Whenever I go to the annual Craft Brewers Conference, I always make sure to hit any panel that focuses on yeast. Sure, it can get a bit technical, but there’s one topic I’m always hoping will come up: Native yeast. In other words, brewing with wild yeast that’s native to a specific area, state or region. The idea’s as old as brewing—ancient Egyptians didn’t have a White Labs or Wyeast to call; neither did Belgian farmers who relied on open fermentation for their lambics—but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I noticed brewers in the U.S. making serious efforts to discover new wild yeast native to North America that’s suitable for brewing.
Odell Brewing’s one of the bigger names that comes to mind: In 2010, they captured a wild yeast strain native to Colorado, which they call Fester, and use it to inoculate barrels for a variety of its sour beers—the yeast is meant to impart grapefruit rind and tropical fruit flavors.
Texas’ Jester King incorporated this idea from its beginning. Before the brewery was even open, the team inoculated a batch of wort with yeast native to Texas Hill Country, and then sent it to a lab where it was combined with Brettanomyces for a special house blend. It’s been used in some of the brewery’s most talked-about releases, like Das Wunderkind! and Boxer’s Revenge.
There are a fast-growing number of examples but if there’s one person who sticks out as a champion of the idea, it’s Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione. It was at CBC two years ago in San Francisco that I first heard him mention the idea of a beer festival that spotlights the local flavor—some might call it terroir—of all 50 states. That is, every beer submitted would be made entirely from ingredients native to a particular state, including the yeast. It’s an intriguing idea and one that he’s executing with the second release of Dogfish’s DNA (Delaware Native Ale).
Here are a few of the local ingredients that keep DNA tied to Delaware:
* 720 pounds of local wildflower honey
* 360 pounds of local blueberries
* Delaware-grown barley milled at a historic Delaware stone mill (bonus points)
* Locally captured yeast (named Honorary State Yeast in 2011 by Delaware Gov. Jack Markell)
The beer’s slated to release at the Rehoboth Beach brewpub later this month. The team is also distilling DNA down to create Delaware Native Spirit, so keep an eye out for that when it releases sometime in late August.
Which state would you most like—or least like—to see represented in a bottle?