Killer yeasts, freak dextrin munchers that cause bottle recalls -- it’s a scary yeast-eat-yeast world out there. If you’re going to thrive in the funky Farmhouse Ale world, you better have an ace up your sleeve.
The Farmhouse specialist brewers at Carolina Bauernhaus have an ace on the team in Chief Flora Farmer David Thornton. Thornton uses a method he invented called “yeast boot camp” to power up unique cultures from all over the world, giving Bauernhaus a precious cache of wild yeasts that no one else has. Some of his odder highlights include a yeast captured from bees, honeysuckle flowers, and prickly pear cacti.
The Bauernhaus brewery is far more focused on yeast than your average brewery -- it actually got its start as an offshoot testing ground for Thornton’s SouthYeast Labs.
Thornton says, “Most breweries have brewed with the same 5 strains of yeast for the last 100 years. SouthYeast emerged to offer something new to breweries wanting differentiation from the mainstream. [Carolina Bauernhaus] is the perfect storm partner since the brewers are committed to forage and ferment beer made from here.
I’d say that every brew we produce has the yeast front and center. It is perhaps the most defining characteristic of our beers and is further accented by seasonally available ingredients like fruit, flowers and honey. We subscribe to the notion that we are just tenders to the yeast. We keep it happy, we give it what it wants, we don’t rush it, and it usually gives us some fantastically complex results unique to our cellar.”
Bauernhaus recently won a GABF gold medal for their Opuntia Sour Ale which perfectly frames the uniqueness of a strain of souring culture captured and isolated from prickly pear cacti. Many Wild Ales use a broad number of cultures taken from fruit, but Opuntia focuses on just one. Opuntia is part of the brewery’s Source Series -- these beers focus on taking a few select cultures from nature, amping them up, and then returning them to ferment on the medium they were discovered on. In Opuntia, a strain of lacto gathered from the prickly pear ferments on prickly pear fruit, giving it a punctuated, extreme exploration of pure cactus flavor.
There’s massive legwork involved in the process of capturing and preparing yeast for brewing. Thornton says, “We’ve isolated 122 strains of wild/native yeast from around the world for ourselves as well as a few of our bioprospecting clients. Of these about 20 are “brew worthy.”” David Thornton’s beer bootcamp involves testing the yeast strains to see if they can handle 10% ABV, a 4.5 pH and whether or not they flocculate (settle properly so they can be filtered out).
Of all the origins of wild yeast, fruit has long been the most popular with many featuring wild yeast on their skins. Carolina Bauernhaus is testing a new breed of Wild Ale that maximizes the fruity impact of wild cultures on real fresh fruit by putting wild yeast and fresh fruit in the bottle together and having them go through fermentation right in the bottle!
Thornton says, “Most recently we did a market test with our new line of “fruit in bottle” Berlinners called Dat Watermelon Weisse and Dat Peach Weisse. In these beers, fruit, cane sugar and the SYL Walhallaweise yeast/lactoblend provide refermentation in-the-bottle to capture all of the beautiful esters and products of biotransformation in the bottle resulting in the most aromatic and fruit forward beers to date.”
As Wild Ale obsessed folks that have great respect for fruit, Bauernhaus even has a festival devoted to their favorite fruit -- the peach. Every October they organize “The Peachening,” a beer fest in which they ask their favorite Southeast breweries to craft beers with 10,000 lbs of fresh Clemson peaches and then tap all the beers in celebration.
Now, nearly every brewery making Sour Ales in South Carolina is using some of SouthYeast’s cultures and they’ve made custom cultures for some of the biggest names in craft stretching all the way to Oregon (we can’t tell you who because of trade secrets!).
Previous breweries with such a strong microbiological background include the now industry-leading Crooked Stave and Logsdon Farmhouse. Keep an eye on Bauernhaus -- they have a stockpile of wild yeasts no one has seen before and they know how to use ‘em.
Written by Neal Yurick