Malted barley and hops get all the glory when it comes to beer. The roast of the malt lends the beer its color — caramel malt a deep amber for brown ales; roasted barley the opaque black and hearty coffee and chocolate flavors of porters and stouts. And the more than two dozen varieties of hops put the pucker, flavor and aroma of pine and citrus and grass into every pint.
So, these ingredients are important and have a place at the party, but beer wouldn’t be beer without the alcohol and flavors derived from the yeast.
Enter Chris White, owner, president and CEO of White Labs, a yeast purveyor for craft brewers around the country and the world. White was in town recently to christen his new office, shop and tasting room tucked into a 500 square foot space upstairs from the Upslope tasting room at 1898 S. Flatirons Court in Boulder. And yes, you read that correctly, White is including a tasting room.
“It’s very cool that we have this taproom so close to where the whole homebrewing movement started with Charlie Papazian and the American Homebrewers Association. He’s the voice of our industry,” White said.
The main purpose of the tasting room — little more than a bar with five stools and another dozen chairs with tables scattered around the space — is for education. White has taken identically brewed batches of beer, each with the same kinds and quantity of malt and hops, and fermented them with different strains of yeast. It’s a great way to taste exactly what characteristics each yeast strain lends to the beer.
At present, there is an amber flight, which includes an English style yeast, a Yorkshire Square Ale yeast, a California Ale V yeast and a Bastogne Belgian Ale yeast. They are each highly distinct and different, but it’s truly enlightening to taste them side by side and experience how each yeast lends different flavors to each. There is also a collection of lighter ales using a wheat ale yeast, cream ale yeast blend, Hefeweizen ale yeast and Bavarian Weizen ale yeast.
“Our clientele is a mix of homebrewers — the nerdy folks like me who want to talk about yeast and brewing — and commercial brewers who come by, pick up some yeast, have some beers, and talk about new recipies, and then just the folks who love craft beer and want more information about what they’re drinking,” White said.
White said that, in the coming months, he will rotate in different batches of beer to show off other strains of yeast. He also plans to do tours and seminars to educate people about how important yeast is to the brewing process.
Also, this coming spring, White plans to publish the entire genome sequence of 96 different yeast strains. He said it was a collaborative effort and isn’t intended to create new yeast strains, but to better understand the existing strains and why a particular yeast performs a certain way. “There’s a lot we don’t understand about yeast,” he said. “And once we do, we can make better beers.”