Chances are the bread for that sandwich you had for lunch was made with Lesaffre yeast. Amazingly, 1 out of every 3 loaves of bread in the world is made with Lesaffre yeast. An absolute dynasty in the yeast manufacturing business, Lesaffre specializes in the fermentation products field. Founded in France in 1853 as a grain alcohol producer, they would eventually move into the field of yeast production.
Fast forward 150 years to 2003 when Lesaffre launched a subsidiary division called Fermentis which was given a mandate to spearhead the company’s innovation and research in the fields of beer, wine, spirits and fermented beverages.
BSG is a proud partner and distributor of Fermentis products in the United States and Canada. With the recent launch of several new yeast strains to the homebrewing market, we spoke with Kevin Lane who oversees North American operations for Fermentis about these new exciting products and to learn more about Fermentis as a company.
Tell us about the Fermentis operation.
The brewing and distilling strains are produced in Belgium. Wine strains are produced in Chile and Mexico. The brewing strains are produced in the Belgium facility because it is the most dynamic plant. This means that it can switch over between yeast strains very quickly which is important because of the large number of different strains produced for alcoholic fermentation as compared to say the bread yeast strains that other facilities might produce.
Fermentis exclusively makes dry yeast products. What are the advantages of dry yeast?
There are a number of advantages that are all tied together with shelf stability being the biggest advantage. Because the shelf stability is so incredible, it gives the homebrewer a really consistent product every time.
A second advantage is that a starter isn’t necessary and in fact we don’t recommend doing a starter. We’ve done a lot of testing stability trials over time and we’ve found that if you refrigerate the yeast you lose about 5% viability every year. And if you don’t refrigerate you still only lose about 10% viability every year. Currently we have a 3 year best before date and at room temperature after 3 years the yeast is still 70% viable.
The key point here is that dry yeast has more viable cells. When you do a starter you are trying to propagate up yeast cells. Yeast will duplicate in 8 to 12 hours typically so after a couple of days, 4 to 8 times the original number of cells will be reproduced and you’ll end up with a healthy yeast colony. This is something you don’t have to worry about with dry yeast because it deteriorates so slowly. It’s so easy to use because you just sprinkle the yeast on the wort and it will ferment out.
When homebrewers typically do a starter they use a wort between 10 to 18 degrees Plato. With that you’ll have the nutrients, dissolved oxygen and everything the yeast needs to multiply, but you are exposing it to a very high sugar concentration. When Fermentis makes dry yeast is it keeps the sugar concentration of the production media below 0.5%, dosing in sugar and nutrient and pumping in sterile oxygen through it. This makes for a completely aerobic fermentation. The advantage of this is that at this low percentage of sugar there is no alcoholic fermentation which means that when you as the homebrewer use it, the first pitch into the wort is the first time it is exposed to alcohol.
You may ask why that is important? Alcohol naturally begins to break down cell walls and therefore Fermentis dry yeast is actually of superior quality than it would be if you had made a starter. In other words, during propagation we keep it off of alcohol so that the yeast doesn’t go through the stress of alcoholic fermentation.
Why did Fermentis decide to develop products for the homebrew market?
The Fermentis division was developed to get into the potable alcohol markets. So why do we sell products to the homebrew market? I think that homebrewers are the most adventurous and dynamic brewers in the world. Think about many of the craft brewers today; they all started as homebrewers. We got into the homebrew market because homebrewers want to try new things. Homebrewers want options and they want to make great beer at home. To do that you need a very consistent and dynamic group of yeast supplies. Fermentis gives the homebrewer another tool to make the beer they want with consistent results.
What are the trends you’ve noticed in the homebrew market?
Homebrewers are becoming more sophisticated. They’re becoming more versed in how to make different types of beers; lager, ale, fruit or whatever the style may be. What I think is really interesting is how much homebrewers are able to experiment and try new things. That’s part of the reason we came out with K-97 and S-189 is because homebrewers are thirsty for new ways to experiment and try new styles. Maybe they make an IPA with a German ale yeast and see how it turns out. Bringing out those new strains adds to the homebrewers’ tool box.
What is the North American market like?
North America is definitely the pioneering front. Fermentis is global and we sell in most countries around the world. But North America is kind of like the benchmark for what the future will hold for the rest of the world. North America is the most experimental. Just as one example, take a look at all of the different types of IPAs developed out of America.
Why did Fermentis come out with homebrew size of the K-97, S-189 and Safcider strains?
It really rounds out the portfolio that we have. We already had American yeast in US-05 and an English strain with S-04 ale and now we have the German ale K-97. With S-189 we round out the lager line of yeasts and cider is becoming increasingly popular among homebrewers as well. It’s giving homebrewers another option and another tool.
What’s up with the alpha-numeric names?
That’s what I really like about our portfolio. The reason being is that it doesn’t limit the homebrewer to thinking that a particular yeast can only be used for a certain style. If it’s called “English” they might only use it for English style of beers. Our competitors do the opposite and name their strains after a famous brewery or a particular style and it pigeonholes the yeast in the homebrewer’s mind.
Whereas with our alphanumerical naming conventions I think it allows the brewer to figure out what they want to use it for and apply the strain characteristics to the type of beer they want to make. What’s important about that is it actually makes the brewer think about what they’re doing for and to the yeast. Because if you just say, “OK, this is an IPA yeast” then they’ll just make a hoppy wort and throw the yeast in and that’s it.
Whereas if you just have K-97, the brewer will take a look at the technical datasheet and see the ester profiles, the pure alcohols, the standard attenuation, and then they say, “OK, what can I make with this and how can I control those parameters?” Then what we hope they do is tailor the recipe to the yeast.
It makes the brewer much more conscious of what they are doing to and for the yeast. And that’s important because yeast is the only the living part of the beer. You have to be conscious of that and remember that you’re trying to keep an organism alive. So yes, the names of the yeast don’t provide specific direction as to which style of beer it is for. But the flip side of that is that yeast is a microorganism; it will make beer not caring about one style or another.
Why partner with BSG?
I think the biggest advantage working with BSG is your market presence and the group of people working at BSG. Everyone I’ve interacted with has been very kind and has extended an open invitation to do more work with them. Something that I’ve really been impressed by when I’m traveling to visit smaller craft breweries, is how far reaching BSG is in the craft brewing market. So it makes sense to partner with you. BSG is a recognized name in the brewing industry and it’s good to see that even though BSG interacts with the big breweries, you also interact with the smaller craft markets.
Download a free “Brewing Tips & Tricks” guide from Fermentis here: