Thursday, 29 September 2011

The mysteries of yeast

Yeast. Ah, if only I could say that word like Graham Stewart does, now there's a man who knows his yeast. But worry not. I won't be going to go on about the mysteries of fermentation. No, the mystery I'm pondering today is yeast ownership.

We recently got some fresh yeast in from Brewlab and it was a slightly odd experience getting it. For home brewers they provide a number of strains, none of which have a brewery name attached, but a region and some details are given. I was surprised to find that when I asked about what yeasts they had for commercial breweries I was simply told to let them know what I'm looking for and they'd provide a strain.

So I did, and sure enough they did too. But no further details at all. This lead to the pondering. Is it possible to own a yeast strain? Surely for any cask conditioned beer it wouldn't be too much trouble to isolate and propagate the yeast if you wanted to? No genetically modified yeasts are used in brewing so I don't think they can be patented. All I can think of is that they're being cagey about breweries names in case they infringe trademarks. Does anyone know how yeast strain ownership works, if there is such a thing?


  1. I would imagine they have been supplied with the yeast by the breweries concerned on the understanding that they wouldn’t publicly name where it comes from. But I don’t know for sure.

    This of course is a matter of politeness and nothing to do with copyrights or patents.

  2. From experience dealing with a lot of different banks there are certain breweries that bank their yeasts and no one can use them period. Then there are places like White Labs and Wyeast that isolate and propagate most of their strains and then have banks of big breweries also. So are used by the actual breweries.

    I've chatted with brew labs quite a bit before and they do it differently. Frankly, all you care about in a yeast is to get the profile you are looking for no matter the name. Thats what they do. You tell them you want a proper English ale yeast that has a bit of fruit, flocs well, accenuates the malt over hop and they will give you their best one. They also ask the mineral make up, wort composition, etc etc.

    I find they do a very good job of taking the experimenting out of it all. You actually may 'prefer' the taste of a different strain than the one they give you but I've found the one they give you is pretty much spot on for what you asked of them. Then you say, apparently I don't want one that is fruity, flocs, ect.

    Also, yes, you can 'own' a strain in theory. Its a breweries proprietary strain. Thats not saying another brewery can't culture it up and use it. Its just it can't be marketed that way. Most breweries I know are more than willing to give their yeast anyway as they 1) understand this and 2) its what happens in the business. Look at Westmalle, the give yeast to tons and tons of breweries.

  3. Thanks Kristen, that's really made things clearer.

  4. I heard this a while back, interesting.
    So did you buy a Pitchings worth in that Placcy bottle?