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Saint Arnold plans ‘Moveable Yeast’ series

“Brewers make wort, yeast makes beer.”
   – A veteran brewer or a clever yeast salesman

Saint Arnold Brewing in Texas just announced a “Moveable Yeast” series of beers, quarterly releases with the first in August.

From the press release: “The concept behind the Movable Yeast series is to focus on the flavor contribution of yeast. Each release will be created by brewing a regular batch of a Saint Arnold beer and then splitting the wort into two 60-barrel fermenters. One fermenter will be pitched with the yeast normally used in that beer and the second fermenter will be pitched with an alternative yeast and the beer given a different name.”

Saint Arnold WeedwackerFor the first release Saint Arnold’s brewers will create the base wort for the best-selling Fancy Lawnmower Beer, a 4.7 percent beer made with mostly pilsner malt and a little bit of malted wheat, light and thirst quenching in gawdawfulhot Houston. They’ll ferment half as they always do and half with a hefeweizen yeast sourced from Bavaria. That strain typically adds banana and clove character to a beer (see geeky details).

This beer will be called Weedwacker and won’t be filtered.

“People spend a lot of time talking about the malt and hops used in beers, but yeast is discussed little and probably understood even less. We thought this would be fun, tasty and educational,” Saint Arnold founder Brock Wagner said for the press release. “We’re hoping that bars and restaurants will offer both beers at the same time so that people can compare the flavor differences.”

The beers are scheduled to go on tap Aug. 16 in select restaurants and bars. A 60-barrel batch will yield about 20,000 12-ounces servings so don’t expect the beers to be around long.

Saint Arnold Weedwacker will be followed in mid-November by Saint Arnold Altared Amber, Amber Ale wort pitched with a yeast sourced from a Belgian Trappist brewery. In mid-February 2011, the brewery plans to release Saint Arnold Bitter Belgian, Saint Arnold Elissa IPA wort also pitched with a Trappist yeast. In mid-May 2011, Saint Arnold Brown Bitte is due, which will be Saint Arnold Brown Ale wort pitched with an altbier yeast.

Now, the geeky details

Feel free to stop reading now. Different yeast strains create different esters and phenols during fermentation that we perceive as flavor and aroma. Strains used by Bavarian brewers to make weizen beers and by some Belgian brewers (including those in Trappist monasteries) share certain characteristics.

Two key players are an ester called isoamyl acetate and a phenol known as 4-vinyl guaiacol. The former is responsible for banana and other fruit flavors and aromas, the latter for the clove character you expect in a hefeweizen or the spiciness in a Belgian tripel (or clove, which is not such a good thing in a tripel).

Although brewers long ago mastered delivering the clovelike aroma and flavors that help define German weizen beers, and to a lesser extent Belgian whites, not until the 1970s did they discover that weizen and other “Phenolic Off-Flavor” (POF+) yeasts convert ferulic acid to 4-vinyl guaiacol. These include weizen and wit yeasts in varying degrees, but also yeast used to ferment Belgian strong ales and even English ales.

A key, however, is shaking ferulic acid free of malted wheat, barley or oats. Different experiments have yielded various results but a rest (sensibly enough called a “ferulic acid rest”) during the mashing process somewhere in the range between 104 and 113° F seems to yield the best results. A longer rest, more clove. I’d be surprised if that rest was part of production at Saint Arnold. I’d sure like to be in Houston in August to taste the results.

My presentation at the recent National Homebrewers Conference included a little compare and contrast between weizen yeast strains and Belgian strong ale strains (such as those Saint Arnold will use in future beers in this series). Kristen England brewed four batches with varying combinations of grains, mashed them in different ways and fermented them with different yeast strains. Attendees rated them (it was a “blind” tasting) on how much wheat character they exhibited, overall fruit, banana, and clove/spice. When I have time to make sense of the results I’ll post that with the presentation at Brewing With Wheat.

And if you want to get really serious about yeast then start saving your pennies to buy “Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation” from Brewers Publications. It should be available in September. As I’ve mentioned before it is the first in a series of books about beer’s major ingredients. I’m writing the hops book.

Forget those tasting rooms in Texas

The bill in the Texas Legislature that would allow microbrewers to sell their product on the premises of their breweries appears to be dead.

Brock Wagner of Saint Arnold Brewing told the Austin Chronicle:

Our bill was opposed by Mike McKinney of the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, and with him opposed to it, we were not able to even get a hearing on the bill in committee.”

Makes no sense to me. If you take the tour, begin to appreciate the place where the beer is made, maybe have a free sample, and then want to buy a 6-pack to take home shouldn’t you be allowed to?

A mission Jimmy Stewart would understand

We love factory tours. You take the tour, see how products are made, and at the end perhaps enjoy some sampling – which could include eating, drinking or drawing with crayons.

You also may buy some of whatever is being made. We’ve hauled home Utz potato chips from Pennsylvania, Jelly Belly “Belly Flops” (rejects that look different but taste the same) from California, and beer from more than a few breweries.

But none in Texas.

A few years ago Texas voters approved a measure that allows wineries to sell (limited quanties) directly to consumers. Wine tourism generates serious bucks in Texas, so that it took until 2003 and a ballot proposition shows that neo-Probitionists types pack some punch. But in the other corner the newly formed Friends of Texas Microbreweries look well prepared as they seek to legalize direct sales to consumers. The FTM is a coalition of Texas craft breweries and beer lovers, with every Texas microbrewery lending support.

“We can no longer ignore the fact that 14 out of 19 microbreweries have failed in Texas in part because current regulations disadvantage microbrewing small businesses,” said Saint Arnold Brewing co-founder Brock Wagner. “This common-sense proposal will allow Texas microbrewers to compete with out-of-state microbrewers on a level playing field.”

Saint Arnold is at the fore, and launched the St. Arnold Goes to Austin Blog. The name? “It evokes the idealism of ‘Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.’ We’re testing the idea that an organized campaign can succeed in changing the law through a little hard work and the grassroots support of the Saint Arnold Army.”

Texas is famous for several beers – most notably Lone Star and Pearl – that live on even though the breweries where they once were made closed long ago. You can’t tour them. Every Saturday morning Saint Arnold is open for tours. The only thing that might make those better is if you could take home beer or six.

Who owns the beer revolution?

OK, change of plan. Yesterday’s discussion about whether consumers will continue to accept the idea Foster’s is “Australian for beer” when four out of five pints are brewed in the United Kingdom was to be followed with more about the importance of authenticity to both brewers and beer drinkers.

We’ll do that, but instead of starting from conversations during the Craft Brewers Conference in Seattle (the insiders’ view), there’s an outsider’s view worth reading. New York Times wine writer Eric Asimov writes in his blog, The Pour:

I always enjoy writing about beer. Occasionally, though, I am mystified by the hard-core beer lovers, who crave respect and recognition for the wonderful artisanal brews that are now available, but sometimes seem intolerant of anyone outside their realm who addresses the subject.

Let’s own up to the fact he’s talking about us. If you’re reading this then you must be hard-core, because this blog is a niche within a niche (the craft beer market). That doesn’t mean you have to be intolerant. On the other hand, perhaps you don’t think intolerant is such a bad idea (sorry, I do).

Hear him out.

I can understand their feelings, I think. Many of them have carried the torch for beer for many years without much recognition, and they naturally feel a certain amount of ownership of the subject. After a while, insularity becomes comforting, especially when the culture as a whole seems so much more interested in industrial swill than great beer.

But the attitude goes deeper than that. Many connoisseurs I’ve spoken with want to see beer given the same sort of cultural obeisance as wine. They want it to be regarded as a complex, delicious, worthy art form, yet they quail at the pretentiousness that trails after wine. In fact, beer lovers are so afraid of anything that even hints of pretension that they ward it off like God-fearing peasants making the signs of the cross at vampires.

Put a bunch of beer-lovers in a room and chances are you will see an utter disregard of fashion: goofy T-shirts, bizarre ties, wild, unruly facial hair and haircuts that could not possibly have been rendered by a professional. In short, you have the same determinedly nonconformist demographic as you would at a science-fiction convention.

Calm down. He admits that at the end he’s having a bit of fun. Back up to the part where he talks about ownership (that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look in the mirror while you read the rest).

Listen to Saint Arnold Brewing founder Brock Wagner, whose customers donated money so the brewery could upgrade its system. “I can’t really say why they did it other than I’ve come to realize I may own the stock, but it’s not my brewery,” he said. “It belongs to everybody who drinks Saint Arnold beer.”

Maybe you don’t find it easy to be so generous. At the risk of sounding pretentious, the American beer revolution has been about reclaiming the soul of beer from industrial producers, and that required a certain brashness.

Dogfish Head Brewery founder Sam Calagione put it this way in his Craft Brewers Conference keynote address:

“Americans will always vehemently protect their right to create an alternative. Not just an alternative to giant breweries – which is what we represent – but to the increasing corporatization of American culture.

“It’s not outlandish to recognize our boiling kettles as modern day melting pots – the sources of beers as diverse and colorful as the people who buy them. Made by people as diverse and colorful as the people who buy them.”

That’s about as authentic as it gets. It belongs to all of us, and to none of us.

You don’t always have to think about the beer

In searching looking for something else before heading to the Craft Brewers Conference today, I ended up reading most of an interview conducted with Saint Arnold Brewing co-founder Brock Wagner more than two years ago. The resulting story was for craft beer industry members, and mostly about business, but this short exchange is relative to the ongoing conversation here.

BW: We’re trying to add 10 customers at a time. The big brewers are trying to add a million.

We’re in different businesses. We both make something called beer, but they don’t really taste much alike. The big brewers are of a completely different mindset. A-B has more in common with Coca-Cola than they do with us. That’s not to say their beer is bad. It’s just different from what we make. If you look at their advertising you see they are trying to sell lifestyle.

And what are you selling?

BW: I think we’re selling a really good beer. We want you to think about what you are drinking. I’ll think about the beer when I first taste it. After that I’m sitting there with my wife and with friends shooting the breeze and it becomes background. But periodically I will think about the beer again.

In case you don’t know, Wagner gave up a career in investment banking to help start Saint Arnold, then bought out his original partner when they figured out the brewery was not going to be big enough to support both of them.

“I ran the numbers and figured I could keep a roof over my head, have a house, some kids, retire at 65 and take a vacation every year,” he said. “In investment banking, it’s all about money. I realized that money wasn’t what motivated me in life.”

I’m looking forward to the rest of a week in which I get to have conversations with Wagner and a lot of other brewers like him, artisans driven by the desire to create something special. And I’m looking forward to drinking their beer, shooting the breeze as beer drifts into the background, then thinking about it again.

Good idea, Brock.

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