The quality manager at Allagash Brewing Company shares some insight into the brewery’s yeast program.
Remember the old saying: brewers make wort. Yeast makes beer. The marvelous microbes responsible for converting sugar to alcohol are critically important to enjoying a finished glass of beer. As the brewing industry has grown the number of available strains through yeast providers has grown and best practices have emerged.
No matter a brewery’s size, proper yeast management is critical to success. While some styles, like New England IPA, usually mean pitching a fresh batch with each brew, or some breweries using single-use packs, there is a benefit to learning and adopting standard operating procedures for generations.
This can be developed over time as the brewers learn how a particular yeast strain reacts or how a house strain best performs.
“Time and temperature are the key to getting the most out of generations,” says Zach Bodah,
the quality manager at Allagash Brewing Company in Portland, Maine. “If you have fermentation that is hopefully done in conicals and chill it properly, the sooner you get it cold the more viable it is.”
For the brewery’s flagship Allagash White, Bodah says they take the yeast to six generations before propagating a new batch.
“We could go further,” he says, “but we calculated the risk and six generations handles a lot of beer. I’ll also add that we’re spoiled rotten because we make a 5% [abv] wit and we don’t dry hop. The yeast loves to ferment that beer.”
At any given time Bodah says the brewery has three different trees going over the six generations, which equates to 30 to 40 tanks of beer per tree. Their house yeast lives in cryo storage and is removed and propagated as needed.
Having a firm understanding of yeast health is important when making beers, and Bodah says that even when the brewery uses a supplier’s yeast, six generations is about as far as they are willing to go.
Trust in themselves and suppliers could only go so far.
There is a calculated risk in using the same yeast over and over again, and the more it is handled the riskier it gets.
“You have a mishap and all of a sudden you can lose [a full batch of beer]. Playing it smart and safe has benefits,” Bodah says.
Learning about proper yeast nutrients and what works for various strains will also help in extending generational health. Trusting the science, learning the nuances of each strain, and learning how it works with your beers can help create a proper yeast program for your brewery.