Of the four basic ingredients in beer – water, grains, hops, and yeast – the latter is the most misunderstood. For years, I’ve pegged yeast as the simple worker bee of the fermentation process, merely creating the bubbles and booze in beer. Over the past couple of years, however, through research, conversations with brewers, and sampling hundreds of beers (a guy’s gotta do research), I’ve discovered that much of a beer’s signature flavor comes from yeast.
An art exhibit at Oxbow Brewing Company’s Portland tasting room highlights this mysterious brewing ingredient. In beerDNA, as the exhibit is called, photographer Dash Masland presents manipulated molecular photographs of yeast from sixteen Maine breweries.
beerDNA gives yeast its propers both visually and in bringing it to the forefront of the beer conversation.
First, a word about the art. Masland’s molecular photographs are beautiful. The images induce an effect reminiscent of Rothko. It’s a study in shapes and colors. The prints evoke out-of-focus cityscapes, Atari video game aesthetics, abstract art transcendence, and an experience I once had in college. There’s a mystical nature to these photographs.
As an art exhibit itself, beerDNA is worth the visit. Plus, you can drink Oxbow beer while you take in the yeast retrospective (on my last visit, I was digging their Freestyle 28 Blonde IPA).
In terms of how the art exhibit helps Maine craft beer lovers better understand the role yeast plays in the beer we love, beerDNA’s four page information sheet containing comments from brewers is invaluable.
One of the key words in many of the yeast names on this sheet is ‘house’—as in, Allagash Brewing House Brettanomyces Yeast. Most breweries play around with yeast strains to dial in particular characteristics they want to impart in their beer, thus creating a ‘house’ yeast strain.
Yeast is a key component—if not the key component—in creating a brewery’s signature flavor profile. Yeast creates esters, phenols, and fusel alcohols. In a saison or a sour beer, these yeast by-products are turned up; in pale ales and IPAs, they are dialed back to let the hops shine.
If you really love the beers made by a particular brewery that means your palate loves their house yeast.
For instance, have you ever purchased a flight of beers at Maine Beer Company’s tasting room and thought, These beers all taste very similar? The yeast is playing an essential role here. In the brewer’s statement on the beerDNA information sheet, founder Dan Kleban explains that their particular American Ale Yeast is “very attenuative (ferments sugar very well) resulting in the kind of clean, dry finish we were looking for.”
Oxbow co-owner Tim Adams expounds on their house saison yeast: “The complex spice and fruit aromas and flavors this yeast creates certainly help define our beer.”
Before you ruin your eye with the information sheet, however, stand in front of these pieces of art in beerDNA and reconcile with the abstract beauty of yeast. And if anyone is looking to buy me a gift, pick me up the Allagash Brewing House Brettanomyces Yeast print.
WHERE: Oxbow Blending and Bottling Room, 49 Washington Ave, Portland
WHEN: May 8 to June 29
COST: Limited Edition Prints: $275 Unframed, $375 Framed
MORE INFO: www.dashmasland.com
OTHER BEER HAPPENINGS
Sebago Brewing Company Moves to Can Production
Sebago Brewing opened in 1998, making them part of the team of brewers who are now the old guard of Maine brewing. Sebago, however, has been working hard to stay current in the twenty-first century craft beer renaissance, most notably by ditching their hefeweizen last summer and replacing it with a hop-forward session IPA called Simmer Down. In their latest move to stay in vogue Sebago is transitioning from bottle production to cans. Smart move, since Frye’s Leap and Simmer Down are great summer beers, and cans make beer more portable and welcome in more places where bottles are a hazard. Grab some cans this summer.
Allagash Brewing Raises $10,000 for Full Plates Full Potential
Over 650 beer lovers from around the country descended on Allagash Brewing Company on May 15th for their Wild Friendship Celebration. The event raised over $10,000 for Full Plates Full Potential, a charity to help end childhood hunger in Maine. The event not only allowed guests to imbibe the brilliant Wild Friendship Blend, a sour collaboration between Allagash Brewing, Russian River Brewing, and Cantillon Brewing, but it raised money and awareness for a great Maine cause. Be on the lookout for more benevolent beer events from Allagash and other Maine brewers. Let’s help the world while drinking craft beer.