American Yeast Strains Part 2 “Ale Yeasts”

Last time I tried to start my American Ale yeast entry I got extremely side-tracked talking about key terms and concepts about yeast in general.  Because of my epic failure to actually talk about what I planned, I am trying once again to focus in on American Yeast strains, and this time I promise to remain on task and get to the point.

At this point we have already established the importance of yeast.  Yeast is clearly a major player when it comes to the flavor and aroma of your brew.  It dictates the speed, quality and overall effectiveness of your fermentation; and it can be affected as well as take on different characteristics (some desirable some not) based on the conditions and temperature at which fermentation is taking place.  While these things are true no matter what type of yeast you are using, yeasts from different regions have their own unique set of characteristics that set them apart from other similarly used strains from different regions.

Hence, today’s focus on American based strains.  I’ll foreworn you that it is nearly impossible to provide a comprehensive overview of ever specific yeast strain available to the homebrewer.  There are new strains constantly coming out, hybridizations of multiple strains, and even new yeast manufacturers that make it impossible to keep up with the constant change and additional options.  That being said, I will do my best to provide a detailed description of what is available, what you can expect from using different strains and how you can effectively improve and enhance your beers based on the yeast you decide to use.

A look at multiple batches fermenting using top-fermenting ale yeasts.

A look at multiple batches fermenting using top-fermenting ale yeasts.

The first question any brewer should ask is what can be expected from selecting an American Style Yeast as the catalyst for a beer?

The reality of this question is that it is always based on what particular American Yeast Strain you are using, again adding to the complexity and confusion surronding the world of yeast.  However, for the sake of this discussion let us first look at the most basic, or standard versions of American Ale Yeasts.  Just about any yeast manufacturer has their standard “go-to” American Yeast strain.  While it goes by a variety of different names based on the company (i.e. Californian, Chico, American, US) they all tend to have a very similar profile and usage.  These strains are for a lack of better words, “clean”.  They produce less esters and phenols then just about any other yeast strain, and are ultimately excellent selections for just about any type of standard ale.  Whether you are brewing a pale ale, IPA, porter or some other sort of wacky concoction, these strains will get the job done while letting other ingredients and elements remain the star of the beer.  The idea of these strains being “clean” generally means that the yeast profile of the beer will be minimal, allowing the beer to reflect its hop or malt profile (or other ingredients) rather than flavors emitted from the yeast.  These strains often find a middle ground with the other major factors regarding yeast, resulting in a strain that has medium flocculation and medium attenuation.  I also like to refer to these particular strains as the perfect “basement yeast strain”, in other words these strains do best at standard basement temperatures with the ideal temperature being 68 degrees and fluctuating a couple of degrees in either direction.

You really cannot go wrong when using a strain that falls into this category, since you really know exactly what you are getting and what the end result will be in regards to your beer’s yeast profile.  These strains are also the perfect choice for hop experimentation.  While many strains accentuate fruity, spicy or earthy notes which can greatly enhance the effects of certain hops, these basic American strains will allow you to identify a hop profile in its rawest form.  Whenever I am trying a new hopping technique or am creating a single-hopped beer to try out a new hop and identify what it brings to the table, I always find myself returning to a standard American Ale Yeast in order to maximize my ability to get the truest flavor and aroma out of that particular hop.  It can be extremely difficult to understand a hop profile if you are using a yeast that alters the overall profile of the beer.

Common Examples: White Labs WLP001, White Labs WLP090, WYEAST1056 American Ale, Fermentis SAFALE US-05

A clean American Ale yeast Strain from White Labs

A clean American Ale yeast Strain from White Labs


“Fruitier Strains”

I throw the title of this section in quotations due to the overwhelming misinterpretation of what is meant by a fruity yeast strain.  Too often that term is relegated to the idea that a beer is suddenly going to taste like a blueberry infused fruit beer.  That concept could not be further from the truth.  When discussing the idea of fruity notes from either hops or yeast we are looking, most often, at the slightest infusion of undertones of tropical and  citrus notes reminiscent of certain fruit groupings in the beer.  A fruity yeast strain may enhance the idea of certain fruit elements being present in the beer, but is a far throw from the idea of actual fruit being used in the process.  In my personal opinion, when used properly, fruity notes from yeast or hops will provide a depth and complexity of flavor in the beer, while still allowing all the other major elements of a quality brew to play their role; as opposed to the biggest argument against true fruit beers where people complain all they can taste is fruit, most often of the artificial variety.  When I think of great beers that use fruity yeasts or hops to enhance their beer and create a palatable flavor profile and aroma, I think of beers such as Sculpin from Ballast Point, Julius or Green from Treehouse Brewing, Modus Hoperandi from Ska Brewing and even Double Trouble from Founders.  All of these beers are great examples of brews that use hints of either tropical or citrus fruits to enhance the flavor and the beer’s complexity.  While many of these flavors comes from the choice of hops in each unique brew, the yeast used for each beer can have a profound effect on the level of hoppiness and fruitiness based on the strain being used and what it brings to the table.

It is important that when selecting a yeast that is deemed “fruity” you, as a brewer, identify what level of fruitiness you are looking for, what other elements in the beer may lend it self to, or counteract that particular flavor/aroma, and that the overall recipe is cohesive.  Unlike the “clean” American strains, these yeasties will impart a large amount of flavor and character into your beer and if you are attempting to create a piney/earthy pale ale and innoculate it with a fruity yeast you may not receive the desired outcome you are searching for.  Most yeast producers will have at least one strain of American Yeast that produces fruity notes and esters, some may have multiple strains so it is always important to read and identify what exactly that yeast will impart into your beer.

Common Examples: White Labs WLP041 Pacific Ale, White Labs WLP051 California Ale V, WYEAST 1187 Ringwood Ale, WYEAST 1272 American Ale II, WYEAST 1332 Northwest Ale.  Lallemand BRY-97

American Ale II "smack pack" from Wyeast Laboratories.  Fruity than its American Ale Yeast counterpart.

American Ale II “smack pack” from Wyeast Laboratories. Fruity than its American Ale Yeast counterpart.

“East Side”

While this is not a blog entry on the difference between the “east coast” IPA and the “west coast” IPA, for the sake of discussing this particular spin on American Ale Yeasts, I think it is worthwhile exploring the basic difference.  While both versions of an IPA are “hoppy” at their core, west coast IPA’s tend to be more hop forward, having a more distinct bitterness as well as a more pungent hop flavor and aroma whether it be fruity, piney, earthy etc.  Conversely east coast IPA’s tend to be noted for having a slightly more subtle hop profile and lean towards being more malty.  By the same token certain American Yeast strains are more “east coast” in style then some of the aforementioned yeasts, especially those classified in the fruity section.  These particular strains are somewhat similar to the classic “clean” strains in the sense that they have more of a neutral flavor profile allowing other aspects of the beer to be the “star”.  However unlike some of those “clean” standard strains these strains tend to be less flocculant and less attenuative.  This ends up resulting in a slightly maltier profile and has even been known to lend a slight hint of tartness to the brew.  The flavor profile is still clean and ester free but the hop bitterness is less accentuated, causing the beer to have a slightly lighter hop profile.  These strains tend to work great for beers where you would want a slightly sweeter or maltier outcome such as golden ales, some pale ales, blondes and even “sweeter” beers that may focus on flavors or adjuncts such as honey.  Overall, these strains avoid pulling out to much of the hops in order to allow the malt profile, grain bill and other flavors to step forward.

Sadly, there is not nearly as much variety in the American Yeast family for this particular type of strain.  While there are many English strains that can help provide you with this profile, there is a very limited selection when it comes to the American versions.

Most Common Example:  White Labs WLP008 East Coast Ale


A whole lot of fermentation going on...

A whole lot of fermentation going on…

There are still plenty other American Yeast Strains, that I have not had the opportunity to elaborate on, including wheat strains, lager strains and specialty strains.  However in regards to straight-forward American Ale Strains, this should help give you a better idea of what is out there, what to expect, and perhaps provide you with ideas on how to use them to their maximum potential.  As is the case with any aspect of brewing, experimentation is key and ultimately everything and anything is possible.  However, yeast is a tricky ingredient and makes a huge impact on the final product when you are brewing, so my advice to everyone is to understand yeast, know its impact on a beer and spend time to carefully select the best option for your desired outcome.


Until next time!

Happy Brewing!!!!

Tags: american ale yeast, , clean yeast strains, fermentation, homebrew, white labs, wyeast, yeast

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