Brewing Beer with Wine Yeast

Today I want to discuss brewing beer with wine yeast. Utilizing sequential yeast pitching for mixed fermentation brews.

This is a subject that has recently got my attention, however there seem to be few resources available on the subject.

I have been a brewer for 25 years; mostly as a production brewer in the craft beer sector. My first job was making the same pilsner every brew for 2 years.

Brewing beer with wine yeast
Today we learn about brewing beer with wine yeast

Working mostly in production facilities meant I’ve had little chance to do experimental brews on a regular basis.

I Have Made Many Styles of Beer

That’s not to say I haven’t made a whole bunch of different beers, but there hasn’t been much scope for sequential yeast pitching in my career.

In the last few months I’ve been working on a brewery installation in Yunnan, China. It has been great project working with Humdinger Brewery. As they expand beyond their brewpub into packaging beer.

Humdinger currently has full tanks at the new production facility thereby taking the strain off the brewpub to produce beer.

Thus freeing up their pilot brewery for some fun experimental stuff. So, I can finally do some sequential yeast pitching!

Why Am I Looking into Sequential Yeast Pitching?

We made a tripel at the production facility with an original gravity of 18° Plato. One of the brewers working for Humdinger (Reed – their non-beer fermentation specialist) took the last of the wort from the kettle and mixed it with honey in two buckets

Yes, we are doing bucket beers! He made a wort of 27° Plato (that’s pretty high).

In one bucket Reed added a red wine yeast and in the other bucket he used Lallemend Voss Kveik yeast.

This meant there were no real concerns about the temperature of the fermentations. I guess these brews would be called braggots. A mixture of beer and mead.

Braggot is made from honey
Braggot is made from honey

These braggots will take some time to ferment (at least 6 weeks), as the yeast works through the differing sugars in the wort.

They may also need to have other yeasts pitched into them. Wine yeasts in general can’t work through traditional beer wort made from malt.

Making Beer with Wine yeast – Kveik Yeast

The Kveik yeast might be able to work through all the sugars or may need a helping hand of a wine yeast pitch to get down to a respectable final gravity (FG).

The fact they are bucket brews (25 liters of beer wort/honey), allows for experimentation and for us to learn. As well as hopefully have something good to drink in the end too.

Right now, it’s a journey into the unknown; as we have little knowledge of the Kveik Voss. Especially when pitched into high gravity mixed sugar worts.

Although in general it’s a beast of a yeast. Kveik yeasts are extremely hardy and most work at high temperatures as well (up to 40 °C).

Kveik yeast strains and flocculation
Kveik yeast strains and how they flocculate

Well anyway, the braggot pitched with the wine yeast; after the first few days of fermentation (dropped to 18 Plato) and tasted unbelievably good. It has definite red wine (tannins) notes that works well.

This braggot led to thoughts about brewing beer with wine yeast on the small pilot system at Humdinger (65-liter system).

This was going to take some research…but making beer with wine yeast caught my attention.

NB: I know other breweries have been experimenting with wine yeasts to make beer. However, there is very little data and research on the subject.

So, I wanted research the subject for myself and then share it with you.

Sequential Yeast Pitching Research

Now, one of the first things I discovered was wine yeast has a hard time fermenting beer wort. Wine yeasts subsist on glucose and fructose in juice and aren’t equipped to ferment complex starch-derived carbohydrates in wort.

Wine yeasts like brewing strains ferment sugar into ethanol and carbon dioxide. However, wine yeasts have a history of working on simple sugars in juice.

They never needed to develop the ability to transport and split maltose and maltitriose present in beer wort.

This means most wine strains can’t exceed 50% of apparent attenuation in a standard beer wort. There appears to be one exception; which is Lalvin ICV K1-V1116. Which has a much higher apparent attenuation in beer wort.

Low attenuation isn’t ideal in most beer styles; although in a sour beer it could prove beneficial. More on that subject later.

So How Can We Use Wine Yeast in Beer?

There are a few options open to you. The first is to make a highly fermentable wort. You could do an extended mash rest at (145 °F / 63 °C) to help the formation of beta-amylase add some plus simple sugar into the mix (like corn sugar) in place of 10-20% of the malt.

Another option is to use an enzyme such as amylase powder which will break down the unfermentable carbohydrate to fermentable sugars. Allowing the wine yeast to attenuate these now fermentable sugars.

However, the option I prefer is sequential yeast pitching (seems more fun). Start with a wine yeast and then pitch a beer yeast to finish the job off and get to my desired FG (final gravity).

The aim is to ferment out most of the sugars to get an apparent attenuation of 75-85%, which is typical for most beer styles.

Light colored beers

However there a few criteria to consider; as not all wine yeasts are created equal. We are talking about the “kill factor” of wine yeast.

Wines which are classified as having an “active” kill factor produce a protein capable of incapacitating venerable yeast strains. This includes most beer yeast strains.

Wines with a kill factor are often preferred in wine making because they protect the wine from unwanted wild yeast in the must. However, in beer making they will lead to under attenuated beer.

When it comes to wine yeast; most yeast labs will list whether or not a particular strain has the kill factor (please click here to see Lallemand’s list).

You need to pick a neutral or sensitive strain if you want to do sequential yeast pitching in brewing.

How to Treat the Wine Yeast When Brewing

When it comes to treating your wort in preparation to introducing a wine yeast, it’s similar to pitching beer yeast. The pitching rate, amount of aeration and temperatures are similar

If you refer back to the Lallemend chart linked above you see white wine yeast can ferment as low as 50 °F / 10 °C. While red wine strains can go as high as 95 °F / 35 °C.

If you’re unsure what temperature to ferment the yeast; then consult the yeast lab you sourced your yeast from.

Also, it seems prudent to note that the majority of wine yeasts produce phenolic aromatics. Think Belgian beers, Hefeweizen or some wild Saccharomyces strains. This could lead to aromas such a clove, smoke or even rubber.

Beer yeast visible in fermentation in a traditional brewing square
Beer yeast visible in fermentation in a traditional brewing square

So, why doesn’t wine smell like pepper or clove? Well grape juice (<1 mg/L8), doesn’t contain as much ferulic acid as beer wort does (1-7 mg/L7).

Ferulic acid is the precursor for these aromatics hence wine doesn’t often have those aromas.

There’s not a lot of information I can find on wine yeasts for beer making so, a lot of experiments will have to be done. However below is my initial research.

One good groups on the internet that shares experiential brewing information is the Milk the Funk Group on Facebook.

You have to request to join; but the resources and discussions on there were helpful when writing this article.

There’s also the main Milk the Funk site. Which is a great brewing wiki to refer too as well.

OK, to start let’s start with an easily available wine yeast obtainable to most brewers commercially. It is called Levulia Alcolmeno.

Brewing Beer with Wine Yeast – Levulia Alcolmeno

Levilia Alcolmeno is from AEB; I found the information below through the Milk the Funk FB Group I mentioned earlier.

Levulia Alcolmeno is a yeast belonging to the species L. thermotolarans. It comes from the Burgundy region and is found on grapes. It’s able to ferment sugars into ethanol and lactic acid.

Please click here to see more information about Levulia Alcolmeno from the wine yeast exchange.

Levilia Alcolmeno can do so because it has both alcohol and lactate dehydrogenase. In wine it can produce up to 8g/L of lactic acid.

Till now little research has been done how this species works in beer. One study by Ana Hranilović found when this strain was put in beer it can ferment only the glucose of the wort.

However; Levulia Alcolmeno has the ability to drop the wort pH to 3.3-3.5.

Sour beer example
Sour beer example

This could be ideal for beer souring without tying up your brewhouse kettle. Plus reduce the chance of creating unwanted aromas.

I think this strain is a the prefect starting point to brewing with wine yeast.

Brew your beer as normal, then pitch Levulia Alcolmeno first…

After the Levilia Alcolmeno has finished, use another preferred S. cerevisiae (beer yeast) for sequential yeast pitching. Allowing you to finish off the fermentation to your desired final gravity.

Levulia Alcolmeno used By Jeremy Myers

Shared on the Milk the Funk Facebook group, a guy called Jeremy Myers did an experiment using the Levulia Alcolmeno yeast. His notes were:

“Wanted to post this up to see if anyone out there has any experience fermenting beers with Levulia Alcomeno?

We recently brewed a wine barrel fermented Saison with a three-day primary with Levulia Alcomeno then pitched WLP565/Saison Dupont. Grist was 60% Pilsner, 30% White Wheat, and 10% Flaked Barley and Oats.

Hopped in the whirlpool with Mandarina, Lemondrop, and Huell Melon. Didn’t finish as dry as I thought it would at 2.4, but you wouldn’t notice it with the pH drop down to 3.4 from the Levulia Alcomeno.

Single dry hop with Mandarina, Lemondrop, and Huell Melon as well. Super fruity, and tart, not overly acidic at all.

Some mild peppery spice notes, but mostly fruit esters of honeydew, lemon balm, and cantaloupe. Extremely easy to drink at 5.2% ABV. Drinks almost like a NEIPA more than a Saison.”

Sequential Yeast Pitching
The Beer Made by Jeremy Myers with Levulia Alcolmeno

This as you can see is an interesting experiment. It backs up what AEB say about Levulia Alcomeno.

It seems that it’ll work very much like souring in the kettle to drop the pH without taking up too much kettle time.

Plus, there’s less chance of off-flavours and infection as the process is easier to control than most kettle souring methods.

Making Beer with Wine Yeast – Other Possible Wine Yeasts to Use

I based a lot of the information below off a podcast I listened to called The Sessions on the Brewing Network. In the episode Shea Comfort talks about brewing with wine yeasts. It is a great listen.

The episode came out on 11-23-08 so, it’s an oldie but a goodie. You can listen to it by clicking here.

So, let’s start by going over some old ground:

Certain wine yeasts are “killer yeasts” with others being neutral or susceptible. Killer yeasts will kill off susceptible yeasts but not neutral yeasts.

White Wine Beer Making
White Wine Beer Making

Yeasts that are neutral or susceptible can be used together. All ale yeasts are susceptible.

As we have said before most wine yeasts are killer yeasts. What this means is that adding a wine yeast to a fermenting beer will kill off the beer yeast present.

If you decide to pitch a beer yeast first followed by a wine yeast.

White wine yeasts in general fall into two groups. The first give off apple/pear qualities with the rest giving off tropical/citrus notes.

When it comes to red wine yeasts, they also fall into two groups. The first give off cherry and the others berry like qualities.

Shea talks about specific strains of wine yeast that can be used for brewing beer.

Wine Yeast Covered by Shea Comfort for Beer Making

71-B: This is a susceptible white wine yeast that gives off fruit salad characteristics

1118: This is a “killer” white wine yeast that’s a standard champagne strain. 1118, is a relative neutral yeast flavour wise giving more “grapey” qualities rather than harsh alcohol.

In fact it’s good for Belgian beers and to bottle condition finished beers. Like many champagne yeasts it’s good for drying out beers.

K1B-116:  This yeast is a killer white wine strain that produces peaches and stone fruit characteristics.

GRE: Another killer strain but a red wine one. Shea suggests in the episode it would be good for using in a kreik, lambic or possibly part of a blend in a porter or stout. It produces fresh berry notes in beer.

BM45: This is a red wine killer strain that has a pronounced “cherry” flavour. BM45, is identified as producing big body with a smooth rounded mouthfeel. This mouthfeel doesn’t come from residual sugars left after the finished fermentation.

Instead the body and mouthfeel come from other elements given off by the yeast. So, there’s body even if the wort is completely fermented out.

L22-26: This is killer red wine strain that gives off a general berry flavour.

Brewing Beer with Wine Yeast – Other Notes

So, as you can see there are some very interesting characteristics that certain wine yeasts can impart in beer. For the most part though; most of the strains listed above are “killer” strains.

So can’t be used for sequential pitching; with the wine yeast first followed by a beer yeast pitched after.

Potentially, you could pitch a beer yeast then a wine yeast to finish (that kills off the beer yeast) but there is another option.

We are back to enzyme usage, that we spoke about earlier. In the episode with Shea they suggest using Convertase AG-300 enzyme. This is widely available to most brewers.

Convertase breaks down long-chain sugars (including maltoriose) into simple sugars when added to beer wort. This will allow the wine yeast to ferment the brew completely.

Barrel Aging of Beer
Barrel Aging of Beer

In this instance as you’re not sequential yeast pitching. You instead split the batch in two parts. Ferment one batch with the wine yeast (and convertase) and the other with the beer yeast.

The split could be equal or most likely the wine yeast batch will be smaller (70/30 split – beer yeast/wine yeast).

You then blend the batches at a later date after fermentation. The suggested dosage rate for Convertase is 23-82ml per 1,100 liters of beer I believe.

The reasons the wine yeasts above are listed is that they are POF-. Meaning they don’t give off phenolic off flavors. The three most common POF- wine yeasts available are 71B, 1118 and 1116.

POF+ Wine Yeasts – Making Beer with Wine Yeast

Unfortunately, most other wine yeasts are POF+ (phenol off-flavours) and aren’t particularly suitable for making beers.

However, many POF+ strains have never been used in brewing so we don’t know how they might perform.

Please click the link to the paper “Selection of Yeasts for Koshu Winemaking”. The study was looking to find wine yeasts strains that were low in phenolic off-flavors.

The reason being is Koshu grapes are high in phenolic compounds. They don’t want high POF+ wine yeasts in Koshu winemaking and nor do we in beer.

In the study they found W-3 and Uvaferm 228 were suitable for Koshu Winemaking, would they be suitable for beer?

I don’t know as I would have to do more research, but Uvaferm 228 is a sensitive yeast so has potential for sequential pitching.

So, looking at the analysis from the linked paper above; taking into account the kill factor of a yeast and the ability to make POF (phenol off flavors).

I narrowed the list down to potential wine yeasts suitable for brewing. I wanted a number of wine yeasts to trial when sequential yeast pitching.

Please note: The measuring of 4-vinylphenol (4 VP) and 4-vinylguaiacol (4 MG) volatiles are an indicator of POF off-flavors in white wine production.

So, the lower these numbers the better potential they have for beer making.

Below I list the wine yeasts I think are worth researching more.

Table highlighting potential wine yeast suitable for beer making:
Yeast4VP/mg4MG/mgKiller Factor?Source
Uvaferm 22800SensitiveFrance
Uvaferm VRB Cross Evolution0.20.18SensitiveSpain
W-30.930.95K2/sensitiveJapan
Enoferm AMH0.80.86SensitiveGermany
Uvaferm CM0.970.66SensitiveFrance
Evoferm BGY1.070.84SensitiveFrance

Are all these wine yeasts ideal for making beer? I don’t know but they certainly show promise. They are sensitive so wouldn’t kill the beer yeast if added to the wort.

The data indicates they offer less chance of producing undesirable phenol off-flavors (well in lower amounts anyway).

Wine Yeast for Making Beer – Let’s Start to Wrap Up

Over the centuries beer yeast has been “domesticated”. It’s been used by humans to make beer for a long time. They have adapted beer yeast to make different beer styles.

They are like dogs, living near humans and becoming man’s best friend through domestication.

Wine yeasts are more like cats, they spend most of the year on the vine and are fermented once a year. They are much “wilder”. So, have never been adapted to ferment beer wort.

Also, most of these yeasts are POF+ and can’t ferment maltotriose, as they mostly deal with simpler sugars in grape juice.

Conclusions

When it comes to brewing beer with wine yeast there’s a lot to learn. However, some commercial breweries out there have successfully used wine yeast in beer production.

New Zealnd’s Moa breweries, use champagne yeast for some of their beers.

Prairie Artisan ales in Tulsa – Use a wine yeast in their Saison Ale (in fact many people believe saison yeast was originally a wine yeast)

It seems experimenting with wine yeast in beer making is on the rise. I see it becoming a trend in the future for sure. It’s a natural way to get new and exciting flavors in to beer.

I will for one will be looking to experiment and brew beer with wine yeast. Starting with Levulia Alcolmeno to see if I can make a good sour beer.

Then look to 71B to do a sequential yeast pitch followed by split batch fermentations with some killer yeast varieties using Convertase or another similar enzyme.

Once I have some experience, I’ll branch out to some of the wine yeasts curated from the Koshu study.

So, here ends my research on brewing beer with wine yeast for now. It’s time to put some of the research into action.

When I do, I will report my findings here.

In the meantime if you have any experience with using wine yeasts to make beer, please comment below or email me at: [email protected]

Any new information will really be helpful.

In the meantime, thanks for taking the time to read my article. I hope you found it useful.

Happy brewing

Neil

brewing beer with wine yeast

Neil Playfoot

Neil is a brewer with 25 years international brewing experience. Based out of China (first came in 2010) he works as a brewing consultant helping brewers with their projects and brewing processes. To find out what services Neil can provide your brewery please click here. If you'd like to contact Neil you can email at [email protected].
5 1 vote
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments