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As I understand it, the selection of malt (and adjunct), hops and yeast all affect the flavour of a beer in important ways. However, while you can taste the malt and other grains to get a feel for what flavour they will give to the beer, and you can smell hops to get a feel for flavour and aroma (and use alpha acid level as an indicator for the bittering hops), I can't see a good way to get an intuitive feel for the effect of different yeasts.

If there were only two or three yeasts, this would be fine: I could just try them all on some kind of reference mash. However, there seem to be hundreds.

So: firstly, other than the obvious (like top fermenting vs bottom fermenting), is there a standard way of categorising yeasts? I'm mainly interested in ale yeast at the moment, but broadly curious about the whole range of yeasts.

Secondly, is there a good way to get an intuitive feel for which yeast to choose for a particular job? At the moment I feel as though my technique is "pick the yeast whose name sounds closest to the beer I'm trying to make", which is obviously pretty terrible. Any and all advice gratefully received.

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The yeast suppliers give some description of flavor characteristics on their websites. I use them to get an idea of what to try when I come across new strains that I have not pitched before. –  jalynn2 Jul 23 at 12:43

2 Answers 2

Most of the yeasts have both qualitative and quantitative notes that describe the flavor profile and other characteristics (flocculation/clarity, attenuation, temperature effects, &c.)

The YeastBot Database is an attempt to centralize some of this information.

I usually try to find a yeast that's in the same sort of family as the style I'm trying to make, but then look for qualitative descriptors that match what I want out of the beer. For instance, a recent stout was subtly enhanced by the fruitiness/nuttiness of WY1099, and a schwarzbier I've done in the past came out much nicer with WY2206 vs. WY2124.

Splitting a single batch into two different pitches can also help you see the differences due just to yeast side-by-side; it's a bit easier to do splitting a 10gl batch into 5gl splits, but nothing says you can't split a 5 or 6gl batch into two primary carboys.

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I'd actually considered doing a split—our mash tun/boil kettle is an old 40l tea urn, though, so they'd have to be a bit smaller than 5 gallons apiece. I'll definitely try it. The rest is really useful, thanks! –  Andrew Wyld Jul 22 at 0:41
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You can also get a sense of some of the flavor characteristics of a yeast by tasting a starter after you've chilled it to get the yeast to settle out. –  Neil Jul 22 at 2:02
    
+1 for doing a split. I had a double black IPA which I split into 3 and pitched separate yeasts into each. 1)Kolsch 2)English 3)West-coast yeast . Each final beer, despite being fermented side by side came out very different. –  Chris M Aug 4 at 18:02

Yeast is usually categorised by how well they flocculate, the esters and phenols they release and the attenuation you can expect.

A "standard" American yeast (US05) is descibed as "clean", whereas your "standard" British yeast (S04) is described as fruity. Your weiss yeasts would be very fruity with high banana and spicy with clove. A lager yeast might be identifiable by the amount of sulphur that it releases.

The Fermentis Site has product sheets that explain aromas, flavours, etc.

I have never worked with liquid yeast (not cost effective to ship in), but I am sure that White Labs, Wyeast has areas on their sites where they explain the details of each strain.

Lasty: Experience. Brew many beers.

Cheers

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