Brewer's Ed

Blending Strains

Understanding when and why to mix it up

By Shana Solarte

Jun 4, 2024

Blending is a powerful tool for introducing unique flavors to a beer. Brewers often choose to blend yeast strains to integrate features from two favorite strains to achieve a balance between flavor complexity and fermentation efficiency. This technique can also generate entirely new flavor profiles, combining the strengths of two strains to produce a unique final product. Let’s look at a few situations where blending yeast may be preferable to pitching a single strain.

To blend or not to blend

The main reason to blend yeast strains is to combine performance features or flavor contributions. For example, brewers making hazy IPAs with British Ale V might blend it with DIPA to achieve better attenuation and a drier finish while maintaining a strong ester profile. A 50/50 blend can produce a beer with reliable haze, a dry finish, and robust ester flavors.

Typically, strains that work under similar conditions (e.g., ideal temperature range) will give you a good starting point for selecting your blend. If part of your blend is being subjected to conditions that it doesn’t typically thrive under, you may wind up with poor performance or even off flavors. A blend of lager yeast and ale yeast may not have ideal performance, as those two broad families of yeast work most efficiently at different temperature ranges. The lager component of the blend may generate excess esters or sulfur at higher temperatures, while the ale component may not produce enough esters or struggle to clean up off flavors during maturation.

And yet, sometimes this kind of blend can work, depending on the style of beer you plan to brew. We have seen some brewers take a blend of German Lager I, a strain that maintains a fairly neutral profile even at the higher end of its suggested temperature range, and West Coast Ale I, an ale strain that can handle cooler temps and still produce some fruity esters. When this blend is fermented around 60 – 65°F (15 – 18°C), it can work pretty well when making cream ales or California common-style beers. It’s important to consider how each component of the blend will behave when subjected to certain conditions and whether that’s what you want for your finished beer.

When thinking about blending, a general rule of thumb is that you can expect proportional contributions from your blend — if you have 50% of strain A in a blend, you can expect about 50% of strain A’s flavor contributions, and equal proportions are typically just easier to manage from a flavor expectation standpoint. Small amounts of yeast in a blend may or may not have a significant impact on the overall flavor contributions, depending on the strain. Phenol producers or Thiolized® strains create flavors that can be very potent, so you may still experience noticeable flavor impact from these strains at just 25% of the blend.

Growth rate is another consideration when blending, as some strains grow faster than others. While this shouldn’t be any cause for alarm initially, it can be a concern if you are planning to harvest and repitch this blend many times — over several generations, faster-growing strains may dominate, altering the intended balance of the blend. The first generation or two should still see fairly similar blend characteristics. 

Sample blends

Thiolized strains are excellent for adding subtle thiol flavors without dominating the profile. They perform similarly to their parent strains, which alleviates any concerns about temperature and fermentation management. For ester-forward beers without phenols, blending strong ester producers can amplify ester production. We’ve also documented experiments with blending phenol-producing strains with non-producers to find the perfect balance of phenolics.

Blending various ale strains can create new flavor profiles, offering a unique twist on traditional styles by finding a strain that can boost the characteristics of another. Take Hefeweizen Ale I for example — this strain on its own can ferment a well-balanced German wheat beer, with a satisfying blend of banana esters and clove phenolics. But if you were to blend it with Bananza, you could amp up the banana character and allow the clove flavor to settle in as more of a background note.

Takeaways

Blending is a useful tool for enhancing flavor complexity or even creating new flavors altogether. By combining strains, brewers can merge desirable traits such as higher attenuation and unique ester or phenol profiles. The resulting flavors will generally reflect the blend proportions, and it’s important to consider growth rates and fermentation conditions as you experiment. Try playing around with various blends — you may just encounter a brand new strain that can create a unique character within your portfolio. 

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