Welcome to the Straightbourbon.com Forums.
Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 19
  1. #1
    Novice
    Join Date
    Mar 2000
    Location
    Idaho via Chicago...yeesh
    Posts
    17

    A question of yeast

    Grain is often identified as the base of a great Bourbon's flavor. I wonder, however, to what degree the yeast used in the initial ferment plays in the process. As I've learned in my experiences as a homebrewer, the variety of brewer's yeast that one uses has a delicate, but very noticable effect on a beer's final flavor. Any thoughts on this? I would guess that the rather "rough" process of distillation kills many of the more subtle notes left behind in early fermentation, but this is all speculation on my part.

    On an unrelated note, I would suggest that anyone interested in the process of making whisky learn how to make all grain beer at home. I have toured the distilleries before and after I became interested in brewing beer at home. Knowing a little more of the technical end of things really adds to one's appreciation of the difficulties in distilling Bourbon.


  2. #2
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
    Join Date
    Sep 1999
    Location
    Chicago
    Posts
    12,622

    Re: A question of yeast

    Just as with brewers (maybe more so), bourbon distillers are very particular about their yeast. Some use "wild" yeast (practical distillers) while others use a pure strain yeast (scientific distillers). Jim Beam, for example, uses a yeast that Jim Beam himself bred on his back porch during the closing days of Prohibition. I think that "wild" yeast strain is responsible for some of the foxy flavor of Jim Beam white label.

    The yeast's contribution to the taste of a bourbon seems best appreciated in a young whiskey. This is true of the grain qualities as well. As the whiskey matures, the influence of the wood takes over.

    <A target="_blank" HREF=http://cowdery.home.netcom.com>--Chuck Cowdery</A>

  3. #3
    Novice
    Join Date
    Mar 2000
    Location
    Idaho via Chicago...yeesh
    Posts
    17

    Re: A question of yeast

    Interesting. Belgian lambic brewers also use "wild" yeast to ferment their beers. They use open fermentation tanks to allow rain, dust and insects to fall into the fermenting wort. Although beer is made on a differing grain bill, the unique flavors of the yeast become very apparent when beers with relatively low hop schedules are compared. If you wish to see this effect for yourself, sample Chimay Ale against something like Bass Ale.

    I am surprised, however, that the character of the yeast is able to survive distillation. Would it be safe to say that most of the loss is water?

    Each area has its own microflora and microfauna that are unique in terms of their fermentation properties. I suppose that this makes Bourbon even more of a Kentucky product than I originally thought.


  4. #4
    **DONOTDELETE**
    Guest

    Re: A question of yeast

    Yeast just doesn't get much 'air time' here on the forum or in 'the books'. The Regans have about a page. Waymack & Harris have about a paragraph. Jim Murrey mentions yeast in his section on mashing, but doesn't say much more than it's used in making distiller's beer. So really there is only scant mention of yeast as just another ingredient in the mash.

    I spoke with Lincoln Henderson awhile back concerning Old Forester, and he mentioned that Brown-Forman had a full time micro-biologist to produce their yeast and to keep the strain pure.

    From what little I think I know about it is that the yeast is very much a major player in the development of the character of the bourbon and that it is every bit as important as the mashbill.

    I'd like to see an in depth article on yeast. OK everyone start researching and writing!

    Linn Spencer

    Have Shotglass. Will Travel.

  5. #5
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
    Join Date
    Sep 1999
    Location
    Chicago
    Posts
    12,622

    Re: A question of yeast

    I may have misled you somewhat. A practical distiller will make a medium believed to be conducive to yeast growth, then allow a wild yeast to alight in that medium and begin to propagate. The distiller monitors its growth--how robust it is, how it smells, how the bubbles break, etc.--and may abandon it if he doesn't like the way it develops. If he likes it, he continues to propagate it and uses it to ferment his mash. Most traditional distillers use open fermenters so it's possible that other micro-organisms will get in, but that isn't necessarily encouraged. I guess I would say the yeast is wild, but may not quite as wild as what the Belgian brewers encourage.

    As for the yeast character "surviving" distillation, since bourbon is distilled out at less than 80 percent alcohol, and in some cases as little as 55 percent, a lot of the character of the mash survives. That's the idea. It's what distinguishes whiskey from neutral spirits.

    <A target="_blank" HREF=http://cowdery.home.netcom.com>--Chuck Cowdery</A>

  6. #6
    Enthusiast
    Join Date
    May 2001
    Location
    Las Vegas, Nevada USA
    Posts
    286

    Re: A question of yeast

    The Regan's book often includes information about the yeast strain and how long it has been in use--clearly implying its importance. I thought they mentioned that Maker's Mark had the only yeast strain that pre-dated the repeal of prohibition.


  7. #7
    **DONOTDELETE**
    Guest

    Re: A question of yeast

    J.D. there is at least one person on this forum that has some real yeast knowledge, and that is Jim Butler. I was hoping that he would provide some input.

    From what I have encountered in talking with various master distillers is that they are very proud of their yeast and that is about all that they will say. I do know that Brown-Forman has a full time micro-biologist that propagates their yeast and keeps the strain(s) pure.

    Yeast is an integral flavor/character factor in any mashbill. The toughest part of acquiring real bourbonic knowledge is in the seperation of fact from fiction. There is just a whole lot hooey floating around out there masquerading as facts.

    Linn Spencer

    Have Shotglass. Will Travel.

  8. #8
    Enthusiast
    Join Date
    Mar 2000
    Location
    Midland, MI
    Posts
    455

    Re: A question of yeast

    >Yeast is an integral flavor/character factor in any mashbill. The toughest part of
    > acquiring real bourbonic knowledge is in the seperation of fact from fiction.

    I certainly agree with that!

    Interestingly enough, in talking to Fritz Mayrtag, I learned a few things concerning
    yeast. Apparently a number of distilleries buy commercial yeast. He didn't
    mention which distilleries, or what products (whiskey?, gin?, vodka?). I think
    he said that some places use a mixture of home-grown and commercial, and
    the home-grown is as much for showmanship as for taste. (Since a brewery
    is one big yeast factory, Fritz has no need to buy yeast...)

    Also intersting was that he mentioned the importance of bacteria. Sour mash
    or not, you're going to have bacteria, and they're going to effect the taste.


    Tim


  9. #9
    The Boss
    Join Date
    Jan 2000
    Location
    Northern CA
    Posts
    2,664

    Re: A question of yeast

    Linn is absolutely correct; there is much misinformation re: yeast and it cultivation in this industry.

    I made a couple phone calls this morning to inquire about yeast maintenence. Specifically, those calls were placed to Drs. James Devay and E. E. Butler, both professors emeritus with the dept. of Plant Pathology, University of California at Davis.

    Before one can assume the persistence and integrity of a particular strain of yeast, one must consider the methods employed to maintain the strain. In a hypothetical situation, say distillery X wants to maintain the particularly luscious and exclusive strain theyve stumbled upon. How do they go about it? The mash is subject to open air fermentation, which produces tremendous difficulty right off the bat, though this situation is probably dealt with by pitching enough starter into the mash to preclude the massive growth of airborne wild yeast strains.

    Anyway, I digress. It's not enough to simply get hold of a few scoops of the bottom of the vat slurry and hope that youve maintained the culture for the next batch. The microbiologist at the distillery has an extremely difficult job. The microbiologist knows what his yeast looks like and how it behaves. He examines a culture under the microscope, selects cells which have similar appearance characteristics, propagates those cells, then has to test them to determine if the end product matches the desired flavor profile. That's a cursory examination, and I apologize in advance to anyone in the industry who feels their job has been grossly understated. I'm sure it's a very in-depth and detailed process, but not tremendously different from that which their counterparts at Parke-Davis have to undergo to ensure the integrity of their penicillium cultures.

    The bottom line is that since yeasts are constantly mutating as a function of time, any given distillery has nearly zero chance of maintaining a particular strain. What they can do is maintain a performance profile. That is -- they know what they want, and can propagate yeast cells that get the job done, but the notion that somebody has the same bunch of yeast now that they had 80 years ago is fairly difficult to swallow.

    Cheers,

    Jim Butler
    Straightbourbon.com

  10. #10
    **DONOTDELETE**
    Guest

    Re: A question of yeast

    Thanks Jim! I'm going to find out just who that microbiologist is at Brown-Forman and give him a call. I'm sure that there are certain things that he just can't tell us and still keep his job, but there should be plenty of enlightenment available to make Bourbonia a better place to live.

    Linn Spencer

    Have Shotglass. Will Travel.

 

 

Similar Threads

  1. Question for anyone who might know...
    By jbalchunas in forum General Bourbon Discussion
    Replies: 4
    Last Post: 06-07-2004, 13:27
  2. Making Yeast
    By cowdery in forum General Bourbon Discussion
    Replies: 14
    Last Post: 04-29-2004, 20:30
  3. Another Question ....
    By WEG3 in forum General Bourbon Discussion
    Replies: 2
    Last Post: 06-01-2003, 08:29
  4. Another question ...
    By WEG3 in forum General Bourbon Discussion
    Replies: 21
    Last Post: 05-13-2003, 18:55
  5. Yeast!
    By porgymcnasty in forum General Bourbon Discussion
    Replies: 4
    Last Post: 12-18-2001, 21:59

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •  
Back to top