Yogurt and beer may not seem like an ideal combination—especially if you're envisioning a float-like concoction. (Picture it: a pale ale fizzing with a dollop of vanilla yogurt. Not exactly the refreshing beverage you want to chug.)
But what we've described above couldn't be farther from what a real yogurt beer is: a special brew that swaps traditional lactic acid bacteria for the cultures in fine yogurts. At least two craft breweries—including Zwei Brewing and Odell Brewing Co.—are creating these trendy and delicious new beverages, with a little help from Noosa Yoghurt. And we got the scoop (no pun intended) on these new brews.
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It's a new trend.
Sour beers, made by many brewers, use a lactobacillus strain for souring—but very few are taking that strain from yogurts. In fact, Doug Odell, co-founder of Odell Brewing Co., says he knows of only one brewer outside of Colorado—a craft brewery in Wellington, New Zealand—who has tried the technique out. "Using a combination of yogurt cultures blended specifically for producing yogurt is quite uncommon," he says.
But both he and Kirk Lombardi, head brewer and manager of Zwei Brewing Co., see it as a growing trend, despite its infancy. That's because it can cut down—by several months—the time it can take to brew a sour beer. "It is a fairly quick and clean way to create a these beers," Lombardi explains.
How yogurt beer is made.
Just like other beers, these special brews begin with the mashing of barley and wheat malts, says Lombardi, which are boiled in a brew kettle and then chilled. But this is where yogurt beers take a little turn from the traditional: Instead of adding normal lactic acid, the yogurt culture—which contains strains of lactobacillus bulgaricus and streptococcus thermophiles—is added in an oxygen-free environment, he says.
Some 24 to 36 hours later, the yogurt cultures sour the wort and—after another good boil to kill of bacteria—hops and other flavors go in the brew. In Zwei Brewing's blend, the brewers added sea salt and coriander, and later, pomegranate concentrate and whole orange juice, for a "super effervescent, aromatically fruity beer with a clean tart, slightly salty finish," Lombardi describes. In the Odell Brewing blend, the brewers "included rolled oats, toasted coconut, brown sugar, cranberry puree, and lactose for sweetness," says Odell.
What it tastes like.
So what do these special brews taste like? "Like any beer, [yoghurt beer] can have a wide range of flavors depending on grain bill, mash characteristics, hop selection, yeast and fermentation characteristic, and added ingredients," explains Koel Thomae, co-founder of Noosa. They can look a little different, too. For example, Odell Brewing's yogurt beer was "quite murky," according to Odell. Murky enough, in fact, that "some people were wary of it because of its appearance but were usually pleasantly surprised, and other people wouldn't even try it," he admits.
But the one thing all yogurt adds to the beers, Thomae says, is a "refreshing sourness." That helps them "pair with a wide range of beers from light to dark and can stand up to the lightest bittering addition all the way up to the hop profiles seen in India Pale Ales."
You can make some, too.
If you are a home brewer, you too can make yogurt beer. "It is a great way to add complexity and taste to just about any style in your kitchen," says Thomae. In fact, "yogurt is the most readily available source of lactic acid bacteria to most brewers and home brewers."
And according to Odell it's very easy to do. Just put a few spoonfuls of plain yogurt in the wort and keep it warm overnight.