The best way to learn what flavors different yeasts contribute to beer would be to have a friendly brewer agree to make several batches of beer, identical except for the yeast strain. Lacking a tame brewer, the next best thing is to choose beers that are famous for their yeast character.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Made with so-called American pale ale yeast, “its signature is the lack of a signature,” says Dave Wendell of Wyeast. The hops and malt do all the talking. At high alcohol levels, this yeast does have an ester profile.
The phenolic banana and clove flavors in a classic German-style wheat beer come from the yeast, and experts will spot the Weihenstephan strain at first whiff. The yeast, which tends to stay in suspension, gives the beer its typical cloudy appearance.
Samuel Smith Pale Ale
This classic ale shows off the faint butterscotch flavor of diacetyl, a product of the yeast and the particular brewing process. Try alongside a RedHook ESB and spot the buttery flavor they have in common.
Belgium boasts an enviable number of different beer styles and brands. But, despite the variety, there are earthy, peppery, spicy yeast flavors that underpin many Belgian beers. Saison Dupont, from the tradition of seasonal “farmhouse ales,” is packed with fruit and spices.
The lambic breweries around Brussels still practice spontaneous fermentation with wild yeast. The sour, barnyard flavor of a lambic doesn’t rely on a single yeast strain: it is created by a cocktail of Brettanomyces yeast and bacteria.
An alternative approach to a yeast tasting is to sample all the beer styles from a single brewery. Once you ignore the flavor differences of the various styles, the underlying similarity between the beers is due to the house yeast. Full Sail house yeast, for example, has a peachy ester that emerges in all their beers. The Shipyard Brewing Co. of Maine, uses the fruity, orangey, distinctive Ringwood yeast strain, named for Ringwood Brewery, England’s first micro.