For the past few days I have been up in NorCal (that is how the cool kids say it) in the capital city of Sacramento to do a little work with Sacramento Beer Week, after 8 days I can honestly tell you that I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I have covered a bunch of coffee events and the overlap between craft beer and coffee communities happens pretty frequently. Coffee roasters get into home beer brewing, beer brewers dabble with making coffee beers, but something both industries rely heavily on is having a good palate to develop desirable flavor profiles (that means they want their stuff to taste good when you drink their finished wares out of a coffee mug or pint glass).
So while I felt like I had a pretty good grasp on the general concepts of craft beer what I vastly underestimated is how much Sacramento, and the surrounding regions, love their craft beer. ..I mean LOVE LOVE. I mean it’s called “Beer Week” but it really lasts 11 days and there are hundreds of events that happen over this time span and all are packed with people. The energy is frenzied but filled with an overwhelming warm and fuzzy feeling of community as neighborhoods come out to support their hometown breweries and tip back a pint with friends.
One of the events I attended this week was a “Yeast Flight” at New Helvetia Brewing Company where they took their Buffalo Craft Lager and brewed it with 7 different types of yeast to demonstrate how the variety of yeast affects flavors in the beer. These are they types of yeasts that were used:
I tasted these with someone who is a coffee buyer, which pretty much means he tastes for a living, so I would have a resource that has some insight on flavor profiles, balance, etc. We went through and tasted all the samples back to back once just to get a general idea of the flight and then went back to the beginning and started pulling out flavor descriptors and comparing notes. Here is what mine said:
1. NorCal Ale: This sample was pretty neutral and not very memorable for me. It felt really thin when I drank it, almost sort of a watered down attribute. I found out this is on purpose because this specific yeast is used for beers with assertive flavors, it allows the hops and other components of the beer to shine through. It’s like a really talented, but humble, back up dancer.
2. Molly American 1: On my first pass through of tasting I didn’t notice anything that really jumped out at me with this sample. On my second tasting the aroma and flavors of pineapple and grapefruit were all up in my face. This was my favorite of all the samples and I am looking forward to trying the finished beer this yeast is used for.
3. Saison 1: Lemon! Full of lemony smells and flavors with a little bit of black pepper.
4. Saison 2: This started out sweet but by the time you are finished with your sip there is a bite of tartness, you know the kind you get in the lower back part of your jaw when you eat a sour patch kid or a sweet tart. This was my 2nd favorite taste.
5. Molly American 2: Oh honey, honey! That was all I could smell and taste with this yeast.
6. Vermont IPA: This sample had a really smooth texture and for me was full of tart green apple smells and taste in the beginning and then finished sweet. I called it the “candy apple” yeast.
7. Scotch Ale Yeast: For me this was similar to the first sample, pretty mild and neutral. There was a little hint of some sort of berry flavor but nothing overwhelming and a little bit of bitterness at the end. I can only assume this yeast is also used when brewers want to highlight other flavor components in the beer.
This was a great beer experience for me because it was almost like deconstructing the brewing process. Now when I taste beer in the future I will be thinking about what flavors the yeast is bringing to the overall experience and see if I’m able to isolate them while I sip (and possibly annoy people with my beer knowledge/snobbishness in the process) I should also mention that New Helvetia had their staff on hand to talk through the flavor nuances that I mentioned above and how they affect the final product, we even got to taste a few other finished beers that used the yeasts we tasted in our flight. There was also a group of guys there tasting the same flight that dubbed themselves “The Yeasty Boys” which is just plain awesome.
One last fantastic thing about beer people, and similar to coffee people, is they are ridiculously passionate about their product and are usually more than happy to talk to you and answer the “whys” and “hows” about how it is made. So I invite you to join me and support my new beer mantra “drink local and ask a lot of questions.”
Cheers to you, you ridiculously amazing human being reading this!