C’eci n’est pas un bière de cacao.
There are lots of excuses I use to justify brewing a batch of beer:
- Ingredients are getting stale!
- I don’t have anything seasonal on!
- [Insert holiday here] is coming up!
But one of my favorite justifications is a new yeast strain, and the White Labs Yeast Vault is especially good at justifying my justifications. Case in point, the grisette I recently brewed using White Labs’ new WLP546 Marañón Canyon Wild Cacao yeast.
I could rehash the backstory, but instead I’ll just let White Labs explain it:
This yeast was isolated from the thought to be extinct Pure Nacional variety of cacao. In 2007, this rare variety with white beans was rediscovered in the remote Marañón River Canyon in Peru. The fruity, phenolic, and wild-like characteristics of this strain make it an ideal choice for farmhouse and saison-style beers.White Labs
I jumped on the pre-order as soon as this yeast popped up and decided right away that I wanted to brew a simple, light beer that would let the yeast character shine. A grisette seemed perfect for that, and I decided it would also be a great chance to see what kind of flavors Hallertau Blanc hops contribute.
What’s in it?
- Method: BIAB, no sparge, squeezed to death
- Batch size: 5 gallons
- Mash: 90 minutes @ 148F
- Boil: 90 minutes
- OG: 1.043
- FG: 1.009
- ABV: 4.5%
- IBU: 21
- 5.75 lb Pilsner (BestMalz)
- 0.75 lb Red Wheat (Rahr)
- 8g Magnum [11%] @ 60 min
- 20g Hallertau Blanc [9.7%] @ FO
- 20g Hallertau Blanc [9.7%] @ Dry Hop, 4 days
- Yeast: WLP546 Marañón Canyon Wild Cacao [1L starter]
- Water: Machine RO + 3.5g CaCl2, 3.5g Gypsum, 2g Epsom Salt, 1mL Lactic Acid 88%
How’d it go?
Brew day was a breeze. BeerSmith predicted a pre-boil gravity of 1.030, but I blew past that to 1.035 thanks to a fine crush (thanks again, Atlantic Homebrew Supply!) and a long, low-temp mash. For what it’s worth, this is very close to the 1.036 that the Priceless Brewing BIAB calculator predicted—an excellent resource for BIAB brewers.
After a 90-minute boil, I had an OG of 1.043, again well above the 1.037 predicted by BeerSmith and a touch over the 1.042 from Priceless. Nice. I chilled the wort to about 72F and pitched around 300mL of slurry from my 1L starter at 2:30pm. To my surprise, I had airlock activity by 7:30pm and it was bubbling very aggressively by the following morning, sitting at around 75F.
By the morning of the third day (approximately 36 hours after pitching) the bubbling had stopped and a gravity reading revealed the beer was already down to 1.009, which in the end turned out to be FG. This yeast works fast.
I let it sit for another six days, just to be sure, and kegged it 8 days after brew day, aiming for around 2.7 vols of carbonation.
How’s it taste?
I’ll start by saying that this isn’t one of my favorite beers to date. It’s not bad, though. Obviously a grisette is meant to be light, there’s no escaping that. And given the style, I think this beer actually has more malt presence and lingering flavor than I expected. On the flipside, I could have used a heavier hand on the hops.
Appearance: During fermentation, this yeast absolutely refused to flocculate, so I was worried it would end up perma-hazy. Every little bump sent the yeast swirling up through the beer in the fermenter like dust in the wind. Good news, though: After a month in the keg, the beer has dropped almost completely clear. It pours an extremely light straw color, not unlike Miller Lite. I get a big, frothy head right out of the tap, which quickly settles into a more or less permanent ring around the edge of the glass. Oddly, the head seems to clump a little, with some protein rafts left floating after the rest has died away.
Aroma: Tons of pils malt and a little sulfur, with very light saison-y phenolics lurking in the background. Mild white wine-esque hop aroma, but nothing to write home about. When it’s cold, I’m also picking up a slight metallic note, but it’s not off-putting.
Taste: The flavor follows the aroma. Bready pils dominates up front, but as it lingers on the tongue you get more of the slightly tangy, white wine thing from the Hallertau Blanc. It’s very light and refreshing overall—I like it more and more as I continue to drink it. But I think without the more aggressive saison phenolics, it really needs more hops to get out of the sort of macro lager flavor zone. Next time I’d push it to 25-30 IBU, probably with more late additions.
Mouthfeel: Light, bright, zippy. No complaints here. With a proper pour in a pilsner stange you can see constant streams of bubbles heading up to feed the head, and it feels just like that looks in your mouth. Spritzy is the word.
Would I brew it again?
Overall I’m unconvinced by the Marañón Canyon Wild Cacao yeast. Sure, it makes very drinkable beer, but at least in this case it didn’t make anything that tasted particularly special. I’d be far more likely to reach for Wyeast 3711, 3726, or even Belle Saison next time than I would be to re-use the slurry I harvested from this batch.
The base beer is essentially just a scaled down version of my typical saison grist, so I guess I’d say that yes, I’d brew it again, but with a different yeast and more hops.