A Tale Of Two Yeasts

We had the pleasure of spending time with Chris White at our recent shop event Two Brews, One Day. On entry, each attendee received a choice of White Labs yeast WLP059 Melbourne Ale or WLP518 Opshaug Kveik Ale. Both strains were widely talked about on the day, yet many weren't aware of each their unique history or backstory. First, we'll explore the WLP059 or Melbourne Ale strain.

Renowned homebrewer and Australian brewing historian, Peter Symons, researched the Melbourne Ale strain for his book Bronzed Brews. This yeast was originally identified and called "Melbourne No1" in the early 1900s where it was isolated and found to be able to ferment up to 50% sugar without any loss of vitality. In 1936, samples of "Melbourne No1" were obtained from the Ballarat Brewery and registered at the National Collection of Yeast Cultures (NCYC 192). White labs procured samples and thus WLP059 Melbourne Ale is available, thanks to the work of Peter Symons and Chris White.

Melbourne Ale is a clean fermenting strain well suited for many American and English beer styles.

Specifications:
Origin: Melbourne, Australia.
Flocculation: Medium.
Attenuation: 74 - 78%.
Temperature Range: 18°C - 21°C.
Alcohol Tolerance: 5 - 10% ABV.

An excerpt from Peter Symon's website:

"After 100 Years Melbourne No. 1 Yeast returns to Sydney. How did this come about? Well, let me tell you a story…  I was in London, March 2015, to give a paper at a technical conference, and had a few spare days. (One day I went to the London Metropolitan Archives but I will leave that for another time.) I had arranged before leaving Australia to take the Truman’s Brewery tour.

So on a brisk! Saturday lunchtime I am on the tour with 2 other guys. Jack Hibberd was the guy leading the tour and was very knowledgeable. During the tour, I asked a lot of questions, which were mostly answered. When it came to the yeast that they were using he described the effort that they put in to find the authentic yeast. In short, when the original Truman’s brewery closed in 1958 several strains were banked at the National Collection of Yeast Cultures (NCYC), and from these, they eventually selected two ale strains for their new brews.

This snippet of conversation, when mixed with several pints of the excellent Truman’s Runner, got me thinking. On return to my accommodation The Wellington Hotel at Waterloo, a warming pie and pint of Fuller’s ESB, I fired up my laptop and went to the NCYC site, my first search term was “Australian” BINGO  - top of the list;

NCYC 192 Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Depositor G. Johnson
Deposit Date May 1936
Equivalent Strain Designations: Melbourne No. 1 strain, NCTC 4919

Bronzed Brews details many early 20th-century Tooth and Co. recipes and considering that Grove Johnson was their brewing analyst/consultant it is highly likely that Tooth’s used No. 1 yeast for their ale production. (See the extract from the book for more information).

Subsequently, I emailed Chris White from White Labs explaining what I had found and asked whether White Labs could source this yeast and make it available to home brewers. We had some follow up conversations at NHC15 in San Diego and long story short WLP059, Melbourne Ale yeast was recreated. Many thanks to Chris White and Kara Taylor."

White Labs launched The Yeast Vault in December 2015 which allows home brewers to vote for the strains that should enter production. WLP059 Melbourne Ale Yeast was made available within this program in August 2017 and picked up a good deal of interest in this 13 page Aussie Home Brewer thread. If you intend to brew with this yeast, the thread is highly recommended reading, if for nothing more than inspiration.

Be sure to check out Peter Symon's book Bronzed Brews for additional recipes and further information on the strain. Peter has supplied a recipe 1917 Tooth’s Pale Ale Batch 23 – 3rd of February 1916 using the Melbourne Ale strain.

Watch Chris White introduce the strain and talk briefly about his involvement, here:

Additionally, White Labs Brewer Jason Wyatt brewed a coffee porter which they've kindly shared here. Jason notes, "We used this strain in an espresso porter and were very pleased with the results. Thanks to its medium to medium-high flocculation, it made clarifying the beer easy and we liked how the strain accentuated leather, oak and cinnamon notes in the finished beer. The gravity dropped slightly less at the 24-hour mark than the other strains we used for this batch, and the beer was able to hit terminal around day 10.”


Now, we'll explore the WLP518 or Opshaug Kveik Ale strain.


Sourced from Lars Marius Garshol, this kveik strain was isolated from a mixed culture which belonged to Harald Opshaug, a farmhouse brewer in Stranda, Norway. This strain was originally used in the 1990s to produce several kornøl-style beers. It is a clean fermenting yeast and has tolerated temperatures up to 95°F (35°C) while finishing fermentation within three to four days! The hop-forward, clean characteristics of this strain make it ideal for IPAs and pale ales.

 


Specifications:
Style Recommendation: IPA, pale ale
Alcohol Tolerance: Medium to High (8-12%)
Attenuation: 70-80%
Flocculation: Medium to High
Optimum Fermentation Temp: 77-95℉ (25-35℃)


Opshaug used the strain for years, brewing kornøl-style raw ales with juniper branches and kveik like other brewers in the area until he was exposed to modern brewing theory, which teaches that this method of brewing is wrong. In an effort to stay current, Opshaug switched from the kveik to a commercially available strain, but he couldn’t bring himself to get rid of the kveik which he calls “the good sort” so he made it a point to keep it alive throughout the years.


Kveiks are known for their high-temperature tolerance and WLP518 Opshaug Kveik Ale Yeast is no exception. Opshaug often pitched the yeast at 73-75°F (23-24°C), but the strain has handled up to 95°F (35°C). He would harvest yeast from the top after 30 hours, and the beer would be finished after 48-50 hours.


Chris White is keen to follow the success of the strain stating, "It could take a while for people to notice as it grows outside of the homebrewing community, so what will really be interesting is seeing whether the public, on a commercial level, wants to drink [beers made with kveik]. Something can rise really quickly but doesn’t always stick...others stick around ’cause consumers like them, which obviously happened with IPAs and Hazy and maybe Brut.”


For further reading, we strongly recommend Good Beer Hunting's A Fire Being Kindled — The Revolutionary Story of Kveik, Norway’s Extraordinary Farmhouse Yeast.


Also, check out Larsblog, Lars Marius Garshol's personal blog where he documents many of his trips through farmhouses in Norway.


White Labs - WLP518 Opshaug Kveik Ale - $11.95