Our jobs as brewers mostly come down to looking after our yeast. Everything else is secondary. We clean and sanitize our equipment to make sure our yeast blend doesn’t pick up any unwanted wild yeasts or bacteria. Our brew days are largely focused on converting the starches in the malt to sugar and then boiling that sugar (now called wort) to make sure it’s sterile for our yeast.
The real magic begins once we add yeast to the wort. The yeast go through a growth phase, taking in oxygen and budding off clones of themselves. After 18 hours or so, the yeast start the process of turning sugar into alcohol and CO2. For our yeast, they also being to make esters and phenols, fruity and spicy flavours. If you’ve ever wondered when the clove, black pepper, and banana flavours come from in our beers, it’s the yeast.
At Shacklands, first and foremost, we let the yeast drive the flavour profile for nearly all our beers. We don’t want to hide those flavours – they’re central to our identity.
When we package our beers, that commitment to yeast-forward beers led us to bottle (and now can) conditioning. Instead of using CO2 to force carbonate the beer, we add some sugar to the beer just before canning. In the cans, the remaining yeast consume the sugar, naturally carbonate the beer and add one last kick of flavour. We’ve compared force carbonated and conditioned versions of our beers side by side. Conditioned always wins. Over time, the conditioned beers age better as well.
If you’ve visited the brewery, you’ve likely seen our vault. That’s where we condition the beer. It can take anywhere from two or three days for Saison Davenport to three or four weeks for the bigger beers like Eko Nissing.
If this sounds familiar, it is. Most traditional abbey and saison beers are still naturally conditioned. Real ale, served from casks, is produced largely the same way. German beers are often spunded – instead of being force carbonated, the fermenter is sealed at the end of fermentation, trapping in the last CO2 produced in the beer.
The old ways are sometimes best.