Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Ringwood Yeast Chronicles:The Ballad of Love and Hate:

Talking to people in my brewing circles there is a simple Love/Like or Hate of one particular Yeast. I never hear anyone with disparaging words towards Chico/California Ale Yeast or an English Ale Yeast, but poor Ringwood yeast is the Red-Headed step child of the yeast world.
How did a strain of yeast that has been around for more than 150 years become so polarizing to fans of beer?
Ringwood is a Yorkshire yeast, typical of the yeasts used to brew ales in Yorkshire. You'll get plenty of esters from these yeasts, the fruity aromas and flavors that make a good British ale so nice and so refreshing, even at low alcohol levels that would render other beers tasteless. You'll also get varying amounts of diacetyl ("die-ASS-uh-till"), a fermentation by-product that has an aroma of butterscotch, or butter and one of the main reason for the conflict of opinions.
From the brewer’s perspective an unsettling aspect of this yeast is that it is designed to be open fermented. That means that the fermentation tanks have to be open to the air, with no covers. My first thoughts are that if would be prone to infection. It develops a rocky head and throws off a lot of carbon dioxide; that's its protection. Then, as I understand it, the beer is then crash cooled once the Primary Fermentation is finished, you leave a coating of yeast on top that gets crusty, the beer is then racked from the bottom and the crust is never broken. As long as you clean properly and use sterile techniques, you've got no worse protection than a closed vessel.

To see how this yeast got America, we may need to start at the beginning;
In the beginning there was beer and it was good and every good English gentleman would drink ales at his local pub after a hard day’s work and then go home to his loving family (or the Malt-Worms are their family).
A man named Peter Austin retired early from the North Country brewery in Hull and opened Ringwood brewery in 1977. Austin had used Ringwood Yeast at the brewery in Hull, where he was a brewer from late 1940s through the 1970s. That was the yeast they had used from the brewery's advent in the 1800s. It had originally come from the old Halifax brewery. In 1982 Austin hired, Biochemist and Lover of English Pubs, Alan Pugsley, who would later come to be known as the biggest Cheerleader for the Ringwood yeast strain. In 1983, Peter Austin advertised in the first issue of New Brewer magazine for people to come to the brewery and learn to make beer on a small scale. In the next two years he had people come through and learn to brew and he built breweries for a lot of them. That was the first seed of the yeast coming to the States.
One of those people was David Geary and in 1986 he offered a 2-year contract to Alan Pugsley to set up the brewery and design a beer called Geary's Pale Ale. They were the first packaging micro in New England, and that was the first Ringwood yeast brewery in the US. At this time there were only about 50 breweries in the country, very few micros. Anchor Steam and Sierra Nevada had just got started. It certainly was not the last microbrewery Pugsley helped get started with a Peter Austin system. Pugsley started a company called Pugsley Brewing Systems International - working in alliance with Peter Austin back in England. Austin had all the equipment made in England and then Pugsley received and installed all the equipment on this end. Some of the better known ones would include Magic Hat, Tremont, Old Nutfield, Sea Dog, Old Saddleback, and brewpubs like Gritty McDuff's and Federal Jack's. Pugsley had by this time set up breweries in China, Nigeria, Belgium, and Russia and in 1994 Pugsley along with entrepreneur Fred Forsley he was able to have his very own big Ringwood brewery, with the opening of Shipyard Brewing in Portland, ME, where he is to this very day.

The issue that most people have with Ringwood made beers, is the ‘Ringwood taste” (complete with air quotes) or being referred to as ‘Ringworm’. Alan Pugsley, its biggest fan, has been quoted as saying that Ringwood is a tough yeast to use. It needs a very specific environment: time, temperature, amount of yeast added, oxygenation of the beer, they all have to be right where you need them or you'll have a mess. Pugsley had found that it has a high oxygen demand at the beginning of fermentation. It's very forgiving temperature-wise, but the ester production at higher temperatures can overwhelm.
If you don't work this yeast right, you can get too much diacetyl, which means a beer that smells like a big tub of buttered movie theater popcorn. Unfortunately, Ringwood suffers from a bad image of always producing too much diacetyl, and some beer geeks will slam any Ringwood beers as being full of diacetyl...sometimes before tasting them.
I feel This Yeast is best left in the hands of professionals. Steve Jones of Oliver’s Brewery at The Pratt Street Ale House brews some of the best English ales that we can get in the States, with Ringwood Yeast in his subterranean brewery. I have used this yeast 2 times in my life when my Homebrew Club, in conjunction with Steve, has an Oliver’s Clone Beer Competition. This year we chose Steve’s Iron Man Pale as our clone recipe. A favorite, I find most enjoyable before and after a hot summer O’s game at ‘The Yard’. Open fermentation still scares the pants off me but I’m getting used to it. I would like for the stigma to be erased but as long as there is two types of yeast on this planet we will have Yeast wars.
I think it maybe as easy as a Slogan to get everyone fired up to try Ringwood made beers with unbiased taste buds.

Here is my slogan for the campaign:
Open Minds, Open Fermentation, Open Mouths!

Information for this post was found Via Wiki, and Interviews done by Andy Crouch and beergirl


  1. This is one of my two favorite yeasts. I've never had a diacetyl problem. I raise the temp about 5 degrees F when the activity is slowing down and leave it there for a couple of days (well, usually, it's several days, b/c I get busy doing other things.

    Thanks for the history on this, that was great!

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