Thursday, July 19, 2012

Beer with Wine Yeast?

The Brewing Network moved studios earlier this summer and had a few "Best of the BN" shows on during the transition.  One of them was an interview with Shea Comfort, a wine consultant and homebrewer loosely associated with MoreBeer, that originally aired in November 2008.  I remember originally being impressed at his discussions involving the use of oak as an ingredient and the characteristics of wine yeasts.  Hearing the interview again convinced me that I needed to try one of Shea's ideas soon.

Shea spoke at length about different wine yeasts and the characters they impart to mead and wine.  These include a number of characteristics that brewing yeasts do not possess, including actual structural mouth feel components, as well as some very interesting fruit characters.  However, wine yeast cannot normally be used to ferment wort because of the longer-chain sugars, such as maltotriose, that exist in wort.  The resulting beverage would be very sweet and not attenuate nearly enough to be drinkable.  Shea introduced several techniques to address this problem, including yeast blending. 

During the interview, Shea stated that yeast strains can be characterized as 'neutral', 'susceptible', and 'killer' with regards to their ability to co-exist with other strains.  Those strains that are 'killer' produce a substance that will quickly prevent 'susceptible' strains from being able to reproduce and effectively die off.  'Neutral' strains are immune to the killing substance and can co-exist with either other type.  All brewing yeasts are 'susceptible' and all but one wine yeast strain are 'killer', thus the strains cannot normally live together in the same fermentation.  However, one possibility does exist, using Lalvin 71B-1122, which is a 'neutral' strain that produces tropical fruit flavors.

Armed with Shea's information, I set out to attempt a beer that used 71B and a beer yeast.  A recent post highlighted the BeerSmith cloud recipe site.  I found an interesting twist on an English mild recipe there, one that used Amarillo hops, which have a distinct citrus/tropical fruit character.  This seemed to be a perfect recipe to use as a blended yeast experiment, as both the 71B and the hops would bring similar flavors to the resulting beer.  For fermenting this beer, I pitched half of the yeast as 71B and the other half as Windsor dry English yeast (5 grams each).  Fermentation started in the normal time frame and now I am waiting on the results to see what flavors were generated by the yeast blend.

If you have ever tried to ferment wort with a wine yeast or other non-traditional yeast, please let us know.  We would love to hear about it.




  1. Its funny that you wrote this. When I was listening to the "Best of" I was writing that wine yeast down on my hand as I was driving. I am working on a recipe but I'm going for a split batch of Rye Stout. One with 001 and one with 71b. Maybe I can catch some fruit phenols without any additions.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Lewy. I loved the idea and how it was presented on the BN interview. I am very much looking forward to seeing how the beer turns out. Post another comment, if you don't mind, with what recipe you settle on and how it turns out.

  3. Any updates on how this beer turned out? I am interested in trying a similar recipe. Thanks!

  4. Thanks for asking, Anon. I am planning on writing up tasting notes soon, possibly even for Monday's post. Thanks for your interest.


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