Escarpment Labs : Valor Ale blend. This is a review of one of Escarpment labs newest yeast blends and I can tell you it's going to be an interesting one. I purchased this yeast and was not provided the yeast for review by Escarpment Labs, and as such am not in any way biased with regard to my opinions. But to be honest, I'm a firm believer in supporting local if possible, and as Escarpment yeast labs are based out of Guelph Ontario, that's as local as it gets with me when we're speaking about a yeast lab. So in my attempt to try and get my thoughts out in a thoroughly effective manner, I'm going to break this review down into several subsections to better evaluate and describe my experiences with this yeast.
Intended beer style;
So I decided to go with the obvious with this one and made an Orval Trappist beer clone in honour of the name. Since I love Orval but often find I'd like a bit more complexity from Orval I switched up my regular recipe to accomplish this (the recipe will be available in the A/B test BLOG post called “Brothers in Arms”). The grain bill, hops, water chemistry and water were measured/weighed precisely to better ensure consistency between the two beers. I brewed these beers on a Grainfather G30, and fermented the beers within Grainfather Pro Conicals with the Grainfather glycol chiller as fermentation temp control. Fermentation was started at 20C and was gradually ramped every other day to a final 24C where things were allowed to finish. Performance;
Let's talk performance because this yeast blend has it in spades. So, what did I expect and what was the result I got in the end? I only purchased one pouch of the blend, and although you really shouldn't make a starter with blends so as to not throw off the labs dosage ratios, I did so as I had to split the pouch between two beers. So I shook that little pouch, added a little starter wort to the pouch after pouring the slurry into a sanitized measuring cup to get every last cell I could, split the slurry evenly, and added the yeast slurry to my cooled starter wort in their respective 2L flasks. Activity within the two starters was visible after only a few hours at ambient temps and the majority of the visible starter activity was finished in less than 24 hrs after the fermentation started. Once the starters were added to the conicals it was less than 8 hrs before vigorous activity was apparent via the airlock activity. The saccharomyces (Ringwood ale) yeast in the Valor blend ripped through my 1.054 wort in short order (approx 6 days), but since I mashed at 164F I was confident there was plenty of food left for the Brettanomyces to chew on and allow proper presentation for this blend. Attenuation was spectacular and was in the 1.008 range when it was transferred to the keg, and 1.003 when I tested a degassed sample before it was brought to Toronto Brewing for a tasting by the community. From a performance standpoint, this yeast blend is an above-average performer without a doubt. It did its job, and performed its task quickly and without any sign of obvious yeast stress in the way of off flavours. In my mind that's exactly what you need a yeast to do, perform its job, do it with authority and efficiency and leave no trace it was ever in a stressed state. A+ on performance from The Beer Did Buddha.
Flavour profile; Here's my favorite part of this yeast, and there are many reasons why I find this yeast so special in this department. On the subject of how I thought the flavour profile of the finished beer was I think I have to say it's a dead ringer for the style of beer I brewed. The overall flavour presentation of the Valor Ale blend was surprising considering there was only a month or so between kegging this beer and letting it sit to condition before it was served. The beer had a total of 7 weeks on it from grain to beer. I tested this beer before I brought it to Toronto brewing for the A/B tasting, and during my first sip of this beer and tasting the beer for the first time I was blown away by the Brett expression in such a young beer. The overall profile for both beers brewed was a mild hop presence, complex maltineess, stone fruit, dates, some dank earthiness and funk, lots of funk, with an amazing balance of all contributing flavours. The amount of Brett presence in these beers was to me exceptional and was very reminiscent of an aged bottle of Orval. Nothing stood out and became a forerunner, everything melded together well without being overly one dimensional, especially in beer “B” of the Brother in Arms experiment which had drastically different water chemistry. Aroma profile;
The aroma was a big surprise also, especially since this was a young beer and hadn't yet had time to fully express itself. There was a lot of stone fruits in the mix, apricot, light peach, some plum, light date, and even a bit of a floral note as pointed out by some. The Brett in the mix provided an earthy dank basement, horse blanket or wet hay, and plenty of that funk we expect from a beer with a secondary of Brett involved in it's making. The aroma from this beer was much more complex than was expected from such a young beer of this style and something that Trappists and farmhouse beer style lovers would adore.
For me this is a bit difficult to nail down. Of course the yeast can be used in a few different Belgian/Trappist styles without it being too far off style, but I think if you're looking for that characteristic Ester and Phenol profile other Belgian yeasts provide you'll not find it with this yeast. It's a clean yeast from the ester and Phenol perspective, at least in my experience using this yeast blend. It does lend the orchard fruit vibe most English yeasts produce, but the yeast does this in a very clean way. I couldn't detect any of the characteristic Banana/Bubblegum esters or spicy phenolics that the some Belgian yeasts produce. But in this case that's to be expected as the primary fermenting yeast is the fruity Ringwood Ale yeast, and as it's a English style ale yeast I wouldn't expect those profiles to be present. So in the grand scheme of things I'd go with the recommended usages as provided by Escarpment Labs themselves and stick with Belgian Pales, Brett inspired beers and the obvious Trappist styles.
As a yeast expected to produce a beer similar to the world renowned Orval Trappist Ale I'd demand it to perform admirably in its fermentive journey while achieving results similar to an Orval-ish clone. This yeast was a winner, and provided a fantastic base for anyone willing to try their hand at brewing a Trappist style ale or other clean Belgian ales containing Brett. I can personally say that balance and the early onset of Brett expression is a key plus for this blend and would recommend it to anyone looking for a capable yeast blend in this category.
I'm a firm believer in being loyal to those who make you better, and this case is no different. I believe from a brewers perspective that there isn't much in the way of shortcomings with this yeast blend, it can only help you make better beer. It does what its intended purpose was designed for and does it well. I can personally say I love this blend and would give it a big furry beard endorsement from The Beer Did Buddha.
You can buy the Valor ale yeast blend from Toronto Brewing Co. in Ontario or other homebrew shops that carry the Escarpment Labs yeast lines or from Escarpment labs direct. Go out and grab a pitch today, you won't be disappointed.