Monday, April 2, 2012

What is Your Favorite Yeast Lab?

Four kinds of dried yeast.
Wyeast - 44%
White Labs - 35%
East Coast Yeast - 7%
Fermentis - 7%
Danstar - 2%
Wild Microbes - 0% (4)
Brewing Science Institute - 0% (3)
Lalvin - 0% (1)
Red Star - 0% (1)

Of course choosing a favorite yeast lab is like picking a favorite restaurant, there is never one that does everything best. Rather than selecting a yeast based on the lab, what I really do is pick the best strain for the beer that I am brewing. With that said, there are certainly some labs whose cultures tend to make better beers than others.

The first question to answer is, do you want a dry or liquid strain? I tend to keep dry yeast in my fridge as a backup for when a liquid culture fails, or I wake up in the mood to brew. While there are some great dry strains from Fermentis especially (and Danstar to a lesser extent) they represent only a few of the hundreds of strains available as liquid cultures. This is especially true when it comes to more expressive strains like saison, and weizen etc. I also find the clean strains to be not quite as clean as their liquid alternatives. Dry yeast is a great option for beers with a strong malt or hop character, or for beginners who do not want to bother with making starters (although as someone pointed out the last time I suggested the same thing, according to Fermentis’ own material their 11.5 g sachets start with a minimum of only about 60% of the cells of the liquid cultures - although other sources put the actual number as high as double). I realize that homebrewers in some places, especially those who live in other countries, don’t have easy/cheap access to liquid cultures, but in most cases I find them more reliable.

When it comes to the liquid strains, as a general rule, I like Wyeast more than White Labs. I have had better luck with WY1728 than WLP028, WY3787 compared to WLP530, and WY1968 over WLP002. For Brett I also tend to prefer Wyeast (especially their super-cherry forward Brett lambicus WY5526 compared to the horsey White Labs WLP653). There are strains I prefer from White Labs, like WLP833 Bock Lager and WLP650 Brett clausenii, but in general when the two labs offer the “same” strain I tend to prefer the Wyeast version. The cell counts are similar for the ale/lager yeast strains, so I’m not sure if the differences in the results are due to propagation technique, packaging, particular isolate, or some other factor. For the Brett on the other hand Wyeast starts with ~25X the number of cells as White Labs, making their cultures ideal for making 100% Brett beers.

Five years of blogging, and I couldn't find a single picture of a Wyeast or White Labs package.I’m done hyping East Coast Yeast until they seriously increase production. The last shipment Al dropped off sold out less than 10 minutes after the announcement email went out! I need his crazy bug blends for myself! Brewing Science Institute banks some interesting strains as well (including Brett brux var. Drie, as isolate from 3 Fonteinen that is being used heavily by Russian River, Ithaca, Avery, and several other craft breweries). While BSI only sells commercial sized pitches, White Labs will be releasing their version of Drie this summer as WLP644 Brett bruxellensis Trois.

I am excited about the way my first, now year old, wild microbe fermented beer is tasting. The primary fermentation was strong, and the earthy funk that took over after the initial tropical fruit is good enough that I made it the primary component in the gueuze blend I sent to National Homebrew Contest (on its own the acidity is still too soft). I am also impressed by what American breweries like Jolly Pumpkin and Russian River are accomplishing with their spontaneously fermented beers (I still have not tried any of the true Allagash Coolship beers). In fact, I’m so interested in the topic that I am writing an article on American spontaneous fermentation that will appear in an issue of BYO Magazine in a couple months. However, the time, effort, and risk that goes into fermenting with wild microbes keeps them as an occasional thing for me.

The only time I use wine yeast (other than in wine or the odd experiment) is for bottle conditioning sour beers. Wine yeast from Lalvin and Red Star (which I just realized is tied to Fermentis) tend to be cheap, acid tolerant, and decently flocculent. I am still mixed on the red wine yeast fermented Flemish red I brewed last year; sometimes samples of it have a wonderful clean fruity flavor, while others come across as yeasty and muddy.

It is a great time to be brewing beer in America with so many yeast (and bacteria) strains available. While I enjoy the seasonal releases from Wyeast and White Labs, it would be nice if they gave us access to all of the strains year-round (as breweries do).

19 comments:

Unknown said...

it's funny because most brewers i know prefer white labs. strange world.

Unknown said...

professional brewers, rather.

Scott said...

Dry yeast sachets contain way more than 60 billion cells. Fermentis lists that their sachets contain no less than 6bil cells per gram. The typical amount is considerably higher. Considerably. You're 220 million figure is much more accurate.

Blackjaw said...

I voted White Labs, only because I can't get Wyeast at the 2 different homebrew stores in my area. I ordered Wyeast yeast online once, this was before I knew that hot shipping trailers in the summer are not so good for yeast. I am also on my last generation of WY3711 which I sourced through my local store, but he can no longer get Wyeast through his distributor. So, yeah.

Jason said...

Nice write-up Michael.

Makes me wonder if there is room on there for another yeast company, as we discussed on my blog.

My main complaint about White labs is the pressure from the vials if its been shaken around too much.

I agree, ECY needs to produce more.

BTW, did "wild microbes" mean from spontaneous fermentation or is it a company? I couldn't find it.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I think there is certainly room on the high end for another lab, someone focused on quality and interesting strains would have a lot of business.

Yes, "wild" was intended to refer to any microbes harvested from air/wood/fruit etc.

Mike said...

I think for many/most people, this is going to be a function mainly of availability. At least it is for me. Of the 2 stores near me, WYeast is available at both, and at the one that does supply White Labs yeast, it runs $1 more than Wyeast. Because I have only used Wyeast, and because my stupidity, never the yeast, has ever to blame for one of my beers turning out less than perfect, that $1 is enough to keep me from switching.

Derek said...

I enjoy white labs. But lately I've been on this dry yeast kick. I would think it depends on what style of beers you make though.

bigfoamyhead.com said...

I like the fermentis dry yeast. I used to make a starter and now I just use two packs and man it will kick. I have had good success with the dry.

Anonymous said...

Aren't Danstar & Lalvin different parts of Lallemand?

Beer Diary... said...

Thanks for the article Mike.
I prefer Us-05 as a work horse when it comes to fermenting my basic pales, stouts and IPA's. 2 packages in 11 gallons and the job is done. Clean and effective. As far as beers where I expect yeast flavor influence, I have to go with Whitelabs especially the WLP300 for great phenols for my wheat beers, although I typically need to make a starter that I step up. Cheers!
mark
Beer Diary...

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

"Danstar & Lalvin different parts of Lallemand?" you are correct, I wasn't aware.

HolzBrew said...

Great pickup line at a beer bar, What's your favorite yeast lab?

Adam said...

I use primarily White Labs and Safale strains. I use SO4 for most all my IPAs, stouts, and maybe other English ales. I use White Labs and ECY for most of my Belgian brews. While I'm not close I have been lucky in sourcing some ECY strains when in the Philly area(I live in Harrisburg). I think due to the flavors I've got ECY is my favorite but its a pain to get them at times. I certainly love Safale strains for simplicity of open and pitch.

Thomas said...

Thanks for this post!
I brew small batches (2.5 gallons) and usually go for fermentis because they are easier to find in France. The only times I used liquid yeast (Wyeast), the result was quite disappointing as the yeast flavor remained way too present. I guess this was due to overpitching (I can only find their large smack packs which are supposedly for 5 gallons, but since I don't get them that fresh I thought it may still require a full smack pack without a starter...).
Do you think I can have more chance with White Labs vials, as they seem easier to properly dose than the Wyeast smack packs? or should I just stick to dry yeast until I get to brew larger batches?
Would you attribute the yeast excessive flavor to overpitching or also to the absence of a starter?

Thanks in advance!

Cheers,

Thomas

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I think there is a much bigger chance that your off flavors are coming from under-pitching rather than over-pitching. Odds are the international shipping isn't temperature controlled and the packs may be losing lots of cells. I would make a starter and dose based on a yeast pitching rate calculator. To save some money buy one yeast pack and use it to ferment several batches, either by making a big starter and saving some, or repitching some of the slurry from one batch to the next.

Thomas said...

Thanks! I never saw it this way because I was getting a good attenuation, I'll try with a starter when I get a chance.

Russ said...

(Long time reader, first time commenter - love the blog. So much great information!)

You mentioned using wine yeast to bottle condition sours. Do you have a "go to" strain that you would recommend for, say, a gueuze? We'll be blending our first this summer and would appreciate the input. Thanks!

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I've been using Red Star Premier Cuvee recently. Doesn't take much, for 5 gallons I do 2 g dried yeast, rehydrated, stirred into the bottling bucket. Pretty much any strain works, but Champagne strains tend to be more flocculent than the rest. Good luck!

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