Part 1: Bourbon Yeast Strains,
The Engine That Starts a Great Spirit
The following is part one of our new Behind the Still Series, where we dive into the depths and details of America’s Spirit: bourbon. So when you read this series, you should do so with a glass of great bourbon in your hand. You’ll get a better appreciation for the complex aroma and flavors that you enjoy in your favorite bourbon. Our goal is for you to grow your understanding of what it takes to make an outstanding bourbon! A lot goes into the process, from proper grain selection and distillation to skillful barrel storage and aging. We’ll kick things off with a discussion of the engine behind alcohol production and fermentation … our bourbon yeast strains.
The History of Yeast
Though it isn’t the biggest factor in overall flavor, yeast is the key to the creation of the actual alcohol in bourbon. Yeast is a small organism that lives all around us. For thousands of years, humans have been using naturally occurring yeast to create bread, beer, wine, and even spirits. The earliest known records of yeast-risen bread actually date back thousands of years to Ancient Egypt and China.
Right now, you may be thinking, “Can I use my bread yeast from quarantine to make my own spirits?” Technically, the answer is yes. However, you’d end up with some weak, variable results. Different yeast strains have varying alcohol tolerances. Today alcohol producers use commercial yeast strains that best suit their production needs and to keep their product consistent.
Experimentation: Bourbon Yeast Strains
At Black Button, we tend to stick with one yeast strain for our Four Grain Bourbon to maintain the consistent quality that you know and love. That doesn’t mean we don’t experiment with other strains – we always have a few special barrels in the warehouse for future special releases.
Five years ago, Black Button experimented with a few barrels of our Four Grain Bourbon mash bill using a yeast strain called K1. This is a yeast traditionally used in the production of rum, fruit brandy, and wine. The strain creates more floral and fruit characters, and when you taste the final blend, you’ll experience a profile like no other. Where our flagship Four Grain Bourbon presents properties of earth, spice, and even sweet baked goods, the K1 yeast creates softer experience with a more floral nose, and a taste with a fruitier character than normal.
We decided we couldn’t keep this Bourbon to ourselves and are excited to release our K1 Bespoke Blend at 100 proof. Limited bottles will be available from May 24th until June 3rd on our website and through our online partner Mash and Grape. If you want to see how the art of blending and the science of bourbon flavor come together, you don’t want to miss this one!
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