Thursday, October 31, 2013

Wine Yeast & Brett Fermented Oak-Aged Strong Ale - Recipe & Brew Day

Do you ever lay awake at night just thinking about the vast unknowns in the wide wonderful world of yeast? I know I do. In fact, it's hard to sleep at all, knowing how much yeast is out there unbrewed-with. Much of this excitement, as you may have noticed, is directed toward Brettanomyces, but it's helpful to remember that there are a zillion other fermentative microbes lurking on the sidelines as well, even within the realm of domesticated Saccharomyces. Take, for instance, "wine yeast," which happens to just be a smallish group of Sacch strains that got roped into fermenting juice-based beverages somewhere along the way. While most people are dismissive of wine (or "grape mead," as you'll hear it called in some haughty establishments) as a brutish concoction — fashioned by crudely smashing pieces of fruit together and tossing the mangled remains into a bucket — others may still glean some interesting tidbits from this arcane curiosity.

I got the idea to use wine yeast in a beer from reading an experiment by Chris Lewis over at, so hat tip for the inspiration. I also need to mention Shea Comfort, who was on the Brewing Network a few years ago giving an excellent interview about this entire subject, as well as oak-aging. Most of the information online regarding wine yeast-fermented beers can be traced back to Shea Comfort. I have listened to parts of that interview numerous times already, and will probably listen to it again within the next couple days.

One often hears of bottling beers with champagne yeast for their high alcohol tolerance and tendency to fart out lots of CO2 in almost any environment, but there's a lot more to wine yeast than a knack for carbonating bottles. The unique Sacch strains used to ferment wine are especially fascinating to me, as they possess some truly odd characteristics. Somehow, most wine yeast have evolved a "kill factor," a trait as deadly as the name implies. Drop a wine yeast into a beverage alongside a standard beer strain, and guess what? Your beer yeast is dead, all dead. Depressing and a little disturbing, right? How fitting that I am posting this on Halloween. It seems very odd to me that wine yeast specifically have developed this trait, whereas it's unheard of in the beer brewing world. I'm sure there's some explanation for why this would've happened in one fermentive environment and not another, but right now, it just seems like wine yeast is kind of a dick.

This killing enzyme thing would hardly even be an issue if you could just use it all on its own, except that wine yeast's other main trait is an inability to ferment maltotriose / maltose. When it comes to the sugars present in wine and mead, this isn't a factor, but in beer, the result will be a lot of residual sugar left over— what we brewers might view as a "stuck" fermentation about a 1/3 of the way from normal terminal gravity. Shea Comfort mentions a few work-arounds for this, including blending batches, and a commercially-available enzyme that breaks down complex sugars into simple, fermentable sugars. (I was not familiar with the specific product he mentioned, but I would imagine it does much the same thing as Beano). In one scenario, you have a beer that's only partially fermented with the wine yeast, and in another, you have a beer that's perhaps over-fermented due to the enzymatic breakdown of all complex sugars.

There is one 'catch' to the kill factor of these wine yeast: it only works on members of its own genus. And Brettanomyces — belonging to another genus of yeast — ain't care. Brett has no time for your precious grapes. So, this does two very important things for my jollies. For one, I get to brew a beer modeled vaguely after a wine, fermented with wine yeast, aged on oak, and then infect it with Brettanomyces, the worst nightmare for most winemakers. So: ha ha ha. Hahahahaha. Hahahahahahaha. Secondly, the Brett should happily munch away at all those residual sugars, eventually dropping the gravity of the brew down to where I'd like it, an acceptably dry terminal gravity. At least, that's the idea.

Here's what remains to be seen, though: will Brett do some weird and/or wonderful things with the esters of the wine yeast? It's hard to say. All my hahas and fun-poking aside, this experiment could very well end up terrible. I really have no clue how this will taste in the end. I am willing to entertain the notion that maybe winemakers fear Brett for a reason — that perhaps Brett plays weirdly with the esters of wine yeast, and will create much less agreeable flavors than it does in my usual beers. I don't think so, but it's certainly a possibility. The wine yeast is a rather large variable itself, flavor-wise. After pitching one packet of Lalvin RC-212 Dry Wine Yeast, I experienced furious fermentation the next day — actually one of the most aggressive fermentations I've ever seen, with an airlock that sounded more like machine gun fire. Rampant as it was, the smell was not great — somewhere between musty basement, old socks, and sulfur — and I can only hope that months of aging will bring out the cherry / berry fruit flavors I expect to achieve. The aroma was similar to some gone-wrong English beers I've encountered, but this one is going to be given plenty of time to morph into a beautiful butterfly; and anyway, I haven't even added the Brett yet.

But if this experiment is successful, I will absolutely be trying this on the other side of the color spectrum, using a white wine yeast in a pale farmhouse ale.

4.5 Gal., All Grain
Brewed: 10.25.2013
Brewhouse Efficiency: 76%
Mashed at 147 F for 70 minutes
Fermented at ambient room temp / 70 F
OG: 1.069 / 17 Brix
FG: 1.010
ABV: 7.8%

61.4% (7 lbs) 2-row malt
26.3% (3 lbs) Munich malt
6.6% (12 oz) rye
3.5% (6.4 oz) Special B
2.2% (4 oz) Chocolate wheat malt

Hop Schedule-
0.5 oz / 17 IBU Northern Brewer @FWH
0.5 oz / 10 IBU Northern Brewer @20 min

0.75 oz American medium toast oak cubes

Lalvin RC-212 Dry Wine Yeast
BKYeast C1 Brettanomyces
BKYeast C2 Brettanomyces


  1. I really enjoyed the finished porter I did with 71B wine yeast. (The only non toxic wine yeast) The wine fermentation was really memorizing to watch vs a traditional fermentation. Higher gravity test is a great idea. I'm still playing around in my head about doing a Brett Primary Belgian Dark Strong and Wine Primary Belgian Dark Strong Blend.

    Here is the link to my Wine Fermented Porter.

    Can't wait to read about the results.

    1. Yeah, I like that blending idea too. Didn't even think of taking it that way with Brett, it could be a good strategy to have this done in a little less time. Your results were encouraging, I think there are a lot of opportunities to use these yeast as a new tool. I'll probably try out a pale white wine version sooner rather than later.

    2. Your white wine yeast in a Farmhouse ale idea sounds great. Considering the speculation in Markowski's book that the Dupont yeast may have descended from wine yeast and tends to stall out in the same way, it could be intriguing. And they have the high carbonation of champagne (Brooklyn's Sorachi Ace uses champagne yeast). Looking forward to the results!

  2. Great recipe! I just love the whole procedure of wine making from fermentation through bottling. I also love wine and I often do experiments with several recopies to prepare wine at home. Wine making is not only a fun, but it also requires a deep knowledge of ingredients and flavors. The recipe you mentioned above is perfect and I am definitely going to try this recipe at home. I hope my husband will love it.

  3. Cool experiment, really looking forward to seeing these results. That seems like a great way to deal with any potential underattenuation from the wine yeast.

    If I recall correctly, the reason the killer toxin thing shows up in wine yeasts is that they can't sterilize the must. So, a strain that will potentially destroy other (similar) yeasts is an advantage when you want a more controlled fermentation free from wild Saccharomyces. I do know for a fact, though, that not all strains of Saccharomyces are sensitive to the toxin.

    1. Thanks. That makes a lot of sense, I never thought of it in terms of sanitation. Having a yeast strain that immediately kills off a good chunk of its competitors would be pretty helpful.

      Are there any 'beer' strains that are immune that you know of?

    2. Not that I know of. It's something that you can get ID's from a lab like Siebel, but I'm sure that's really expensive. They test whether it produces the toxin, and whether it's sensitive to it.

  4. porter and red wine yeast for next beer-wine infused project?

  5. according to what lalvin states in the chart below RC-212 is "neutral" about the competitive factor, so it can go even with a normal ale yeast. I'm going to try it for a sort of witbier w/concentrate grapejuice in the secondary. I think i'll use it in the primary, low mash, and if attenuation is not ok i'll ask us05 for some help..

  6. sorry, forgot the yeast specs sheet:


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