What is Infecting all Our Beer

The brewing industry has a bit of a problem. The problem we want to cover today is something that every brewer dreads. From the largest light lager brewer down to the smallest batch home brewer. Beer infections. There is a growing problem around the world as more breweries open yeast infections.

Recently there have been several headlines about huge multi-million dollar product recall from Left Hand Brewing. The cause of this recall was bad yeast. Today we’re going to talk about a hidden and almost undetectable danger. Contaminated yeast and what the industry is going to do about it as more breweries rely on a wide variety of yeast products.

To learn more about yeast in the brewing process check our Dry Yeast VS. Liquid Yeast in Beer Brewing.

Pouring dry yeast from a bag into a glass.
Credit: https://www.istockphoto.com/id/search/2/image?phrase=beer+yeast

It is all about Yeast

Yeast is a really important ingredient in beer. Yeast does most of the work to make beer. the yeast used for brewing is what makes beer possible. But sometimes this loyal companion of beer can cause quite a bit of trouble.

At the end of November 2017, Left Hand Brewing filed a lawsuit against White Labs Inc. Alleging the prominent yeast supplier was responsible for widespread contamination that led to a multi-million dollar product recall. In the suit Left-Hand charges that the contaminated yeast sold by White Labs infected a number of beers with a wild yeast strain known to cause secondary fermentation.

This particular strain of yeast is able to break down dextrans. they are created in beer during the mashing process. When the complex starches in the malt are broken down making what scientists call glucose. Dextrans actually add a lot of body to the beer.

Bad yeast detection

Yeast infection in the beer brewing process.
Credit: https://learn.kegerator.com/dump-bad-batch-beer/

After the beer is already carbonated and sealed in a bottle it’s almost impossible for a brewer to tell if an infection has occurred. Meaning that any batch of beer you brew could potentially be an expensive and messy mistake. Most bacteria and other unwanted guests in beer make themselves known pretty obviously and early in the process. They usually produce molds or tasting compounds that any average drinker could easily spot.

This particular wild yeast does the same job as good yeast. But after it’s done, it can wait until a brewer has given the batch the thumbs up in the taste test to begin its secondary fermentation process. Usually ending with explosive results. Not being able to control the distribution process can leave a brewery totally unaware of the problem until it’s too late.

Left Hand isn’t the only brewery to go public. Georgias Wild Heaven beer had a problem of its own with the stain adding to a number of others in the state that has dealt with issues. Most of these breweries agree it’s generally difficult to prove with scientific certainty where any contamination started. Yeast control already plays a significant role in a brewery’s Quality and Assurance processes. According to the filing White Labs admitted to Left Hand that it lacked the capability to test leaving the brewery to feel further justified in challenging the yeast suppliers’ warranties.

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