One of the first experiments I performed after setting up my new home brewery was to explore some new ale yeast strains. The goal of this experiment is to establish my house strain for Haydts Brewing Co., the nanobrewery-in-planning I’ve been working on for the past few months. I want to use a house strain that sets my brewery apart from the numerous other startups coming online.
There is the easy but not-setting-yourself-apart choice, the ubiquitous Cal Ale/WLP001/WY1056/US-05/Chico strain from Sierra Nevada that is used by a majority of breweries for American ales all around the country. Relatively neutral, it allows the malt and hops to shine without getting in the way. The Fuller’s strain (WLP002, WY1968), a more flavorful English strain, is also heavily utilized in American craft breweries (Lagunitas IPA, 3 Floyds, Deschutes) as well as the Whitbread Dry strain (WY1098, WLP007, S-04). I’ve grown to love the Whitbread strain for its fast fermentation time, neutral flavor, extremely high flocculation powers, and its brew-at-the-last-minute availability in its shelf-stable dry form, Safale S-04.
So how do you find a great yeast strain that isn’t widely used? Start by doing research on some of the highest rated American ales, and then go after those strains. The Alchemist’s Conan strain (used in the world-class Heady Topper DIPA) is creating quite a buzz lately–which runs somewhat counter to my goals of setting Haydts Brewing Co. apart. After running through a few test batches with the Yeast Bay’s Vermont Ale (the Conan strain for those of you who are unfamiliar), the buzz is somewhat warranted, putting out distinct citrus/peach esters that meld well with American hop profiles. Hill Farmstead makes some of the most highly rated American ales (really all of their beers are world class), and the brewery attributes this to special well water, technical prowess, and yeast. No one seems to know what hidden gem of a yeast they use, though there is of course plenty of speculation. Reading some of those speculation threads online I came across this:
The succinctness of the post took me unawares. Is this a person with insider knowledge? Who knows. But it did get me to the homebrew store to buy up all the Wyeast 1318 London Ale III, rumoured to be the Boddingtons strain. Another peculiar thing I read over at Ales of the Riverwards is that Tired Hands Brewing also uses the same yeast, as the brewer mentioned he gets the yeast “from a friend in Vermont” according to an interview with the brewer at Tired Hands. Since at the moment I can’t get up to Vermont to try the Hill Farmstead beers, I went to Tired Hands (twice in fact, because it was incredible) and picked up their Hophands for comparison’s sake. I brewed a ten gallon batch using the hops listed for HIll Farmstead’s Edward, with a dose of flaked oats (a nod to Tired Hands generous use of adjuncts) and split two carboys: one with Conan (Yeast Bay Vermont Ale) and the other with Wyeast 1318 London Ale III.
I also switched up on water treatment. During my research, I was also influenced by info gleamed during John Kimmich’s Q&A. There is a part where he discusses water chemistry and recommends “350 ppm hardness for a pale ale”. This can mean several things to a brewer and I can’t fully wrap my head around water chemistry quite yet, but luckily the Bru’n Water excel sheet I recently switched to made it easy with the “total hardness” column. I plugged in salts affecting Calcium and Magnesium until I hit 350 ppm and went from there. This is different from my usual minimal salt regime, but whatever, why not change everything all at once: new water source, new water treatment, new brew system, larger batch size, new ingredients, new hop schedule and of course new yeasts.
Surprisingly, both batches came out great. Of course, a few nit-picky things that I will fine-tune, but that always happens.
WY1318 left, Vermont ale on right. Mason jars make terrible growlers, buckled both lids during transport.
The Yeast Bay Vermont Ale Pale Ale:
Appearance. Brilliantly clear orange with a persistent head that leaves beautiful lacing on the glass. Much clearer than 1318.
Aroma. Peach, citrus, mango, tropical fruits, some dankness. There is a sweet flavor that seems to differ from the 1318, it could be a peach flavor but I just seem to perceive “sweet”.
Taste and Mouthfeel. Very “American” is how I would describe this. Great mouthfeel, oats seem to help with that, tastes very hoppy without being very bitter. Flavors seem to bounce off the tongue, the words “light and airy” come to mind (although not as airy as 1318) which makes me think the elevated hardness has something to do with this character. Similar in profile to the Chico strain ester-wise, with a little added oomph to the hop flavor and a sweet/peach/citrus note. I probably should have also done a Chico strain as a control, but oh well.
Overall Impressions. Very pleased with this beer. Seems very traditional compared to the 1318, but in a good way. This beer seems more popular with people who have tried both on tap, but I think that may be with the familiarity of the flavors. I preferred the 1318 because of it’s “newness” and slightly more nuanced flavors, but I would gladly pay for a pint of this.
Wyeast 1318 London Ale III Pale Ale:
Appearance. Standard copper/orange APA hue, although one of the unique things about this beer is that it never, ever cleared, as I’m reviewing notes and drinking what I believe is the last of the keg, there is still a haziness that I would guess isn’t yeast. Chill haze possibly? Or something to do with yeast/protein interaction? Maybe my pH was too high going into the fermentor? But then why would Conan clear and not this? Still scratching my head. BUT it looks like every Hill Farmstead beer I’ve seen (in pictures of course).
Aroma. Peach, mango, citrus, and slight mineral in the background. Very delicious and the aroma stuck around much longer (3+ weeks) due to a second CO2 tank I picked up for transfers.
Taste and Mouthfeel. Peach and grapefruit. Low astringency and very little bitter aftertaste. This is where the yeast strains seem to deviate significantly. This strain is very balanced malt and hop bitterness, nothing seems to jump to the forefront, everything in its place. There is too much minerality (because it stands out), most likely from the water salts. Mouthfeel is incredible, light and airy (things I heard of Hill Farmstead beers). My wife described this beer as “sunshine in a glass”. Tastes like fruit juice, not beer, in an awesome way.
Overall Impressions. This beer is very similar to the growler of Hophands. Hophands is much lighter (probably no crystal malt used) but the yeast character is almost identical. My favorite of the two batches, I finished this keg first. Nothing against the Conan variant, this was just a breath of fresh air. Not sure if I would bet money that this is the Hill Farmstead yeast, but I’m just going with my gut, a gut that will need taste confirmation in the form of a Vermont trip soon.
In the end, though, I’m still undecided on the new house strain, so expect more experiments to come.