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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.

Under the radar, all things are relative

Marble Brewery in Albuquerque recently installed three more fermenters (above, on the left), each holding 45 barrels (almost 1,400 gallons). Marble brews mostly ales, so running 26 batches through each fermenter over the course of a year would constitute a leisurely pace and still yield more than 3,500 barrels.

Now consider this. When Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi founded Sierra Nevada thirty years ago the business plan called for production to max out at 3,000 barrels. “We figured we could make money at that, we wouldn’t get rich but we’d get by,” said Grossman, now the company president. Sierra Nevada produced 1,500 barrels the first year (1980) and passed 3,000 in its fifth. It now brews nearly 700,000 annually.

All things are relative. Yesterday Stephen Beaumont pointed to a Wall Street Journal story about U.S. beer sales volume falling. He suggests this is a victory for boire moins, boire mieux (drink less, drink better). I’m certainly on board with the drink better part.

He writes that the WSJ “doesn’t see this because they’re used to looking only at the large, public corporation side of things.” Indeed, 3,000 barrels here, 3,000 barrels there . . . nothing to the global beer powers. But 3,000 barrels equals close to one million 12-ounce bottles. To those of us buying niche beers that’s a lot of bottles.

Before 2009 no New Mexico brewery since Prohibition (and we don’t have numbers from before) had brewed 5,000 barrels. Marble made 5,200 last year, an increase from 1,950 in 2008 (the brewery began selling beer in April that year). The increase was a ridiculous 267 percent, the actual growth 3,250 barrels.

OK, you never heard of Marble. That’s part of the point. Also Great Divide Brewing in Colorado grew a little over 3,000 barrels (34 percent) in 2009 to about 12,000 barrels. And sales at Saint Arnold Brewing in Texas increased 13 percent (production rising not quite 3,000 barrels) to nearly 26,000 barrels.

We’ll never know how much Bud Light Lime A-B InBev sold in the Albuquerque area in 2009. Maybe it was more than 3,000 barrels, but it’s still just another brand passing through. Before that it was Miller Chill. Nothing changes.

But things have changed in the cooler at the only market in the village where I live. Corrales is an anomaly, long and narrow with about 8,000 people and no stop lights. Albuquerque and Rio Rancho are hard by and that’s where most people shop. Drive two miles past Frontier Mart and there’s a full-size grocery store with cheaper milk and a fully stocked liquor store.

Still, Frontier always had a solid, if limited, wine selection and the usual “craft” beer suspects. Then this fall they squeezed soft drinks into one cooler facing, making room for many more beers. Instead of just offering Sierra Nevada Pale Ale they have Torpedo. Always something from Deschutes and Full Sail. More than Fat Tire from New Belgium. And at least four New Mexico beers.

A-B InBev still owns the floor display, including its lineup of beers brewed in Belgium, but this is real change. Change not so easily measured by numbers.


Of course we’re headed back to number season, and there’s every chance figures for 2009 may not look as glossy as recent years. We know Boston Beer production was up 1.6 percent in 2009, and Samuel Adams sales seldom stray far from the rest of craft (in no small part because they account for more than one bottles sold out of every five). In 2008 the category was up six percent, Sam Adams six percent. In 2007, Sam Adams 14 percent and “craft” 12 percent. You get the idea.


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.

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