Saturday, April 5, 2014

Omega Yeast Labs Bring The Concept of Hybrid Yeast To Chicago

Like many of us in the craft beer industry our passions have led us down paths we never would have expected. Meet Lance Shaner; Microbiology Ph.D. turned Bio-tech Patent Lawyer turned Professional Yeast Propagator and Owner of the Midwest’s only local source for brewer’s yeast - Omega Yeast Labs. He first became interested in craft beer during college, venturing into homebrewing with his then roommate. Working in labs while in college and having the ability to propagate his own yeast definitely had it’s perks as a homebrewer. 

Back in 2012, while talking to friend and law colleague Andy Smith about his plans to open Ten Ninety Brewing, Smith expressed the challenges and cost involved in obtaining brewers yeast. Until recently breweries have only had three sources for buying liquid yeast - White Labs (based in California), Wyeast (Oregon) and Brewing Science Institute (Colorado). Only two of these providers (White Labs and Wyeast) are available at the retail level for homebrewers. Yeast being a sensitive and perishable product requires overnight delivery on ice, the shipping costs alone on large volumes can be astronomical.

It was clear to Shaner that an opportunity to provide a better solution for local brewers was in demand. Feeling disenchanted with his current career, he immediately started researching what it would take to get started. He knew if he could propagate the yeast himself and deliver a fresher, more affordable option, everyone would win. The details came together very quickly and now less than a year later Omega Yeast Labs is providing yeast to over 20 local breweries with a retail launch for homebrewers just weeks away.

With over 70 breweries and a dozen homebrew shops within a 50 mile radius, the need for yeast is plentiful. Shaner doesn’t have his eyes set on anything bigger right now, expressing how much room there is for growth locally before looking at expanding beyond the Chicago market. One of his most recent collaborations was with Ale Syndicate on their righteously named “Omega Midnight” Foreign-Style Stout. Shaner met Ale Syndicate last year during LivingSocial’s Beer Fest at Lincoln Park Zoo. They later came to him with an idea for a stout with a blended yeast strain. 

“We had a lot of fun with this beer. Omega's lab is one of the better things to happen to brewers in Chicago. We love what a big grain bill can do to a stout, but to be able to propagate the exact blend of yeast from a lab in your own backyard is awesome. We took our idea to the guys at Omega and worked with them to develop this custom blend. Our beer "Omega Midnight" is a foreign extra stout, which is a rarely-brewed style of beer. This beer's a little bit of everything. It's sweet and strangely dry at the same time, roasty, and smokey with a little cherrywood smoked malt. This is one of those beers that will mature nicely in the bottle. There were a lot of dudes involved in making this beer from Jesse Evans, Lance Shaner, Mark Schwarz, Steven Winter, John J. Hall, Raul Heredia, to our friends Jacob Huston and Jackie Boyer who helped us wax dip bottles for 8 hours straight. We love Omega Yeast Labs so much, we had to put their name on the label.” 

- Sam Evans, Co-Owner and Brewer at Ale Syndicate

Much like the collaboration with Ale Syndicate, Omega Yeast Labs' point of differentiation, in addition to cost and location, is Omega's passion for creating new yeast strains. According to Shaner, the current yeast providers are essentially acquiring and recreating yeast strains that exist in the world and many of these strains come with their share of challenges for brewers. For example Wyeast French Saison strain has a high attenuation rate, finishing very dry and peppery. Another favorite, Wyeast Belgian Saison has very desirable bubble gum, fruit and spice aromatics but is notorious for stalling out mid-fermentation, causing the brewer to have to make a number of adjustments in temperature and schedule in order to fully ferment. With his lab technology Shaner has been able to create a hybrid Saison yeast strain (“Saisonstein’s Monster” OYL-500) that has both the desired flavor profile and robust fermentation, combining the strengths of both Wyeast strains. Solving challenges like this are what truly excites Shaner, and the rest of the brewing world. Omega Yeast Labs will produce a number of popular yeast strains, however Shaner plans to continue to explore the possibilities of combining more diverse flavor profiles.

Shaner further explains that "the new technology has great significance to the brewing industry. For example, a brewer might like a particular flavor profile of a yeast strain, but would not use it in a production environment because it takes too long to drop out of the beer. That strain could be crossed with another strain known to be highly flocculant (i.e. easily clumps). Screening through enough hybrids can reveal a strain with the desired flavor characteristics and better flocculation."

In addition to the professional breweries, there has been a huge amount of interest from the local homebrewing community. Shaner has spent time in the last few months with Square Kegs Homebrew Club, CHAOS Brew Club and Chicago Brew Werks sharing yeast education and offering the opportunity to brew with the hybrid Saison yeast at the small batch level.

For more information on the over 60 yeast strains currently available through Omega Yeast Labs, please check out their catalog. Omega offers free delivery for within a 20 mile radius for orders over $150. Packaged yeast will be available at your local homebrew stores by early May. For further questions or requests, please contact them at

You can also track their latest yeast developments by following them on Facebook and Twitter.

Owner Lance Shaner, pictured with their 40 gallon brewing system.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Argus Brewery's Spent Grain Pizza

Not only is Argus Brewery a purveyor of craft beer in the Chicagoland market and beyond, but they have recently teamed up with a local pizza artisan to make a delicious line of Argus "Brewery Pizza". These pizzas use both the spent grains and brewer's yeast from Argus' brewing process to make the crust. 

We had the chance to try both the Chicago Sausage and Five Cheese varieties. Both featured all-natural, local ingredients including Wisconsin cheeses and Chicago made Italian sausage. The crust was neither the Chicago deep dish or thin crust style, which was a pleasant surprise. Instead what we found was a hearty pan-style crust. It was soft and doughy on the inside with a thin crunchy layer on the outside, showcasing the grain and yeast characteristics of it's ingredients, that you can actually taste. The sauce was thick and chunky with lots of fresh vegetables and just the right amount of spices. These were one of the few frozen pizzas we've had that weren't over spiced, under topped or dripping in grease. The flavors and textures tasted like something we would have made at home.

And since beer and pizza are the perfect duo, we recommend pairing a nice American IPA with the Chicago Sausage and a crisp, clean German Lager or Czech Pilsner with the Five Cheese. 

The four varieties of Argus Brewery Pizza can be found at your Chicago Jewel supermarkets. For more information visit their website of follow them on Twitter at @ArgusPizza.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Chicago Beer Gals: Beer & Beauty Night

Ladies - join us for an evening of craft beer & pampering at Noktivo Spa & Beauty Boutique, Chicago's ONLY non-toxic spa. They will be offering a choice of two services: mini manicure, mini pedicure, mini massage.

We will be joined by Patti Mandel from Goose Island Beer Company. She will be sharing two NEW beers from Goose Island - Endless IPA and The Illinois Imperial IPA. Both of these new beers have unique ingredient stories with a local twist.

Jenny Perillo, Owner of Noktivo Spa, will be talking about the skin benefits of beer and hop oils, which are also used in beauty care products.

Tickets include 2 mini spa services, samples of 2 new beers from Goose Island and light snacks.

You must be over 21 to attend. IDs will be checked at the door.


Noktivo Non-Toxic Spa & Beauty Boutique is Chicago's premier chemical-free salon and spa for eco-conscious beauty enthusiasts and green glamour gals. Whether you're craving a little bit of pampering or need an environmentally-sound spa day, you'll leave Noktivo feeling healthy, luminous, and beautiful.

Goose Island Beer Co. is an innovator and leader in the craft of brewing. Striving to create beers that define styles, win awards, and captivate the hearts, imaginations, and palates of beer drinkers.

The Chicago Beer Gals Collective is a series of educational craft beer events connecting enthusiasts with women in the industry. Events produced by

Interested in being involved in future events as a speaker or collaborating brewery? Email us at

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Celebrating International Women's (Brew) Day

In celebration of International Women's Day on March 8th, Hail To The Ale and Brew Camp will be taking over the classroom for a day full of demos and fun with ladies from the Chicago brewing industry!

Join us for:
*Live Beer Making Demos throughout the day, 11am-4pm
*Special Pro Brewer Guests from the brewing industry will be joining us to talk about their experiences and share beer
*BYOB bottle share, snacks will be provided
*Donations from ticket proceeds will go toward women in need through the Chicago Chapter of Dress for Success
*This event is open to everyone - men, women, kids - the more the merrier!

Our Featured Women Homebrewers who will be LIVE BREWING:
* Nancy Rockwell from CHAOS Brew Club and the blog "Nancy Brew"

*Mary Clare Crabtree, winner of the 5 Rabbit Iron Homebrew Challenge and designer extraordinaire

*Laura Lanford, homebrewing rockstar and procurer of Movies On The Roof

Tickets are available through

This event is curated in collaboration with Brew Camp, Hail To The Ale, the Chicago Beer Gals Collective and the fine ladies of the Chicago brewing industry!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Designs That Shine: February

In a new blog series "Designs That Shine" we'll be highlighting new label designs to hit the market that we've identify as some best in class examples of strong branding and expressive story telling. One cannot argue that design is a subjective matter and these are merely our opinions, however we hope that it will engage discussions around the importance of brand presence and inspire out of the box thinking. One thing we can say with confidence is that consumers both appreciate and respond to the time it takes to be creative in a fast moving and competitive market. 

Indeed Brewing Company (MN), Let It Ride IPA. This Minneapolis based brewery collaborates with a local artist Chuck U, who's highly illustrative, story book-like style immediately draws you in. Canning their beers allow them to utilize the full 360 canvas for story telling. The whimsy and optimistic label designs are an extension of their mantra - "to tout the positive side of things, and embrace mindfulness and adventure—a feeling we’ve found plenty of here in Minnesota." Even their logo has a hint of a smile, speaking to the happiness and fun they want to share with their customers.
Goose Island Brewing Company (IL), The Illinois, Imperial IPA. The first beer in the 2014 Imperial Beer series is named after a skyscraper designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1950's. If it had been built "The Mile High Illinois" would still be Chicago's tallest building. The label design of The Illinois is inspired by the linear yet organic nature of Wright's design aesthetic.
Two Roads Brewing Company (CT), Rye 95. New England based Two Roads gives a light hearted nod to the many roads in life and take the "road less traveled" approach to the way they design and craft their beers. Rye 95 is no exception - the label is inspired by the twists and turns this complex, seasonal hybrid ale takes you on. 
Hangar 24 Brewery (CA), California Spring Beer. The California Spring Beer is being re-released as a seasonal offering, with updates to the Hanger 24 branding. Located in the air fields of Southern California, this is a brewery that takes a 360 approach to integrating their vintage industrial aesthetic from the taproom through to their website, festival displays and World's Fair poster style label art. We highly recommend following them on instagram.

Daredevil Brewing Co (IN), J.W.P. American Stout. Daredevil's brand is committed to producing "eclectic, aggressively fun craft beer" as well as design. J.W.P. Stout, recently released as their Anniversary beer, is inspired by the "wild west" with a simple, iconic approach quite different from the woodcut-style illustrated flagship beers Lift Off IPA and Rip Cord IPA. The design strikes the balance of creative confidence but the link to western pioneer, John Wesley Powell is still a bit of a mystery. Check out some of their other artwork.

*Update: we received correspondence from Shane at Daredevil with the meaning behind JWP Stout, which stands for John Wayne Pudding. You can read more here.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Pairing Desserts With Beer

This past month we collaborated with Katherine Anne Confections in Logan Square for our monthly Chicago Beer Gals meetup. Last February I experimented with making my own beer infused truffles as well as baking chocolate stout cupcakes (recipes here). This year as my palate and curiosity for beer knowledge has increased I was eager to tap into how to pair beer with desserts, like chocolate. Katherine was a fantastic collaborator. A quick visit to her shop opened my eyes to how experimental one could be with confections, much like craft beer. She has developed hundreds of truffle recipes alone, infusing everything from coffee to spices, herbs, liquors and has plenty of experience pairing chocolate with beer and wine. We had a lot of fun talking about flavors and put together some really interesting and unexpected dessert and beer pairings that took us through a variety of different sensations and flavor combinations.

Pairing beer and chocolate, why it works -
For a many years rich chocolatey desserts have been considered a natural pairing for wines and aperitifs. The great thing about both confections and craft beer is that there is a lot of variance in the flavors that you get, so while some of the sweeter wines or ports would be magical with milk or dark chocolate, most wines have very tannic qualities that can coat the tongue and overpower characteristics in desserts. As beer styles have expanded and become more popular there has been a lot of debate by people in the beverage industry, arguing that beer is actually a much more suitable pairing for chocolate for a number of reasons. The first is the overall “mouthfeel” experience. The ingredients in beer make it a complex beverage. Beer is made up of water, malts/grains, hops and yeast. The malts/grains are going to be the body of the beer providing sweetness and a range of flavors from bready, toastiness to caramel, chocolate, roasted coffee. The hops are used to bring in a range of bitterness, but also have characteristics like fruitiness, floral, citrus, pine, woody, earthy. And finally, you have the yeast used to ferment the beer - which also can bring in spices, fruitiness, floral notes. Carbonation is the second big factor, which plays a huge role in the overall “mouthfeel”. You’ll notice when you eat something sweet it will coat your tongue - especially chocolate or anything that has rich butter fats. When you sip the beer, the carbonation works as way to activate your taste buds and create a more rounded flavor experience. 

The pairings:

Tea & Passion Fruit Marshmallow paired with Unibroue La Fin Du Monde Belgian Triple Ale (Beer Advocate 96/100 - World Class rating for it's category).
Unibroue is from Quebec and has won more medals and awards than any other beer brewed in Canada. It’s a Belgian Style Tripel Ale. What I find so fascinating about the Belgian style of beer is that it has a ton of citrus and spice notes that are attributed solely to the yeast that is used to ferment the beer. Sometimes you’ll pick up floral or spice notes from hops, but in this case there aren’t any spices or additives as you’d see with other beer styles. This beer also provides a really high carbonation level with tight effervescence bubbles, much like champagne. These two create a "harmonious" pairing, meaning they have shared characteristics that work together. Passion fruit tends to be a more acidic fruit, which is being balanced by the addition of tea as well as the high sugar content in the marshmallow. When you taste the marshmallow and beer together, you'll find the shared spice and fruit characteristics compliment each other. The carbonation is nice here to invigorate the taste buds cut some of the sugariness of the marshmallow.

Honey Vanilla Caramel paired with Half Acre Alpenglow Dark Ale (Beer Advocate rating 85/100). Alpenglow is an American Black Ale, which has lighter body than a stout, a smaller amount of roasted malts, giving it just enough color and higher hop bitterness to balance the sweetness of the malt. This beer starts sweet and caramely and finishes roasty and dry with some notes of dried fruit/raisins. Because of the complexity I would consider this a "contrasting" pairing as the dark malt and hop characteristics of the beer work to balance the sweetness of the caramel. The honey and vanilla in the caramel bring out the malt characteristic in the beer. You get a continuous roundness of the ingredients each time you taste them together.

Java Truffle paired with Deschutes Obsidian Stout (Beer Advocate rating 94/100)
Obsidian has won medals both in the US and Internationally in the dry stout category.
It’s a robust stout with pronounced notes of dark chocolate and espresso. Dry Stouts use Pale/Munich malts in the base of the beer, found in lager and pilsner beers, which are very clean and crisp. This malt bill allows the specialty roasted malt and black barley to really shine through and give a nice, dry finish. This would be another "harmonious" pairing as the truffle and beer have very similar dark, roasty characteristics, with the beer having slightly more bitterness in the finish that is going to work well with any dessert that has the buttery, creamy characteristics of chocolate. Again the carbonation is such a complimentary aspect of the pairing, swirling the rich chocolate around for a really satisfying flavor experience.

Some additional beer pairings we recommend, which can be found at Bottles & Cans:
- Fruit or lambic beers, such as Lindemans with chocolate mousse
- Spiced Stout such as Clown Shoes Chocolate Sombrero, with a ginger dessert
- Wheat Ale, such as Lagunitas A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ with lemon or honey desserts
- Barleywine such as Anchor Old Foghorn with creme bruleƩ or fruit tart
- Barrel-Aged Stout, such as Goose Island Bourbon County Brand and a Chocolove Dark Chocolate with Raspberry chocolate bar (trust me)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Fountainhead's How Ya Like Them Apples Event

The folks at Fountainhead are so crazy about cider that they've put together one heck of an event celebrating Cider Con week along side of the cider makers themselves. Come share a few pints with E. Dupont, Tieton Cider Works, Virtue Cider, Vander Mill, Uncle John's, Original Sin, Ace, Farnum Hill and Wandering Aengus Ciderworks. The event starts at 7pm on Wednesday, February 5th.

The tap line up includes:
Farnum Hill Dooryard: New on draft!
Aspall Still Cider: 2nd bar in the United States to tap this!
Original Sin Cherry Tree
Uncle John's Melded
Uncle John's Apple
Virtue Percheron
Vander Mill Puff the Magic Cyser
Vande Mill Chapman's Blend
Tieton Cider Works Dry Hopped
Wandering Aengus Ciderworks Pear
They'll be offering a great selection of bottles and cans as well as some cider based cocktails.

Chef Cleetus and team will be preparing a special menu of cider pairing selections.

Hope to see you there!