Beer Man

California Yeast Maker White Labs Opens Boulder Tasting Room Next Week

When it comes to the public's perception of beer branding and tasting, hops are usually the big star, while malt often takes on more of a supporting role. And yeast – well, yeast is often relegated to doing the dirty work behind the scenes. But yeast has the most important job of all: turning that hoppy, sugary water into alcohol. And it can also affect flavor and aroma in some beers just as much, if not more so, than hops and malt.

On Friday, January 22, San Diego-based White Labs, one of the largest yeast suppliers in the nation for both craft breweries and home brewers, will open a small tasting room in Boulder, above Upslope Brewing at 1898 South Flatiron Court, where people can get a handle on these microbes.

The White Labs Boulder Tasting Room will typically feature just two or three beers on tap at any time, but each one will be split between three or four yeast strains. That way, customers can explore how different strains affect the same beer by tasting them side by side. “It really is an experience that makes you say, 'Wow,' when you can taste them side by side like that,” says Chris White, who founded White Labs in 1995.

White Labs opened its first tasting room in San Diego in 2012. The location includes a brewery and 32 taps where people can try eight different beers, each one split four ways. The Boulder tasting room is much smaller – and doesn't include a brewery – but White hopes it will be just as effective in teaching people about the importance of yeast.

Hops and malt are the main ingredients that people talk about when they sell and market beer, White says: “They generally never talk about yeast. Maybe consumer panels don't get it or maybe they think it is gross. But breweries spend a lot of time and energy and money on yeast. It's like a secret world. So we are trying to find more and more fun ways to talk about it and to give brewers a vocabulary they can use when they talk about it.”

The tasting room has eight taps and will open with an ESB and a hefeweizen, each split between three different yeast strains. The other two taps will feature a rotating beer from White Labs and Frankenstout, a beer made with 96 yeast strains; that beer came about as part of White Labs' ongoing yeast DNA sequencing efforts.

Since the tasting room is located just upstairs from Upslope Brewing's production facility and taproom in Flatiron Park, White is also hoping to collaborate with that brewery in some way; White Labs will also benefit from the location because customers who visit  Upslope might come upstairs for some extra beery adventure.

At the tasting room, pints will cost $5, while flights are $6. In addition to taster flights, White Labs will also sell merchandise, fermentation equipment and yeast to consumers. While the company primarily sells directly to breweries and to homebrew stores, White says people get mad when they can't buy yeast from the tasting room – especially after tasting the beers.

The tasting room will initially be open from 2 to 8 p.m. Fridays,  but White hopes to expand those hours soon; the San Diego location is open every day. White Labs is also opening a brewery and large tasting room in Asheville, North Carolina, but the Boulder venture marks the first time that White Labs beers have been available outside of San Diego.
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes