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Can you name that yeast?

White Labs attended the 12th annual Southern California Homebrewers Festival in Temecula with beers in one hand and an agenda in the other.

Their first mission was clear ó sharing with the masses the great homebrew made by Brooks Hart, a former White Labs technician.

This is always a big event for White Labs. The festival is one of the nationís oldest and most intriguing homebrew festivals. It is intriguing in that all the beer served is homebrew, and everyone who attends is a member of one of dozens of local clubs. In other words, the people who go to this event really care about making and tasting great beer.

White Labs was happy to supply the festival-goers with Hartís homebrew, an amber ale. But this was not the most typical of drinking experiences.

White Labs was seeking to demonstrate the differences between yeast strains ó and the profound impact on flavor imparted by the yeast ó through an experiment in which each of four different beers was made in exactly the same way, except for the yeast.

White Labs has staged this experiment on an almost annual basis, but in this case the strainsí flavor profiles were similar. Even those with unsophisticated palettes would be able to identify that the beers tasted different (thus showing the profound flavor impacts imparted by yeast) but the challenge would be to name the exact strains used in each beer.

This experiment, by the way, worked best early in the day, while people and palettes were somewhat fresh and unencumbered by alcohol.

The first to succeed was Heidi Hekman, of Newport Beach, Calif., pictured at left. She picked the correct strains with complete confidence.

Christine Welch, of Redando Beach, Calif., pictured below right, was similarly confident, despite conducting the taste test with a group of homebrewers who tried at various times to change her opinion. She tasted each one, waited a few seconds, and went down the row, naming the strains in the correct order. This despite the fact she went last in her group and was exposed to other peopleís opinions (however wrong they turned out to be).

Welch said later she had learned the flavors of the various strains by tasting her husbandís homebrew.

Asked why only women were able on this particular day to decipher the exact strains, Welch said: "Itís a chick thing. I went with my gut feeling."

All of this brings up interesting possibilities. Perhaps the new television show World Beer Games should have an event in which contestants try to name ingredients. We can think of a few people who might walk away with gold medals.

Meanwhile, White Labs will continue looking for champions at the next festival. Come and visit us to find out if you can succeed where many have failed.