Brewers’ Craft: Baird Lab Report #1: Yeast 101
Taiki Hashimoto. 26. Single.
Hello from the Baird Beer laboratory! Lab technician Taiki here (26, single). I’m the young guy that looks after the yeast here as well as perform a variety of other chores. Chris usually writes this column, but because he is too old to type now (or something like that), I’ll be taking pen in hand this issue.
About a year ago, Chris wrote an article about yeast titled The Magic of Yeast. In that article, he writes: “Each [variety of yeast] has a different personality, behaves differently, and therefore must be treated differently. Get to know your yeasts and love them for what they are. They’ll respond in ways you can’t even imagine.”
“What does that even mean? What the heck is “yeast,” exactly? What are they doing with said yeast over at Baird Brewing?” These are just some of the questions we get. So today I’ll be presiding over our newest course: Yeast 101. I’d like to use a bit of specialist lingo along with some history to answer the question “What the heck is yeast?” Come along and join me on some drunken enlightenment!
Yeast viewed at 400X under a microscope. The yeast are the circular and elliptical blobs. They can’t move by themselves. Cute little buggers.
The discovery of “brewer’s yeast”
Yeast have a diameter of 5-10 microns. A single one cannot be seen by the naked eye (and they’re actually pretty large among microorganisms). As you can see in the image above, they are a circular shape. The term “yeast” covers a wide variety of fungi that live everywhere, but those that are used in beer are a specific range of yeast called “brewer’s yeast.”
Since mankind started brewing beer many eons ago, there have been numerous innovations in the methods. Which innovation had the most impact? I personally think it was the discovery of a pure yeast culture. In other words, prior to this beer was brewed with yeast that included bacteria and molds. But a pure culture allowed people to cherry pick other the organisms that they desired, leading to a pure brewer’s yeast. As a result, top-fermenting ale yeasts and bottom-fermenting lager yeasts were divided and used separate from each other which allowed beer flavor and production to be more refined. The key figure in this work was also the Microbiologist at the Carlsberg company, Emil Christian Hansen. Hansen and his team made the decision not to patent process they used to create pure yeast cultures. As a result, after their discovery in 1883, their method quickly spread around the world and spread not only among beer brewing, but all of microbiology in general. Because of this, Hansen is a leading figure in the brewing world who built the foundations of modern brewing. Everyone, go drink a Carlsberg now!
They say that a person’s name says a lot about who they are, but did you know that the same can be said about yeast?
In Japanese yeast is written as 酵母 (kobo), with 酵 meaning “fermentation” and 母 meaning “mother.” That’s right, yeast is the actual Mother of Fermentation! From the naming I’m sure you can see how yeast is used in a wide range of things: liquor, miso, soy sauce, Nakameguro Taproom’s pizza dough…yeast is used in so many things! Investigate for yourself and see just how many great things involve yeast.
But there are still many secrets behind the naming. Next let’s take a look at the scientific names. First, ale yeast. The scientific name for ale yeast is Saccharomyces Cerevisiae. Breaking this down, we can see that terms for both sugar (saccharose) and beer (cervesa) are hidden in here. A life form that eats sugar and turns it into beer. It’s almost as if it was born just to make beer. Awesome guys.
There are also some hidden gems in the (older) name for lager yeast. That name is Saccharomyces Carlsbergensis. Does that sound familiar at all? That’s right, the Carlsberg company put their name in there! And the man who made that name? Hansen himself! Talk about a man with true dedication; he added the name of his company to his discovery. What a guy! If I discover a new yeast strain, you know I’ll be naming it Saccharomyces Bairdbryanus.
Lab technicians: being peeping toms is our job.
So as you can see, we humans have made great efforts to understand yeast, study its qualities and how to make use of it, and even named it. And more importantly, we’ve learned about how to affect the flavors it produces and how to enjoy its unique characteristics. It’s no fluke that this human interaction is not only science, but food culture.
Being characteristic is one of Baird Beer’s three pillars of philosophy, and its roots run deep in the way we think about beer. But this is not only in regards to beer, but also the yeast. We select, preserve, and grow the yeast cultures on our own. All of the yeasts we use are very characteristic. In order to fully understand these characteristics, we must not only employ all five senses to their full potential, but also skillfully rely on tools like microscopes to allow us to see what we normally cannot. But truth be told, making these efforts to understanding our partners allow for a fun relationship. Everyone wants to have as good a relationship as possible with their lover, right?
Next time we’ll pick up with how we at Baird Beer care for our yeast cultures and their celebrity-level lifestyles. Until next time!
Taiki Hashimoto is Baird Brewing’s Lab Technician. He is 26 and single. All invitations for drinks should be directed to [email protected].