Yeast Experiments This Weekend

Cheers to Belgian Beers Festival 2008
Saturday, April 5, 2008; Noon - 11:00 PM

Roots Organic Brewing Company
1520 SE 7th Ave
(503) 235-7668
$5 commemorative glass and $1 tasters, proceeds go to charity
Put this on your calendar: this Saturday, Roots will be hosting the second-annual "Cheers to Belgian Beers" fest slash experiment. Roots won the first edition, and therefore the right to host. (Though unfortunately, this means no info, since their website is months out of date.)

However, we know enough to assume this is going to be one of the most interesting events on the annual beer calendar. First, we know that the brewery list includes some stellar Portland brewers--more than a few of whom have been experimenting with Belgian yeast for years: Alameda Brewhouse, Amnesia Brewing, Hair of the Dog, Hopworks Urban Brewery, Laurelwood, Lucky Lab Brewery, McMenamin's Crystal Brewery in collaboration with John Barleycorn's, McMenamin's CPR, New Old Lompoc, Philadelphia's, BJ's, Raccoon Lodge, Rock Bottom Brewery, and Roots.

And we also know that brewers have only one limitation on the beer styles--use of the Belgian Ardennes strain from Wyeast. It is purported to be the strain La Chouffe uses, and that combined with the scanty info from Wyeast suggests it should provide a fairly flexible palette for brewers to work with. Says Wyeast:
One of many great beer yeast to produce classic Belgian ales. Phenolics develop with increased fermentation temperatures, mild fruitiness and complex spicy character.
They suggest it can be used to make everything from dubbels to Flanders browns, though that seems a stretch. Alcohol tolerance goes up to 12%, so just about anything is possible. The ability to produce phenolics could offer brewers some interesting alternatives (including saison) to the abbey-style and pale ales the yeast is probably normally used in. When I visited the Raccoon Lodge last month I tasted Ron Gansberg's project, which included some interesting botanicals as well as a laborious process.

I've been touting yeast as the X-factor in craft brewing evolution. Mostly breweries have explored the ranges possible with hops and alcohol. But yeast is the most versatile, beer-changing ingredient available to breweries. I love the idea of a friendly competition that riffs on yeast, and I expect big, big things. It's probably going to be packed to the gills (Roots is fairly wee), so I plan on being there early.