, there’s a bit of malty sweetness, though it’s impossible to determine the underlying flavors. If this beer was served at a bit warmer temperature, maybe these flavors would be more apparent.

Rogue J.J. Dead Guy

The Dead Guy Ale is one of Rogue’s flagship beers, and the John John version of it is, as you’d expect, a whiskey barrel-aged version of the classic maibock. This isn’t as over-aged as the hazelnut was, and the oak is an understated flavor. There’s a little “bite” from it at the beginning, but it wears off the more you drink (it’s up to the reader to decide if that’s due to temperature, drunkenness, or something else).

This beer is quite sweet both on the nose and in flavor. There’s a very subtle sour or fruity taste you’d associate with a Belgian – but it’s barely there. For a typically well-hopped style in Maibocks, there’s almost no hop presence.

Stone 14th Anniversary Ale

mmmmm... Ashley's

mmmmm... Ashley's

This was obviously the odd beer out, as the other offerings all came from Rogue, and this is a Stone brew. The boys in Escondido created an “Emperial IPA,” or a double imperial IPA to celebrate 14 years.

The aroma isn’t too hoppy, especially for what you’d expect out of the style, but what hops are discernible are of a sweeter variety.

In the flavor, however, it’s all hops (in multiple senses). The overwhelming taste is hop bitterness and flavor, though with a variety of hops, instead of the exclusively sweet ones that were in the aroma. The malt flavors are sweet, but also a bit spicy, leaving us to speculate there’s rye in the mash.