Yeast: The beast that gives beer its character – Tipsy-Turvy

Our columnist meets a Yeastie Boy to find out more about the role yeast plays in brewing beer.
YEAST is beautiful – it’s like the magic of beer,” declared Stu McKinlay, co-founder of New Zealand craft brewers Yeastie Boys. “Everything else you can taste and smell before you put them in the beer; but with yeast, it goes in there and all the exciting characteristics it gives the beer only come AFTER the beer is ready, so you need to use it to really get to know it.
Yeast, of course, is one of the most important components of brewing beer. These single-celled microorganisms “eat” fermentable sugars and convert them into alcohol and other by-products (including carbon dioxide).
In the beer industry, the most common types of yeast are top-fermenting ale yeast (used to brew ales, porters, stouts, and wheat beers), and the bottom-fermenting lager yeast (lagers, pilsners). In Belgium, traditional lambic beer brewers expose their beer to the open air so their beers can be fermented by natural wild yeast in the air, a process called spontaneous fermenting.
According to McKinlay, there are hundreds of different types of yeast that can be used for brewing beer. “You can brew eight British ales with eight different British ale yeasts, and they would all be quite different,” he said during an interview at Taps Beer Bar, Kuala Lumpur recently.
“The differences there would be quite subtle, compared to if you were brewing two beers, one with Belgian yeast and one with American yeast.”
Yeastie Boys’ craft beers are available at Taps Beer Bar. – MICHAEL CHEANG/The Star

Most brewers would experiment more with different hops rather than yeast, which McKinlay acknowledges is a lot easier to do. “With hops, you can rub them together and smell them to get an idea of how they might combine; but with yeast, you wouldn’t know what you’ll get until you use it,” he said.
The way you use the yeast and the temperatures used to brew the beer can make a huge difference to the beer as well. “I like to use a lot of Belgian yeasts at a low temperature, but they can be brewed at higher temperatures as well. The difference between those yeasts at those temperatures can be very pronounced – most people wouldn’t even know it’s the same yeast,” explained the brewer, who founded Yeastie Boys with Sam Possenniskie six years ago.
McKinlay, who started out as a home brewer, said that the beer scene in NZ wasn’t very exciting back when he first started brewing.
“There were some older established craft breweries but they weren’t making many exciting beers. And as a home brewer I was brewing different beers all the time, and I was getting a lot of friends coming around my house to drink my home brews! They would turn up, not to see me, but just to drink my beers!” he said.
As McKinlay got more and more involved in the beer industry, he found out that many craft breweries were not operating to their full capacity. After becoming friends with Steve Nally of Invercargill Brewery, he asked if he could start brewing in his brewery.
“He said yes, and it just kind of went on from there,” McKinley recalled. “We started off brewing different beers every time and didn’t brew the same kind of beers at all. It was only after one year that we started brewing Pot Kettle Black regularly, and that became our first regular beer,” he said.
Since then, the brewery has grown from strength to strength, winning multiple awards at international beer events and increasing their regular beer portfolio from one to six beers now, and are preparing to launch another two this year.
Among them is Pot Kettle Black, which won a gold medal at the 2009 BrewNZ Beer Awards, is so-called “hoppy porter” with a “contradiction of styles – fresh and hoppy yet rich and dark. Then there’s the peaty Rex Attitude golden ale, a peaty beast of a beer that lovers of Islay Scotch whisky might appreciate, and the popular Gunnamatta tea-infused spice beer.
Although McKinlay’s affection towards yeast undoubtedly played a part, the name Yeastie Boys was actually inspired by legendary rap group Beastie Boys. “I’m really into music, and all our beer names are musical references as well. Pot Kettle Black was named after a song by (American rock band) Wilco, Rex Attitude comes from some French techno song I used to listen to when I was a DJ many years ago,” he said. “Gunnamatta is from (Australian singer) Paul Kelly – we originally brewed that for an Australian brew fest so we went for an Australian name. We didn’t expect to brew more than one batch of it, but now it’s our most popular beer! We brew twice as much of that beer as any other beer.”
Though they only use two different yeasts for most of their regular beers these days, McKinlay said he used to experiment with different yeasts all the time. “In the beginning when we were brewing different beers all the time, we played around with the yeast a lot,” said McKinlay. “Our first 20 beers used about 18 different yeasts, and when I was a home brewer, I would experiment with brewing the same beer with different yeast.”
Experimenting with yeast can be quite difficult, especially when you’ve got lots of beers going with lots of different yeasts, and you’ve got to keep track of all of them. “We’ve had mistakes with yeast before – I’ve put them in the wrong beer, and we didn’t notice it until the beer was ready. In the end, we had to release it as a “special release” beer.
“The funny thing is, people really liked it and wanted us to release it as a regular beer, but we can’t because we didn’t really know what yeast it was!” he said with a laugh.
Michael Cheang wishes more craft brewers would fight for their right to be yeasty.
Better Beer Fest is back
FANCY some craft beer today? Curious to try some Yeastie Boys beers?
Head on over to the Better Beer Fest at Taps Beer Bar, starting from 2pm today (Sept 6)!
Featuring more than 200 craft beers from 28 brewers, the Better Beer Fest is the best place to go to try some of the most exciting new craft beers from around the world.
A minimum donation of RM10 to the Kiwanis Down Syndrome Foundation will get you a free beer sample at the door.
Taps Beer Bar @ Changkat is located at One Residency, No 1, Jalan Nagasari (03-2110 1560;

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