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One of the most interesting stops on my craft beer tasting room tour was at a non-brewery. The powers that be at White Labs, one of the largest yeast production companies in the United States, allowed me to come in to check out their new tasting room during a special pre-open friends-and-family dry run.

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Slated to officially open to the public on June 15 (White Labs day in the City of San Diego) this new addition to the Miramar area is in the midst of a soft-open period. Even though they’re working out service kinks (official tasting bar staff have yet be hired, so the folks behind the bar are everyday lab and office employees), this place is well worth visiting.

The White Labs tasting room is a first of its interactive bar-slash-classroom where people can learn, first-hand, the major differences each style of White Labs' 100-plus strains of yeast impart in beers of all styles. It's a sleek space with a bar made from reclaimed woods, hop green walls and hanging light fixtures crafted from the very Erlenmeyer flasks that grace their lab space.

Johnny O., former brewer at Rock Bottom's downtown brewpub, is using a 20-gallon brewing system to produce a wide-ranging variety of beers at White Labs' facility and currently has over 50 carboys filled with beer that is fermenting away. It takes that abundance of glass depositories to accomplish owners Chris and Lisa White's mission.

Each batch of O.’s beer is split into multiple carboys. From there, a different strain of yeast is pitched into each container. They’re left to ferment and then hooked up to the tasting room taps to be sampled side-by-side. One might think, Hey, it’s just yeast—one of four main components to beer. How important can it be?

First off, kudos for knowing that water, grains, hops, and yeast are beer’s four basic ingredients. Secondly, to discount that last one’s influence on flavor to an even 25 percent would be foolish. Yeast is actually credited by brewers as accounting for anywhere from 75 to 90 percent of a beer’s flavor.

My initial session at the White Labs tasting room proved that. I had two glasses of the same saison (a farmhouse ale of Belgian origin), one fortified with a traditional saison yeast strain, and the other fermented using a completely different untraditional variety of yeast called Bastogne.

The difference was night and day. The first version was pale yellow in color, light and crisp on the tongue, and dry in the finish. The other was golden, cloudy, slightly heavier in mouthfeel, a bit sweeter, rounder in overall flavor, and had a great deal more aftertaste. A sampling of two medium-bodied Belgian ales amounted to a similar dissimilar experience.

Multi-page packets are available at the bar which contain White Labs' analytical information on all of the beers gracing the tasting room's 35 taps. That includes familiar data like alcohol by volume and IBUs (bitterness) as well as the type of yeast strain used, pH, and other scientific items of great significance to home and pro brewers alike. Speaking of pro brewers, many here and outside San Diego are excited about the White Labs tasting room and on track to produce future collaboration beers to stock it.

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Nothing like this exists in San Diego right now or, to the best of my knowledge, anywhere. Just another reason there’s no better place to be a beer fan than right here in San Diego. White Labs is located at 9495 Candida Street.

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