By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Wrangling yeast can be as easy as moving it from one fermenter to another. Unless you have four yeast strains in regular use and a tight production schedule that can’t always wait for the yeast to be ready. That’s why, earlier this year, Eugene-based Ninkasi Brewing Company brought online a dedicated system of yeast propagation and storage tanks.
“Yeast is the only raw ingredient we supply ourselves,” says Dr. Daniel Sharp, director of brewing process development. “In addition to beer, we also make yeast, so having dedicated vessels for making and storing yeast is no-brainer, especially due to the amount of beer we make and how many yeast strains we use.”
Originally championed by Ninkasi’s in-house lab and quality control teams, the propagation system (“prop” for short) arrived earlier this year. “Before having this system, we were all doing this with our current brewing and tank setup, trying to fit it in and make it work,” says Sharp, “but that’s challenging when you have all your fermentation vessels full. But you need vessels to make yeast to make more beer. It was an easy ROI, and it makes yeast production easier for the whole team.”
The custom-made system was fabricated by W.M. Sprinkman, a dairy, food and beverage equipment manufacturer in Wisconsin. The system is comprised of three 10-barrel brinks and one 5-barrel brink for storage as well as 20- and 30-barrel props. Controls include gravity, gas composition (vessel atmosphere), agitators to aid cooling and homogeneity, and temperature. For oxygen, “we used to use a standard dosing rate, like most brewers, added at the beginning of fermentation,” says Sharp. “Now we can add oxygen based solely on how much the yeast needs to grow, instead of how much it needs to ferment. We’re still working with it to figure out the optimal amounts, but playing with the oxygen levels for the yeast is helping us grow healthy yeast faster.”
A positive displacement pump, great for moving thick liquids while being gentle on the yeasts, is used for transfers. After yeast is grown in the lab, it’s added to the prop and then pitched into wort during knockout. One 30-barrel batch of yeast can pitch a full 550-barrel fermenter. Instead of pitching by volume, the tanks are connected to load cells, so Ninkasi’s brewers know how much yeast is being pitched down to the pound. “We also don’t like to waste things, especially yeast,” says Sharp. “Nailing in exactly the amount we need when we need it, that’s the goal.”
Installed and tested during March and April, Ninkasi uses the system for the full yeast propagation process. The benefits have been immediate. Yeast propagation used to take 14–21 days. Now it can be done in 10–12 days.
“The shorter time helps us be flexible and work with the yeast while it’s in a happy state,” explains Sharp, “while also working with the other needs of the production schedule. We look out weeks in advance, and the shorter time is a big win.”
Parallel environments ensure optimal conditions for both beer and yeast. “Fermentations are great for making alcohol but aren’t good conditions for yeast growth,” says Sharp. “The conditions for growing yeast are bad for beer, such as needing oxygen. With the props we can grow a healthy supply of our own yeast without compromising beer flavor. Also, by controlling the conditions of our yeast growth and health, we can better control the subsequent fermentation profiles.”
Depending on the schedule, now yeast can be taken straight from one fermenter to another, or it can be stored in a brink and used for up to 10 fermentations. With four strains in regular use (Helles Lager, English Ale, Chico Ale and German Ale), plus a house yeast library for special projects, it’s also easier to maintain the “yeast pipeline” so that yeast is at an optimal state for pitching. For example, the English Ale strain — used in flagship beers such as Total Domination IPA — is a “juggernaut” that has adapted well to Ninkasi’s brewery and higher-IBU and ABV beers, while providing softer blending aromas and flavors.
“We don’t do delicate yeasts that need coddling,” says Sharp. “We need tough yeasts.”
On the flipside, for a beer such as Hop Cooler IPA, the Chico Ale accentuates individual characteristics, and the German Ale yeast used in Sleigh’r Dark Double Alt Ale is less flocculent, so some residual yeast remains for a thicker mouthfeel.
“We are a yeast farming facility that makes good beer,” says Sharp. “Our job is to make good yeast, or we can’t make good beer.”
By Gail Oberst
For the Oregon Beer Growler
“City of Sunshine”: Klamath Falls, population 20,000-plus, is hours off the beaten track for most craft beer tourists.
Fortunately, beers from the city’s largest and award-winning brewery, Klamath Basin Brewing Company, are available all over Oregon, as well as northern California and southern Washington.
But if you want the full Klamath Basin Brewing experience, you have to make the trek into the 51st state. Klamath Falls is nearly in the middle of the “State of Jefferson,” whose residents have been threatening succession since … Oregon’s statehood. Defiance Double IPA, Rebellion Red Ale and 51st State Pale Ale all allude to Southern Oregon’s traditional break from the status quo. Include this brewery in a weeklong high desert trek from Redmond down Highway 97 through Bend, ending in Klamath Falls. Or make up your own Southern Oregon brewery tour and spend a night in Klamath Falls. But bring your inner redneck. I know you have one, because you’re a beer drinker.
The restaurant and pub are separated from the brewery by a glass wall, all in the former Klamath Falls Creamery building, home of the late Crater Lake Dairy Products. Most of the historic building is home to The Creamery Brewpub & Grill, a popular eatery for locals and visitors. The 1935 building’s high barn-like beams speak to Klamath Falls’ agricultural history. Today, the beams sport colorful flags of favorite local, college and professional teams hanging over half a dozen flat screen televisions scattered throughout the main restaurant and bar area, including one screen almost as tall as a small house.
There are other nods to local history and culture. Pictures of the creamery’s old ice cream fountain hang on the walls right next to a sign with the message: “Hippies Use Side Door.” Relax hipsters. For the most part, you won’t be the target of K. Falls derision, as long as you keep your discussion to beer.
Anyway, Klamath Falls defies most preconceptions about rednecks. The restaurant brewery out-greens most others in its class: Its menu is loaded with steaks and seafood, burgers and nachos, but it also offers (by my count) more than a dozen vegetarian options. The brewery and restaurant’s owners, Lonnie Clement and Del Azevedo, feature foods made from local produce and beers made with Klamath Basin barley, Northwest hops and Oregon yeast. But possibly the greenest activity on site is the brewery’s use of geothermal-heated water in its brewing and heating. Volcanic hot water aquifers just below the surface of Klamath Falls provides the downtown with hot water that is used for everything from heating sidewalks to home showers.
In addition to hot water, Klamath Basin Brewing Company also brews with water from wells fed by springs from the mountains that surround the city.
Does all of that make their beer better? You decide. On my latest visit to The Creamery Brewpub & Grill, there were nine Klamath Basin beers on tap, three of which were award winners (Backroad Vanilla Porter, Crater Lake Amber Ale and Notch Eight IPA). In addition to the State of Jefferson inferences, Hard Hat Hefeweizen speaks to this area’s working-class values. Notch Eight IPA refers to the maximum velocity on a locomotive’s throttle.
Corey Zschoche has been Klamath Basin’s head brewer for the past six years or more after studying fermentation science at Oregon State University. His Beaver allegiance is displayed throughout the brewery: an orange door here, a beaver flag there. Billy Harwood-Sloan assists him in the brewery. Zschoche estimated that the brewery produced about 1,500 barrels in 2014 -- about a third of which was sold in the pub. The pub employs about 40 people.
The brewery is growing: Zschoche estimated production was up about 25 percent last year — with as much or more growth expected this year.
Klamath Basin Brewing
The Creamery Brewpub & Grill
[a] 1320 Main St., Klamath Falls
Owners: Lonnie Clement and Del Azevedo
Brewer: Corey Zschoche
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.