Finding Yeast in the Wild

Learn where to find the best yeast in the wild to use for your home brewed beers.

| April 2018

  • Wild yeast starter using yellow birch bark and yellow birch branches with spruce tips.
    Copyright 2018 by Pascal Baudar
  • Wild yeast starter using apple and dandelion flowers. Organic cane sugar.
    Copyright 2018 by Pascal Baudar
  • Active fermentation from California juniper berry starter. Day 4.
    Copyright 2018 by Pascal Baudar
  • “The Wildcrafting Brewer” by Pascal Baudar guides readers through crafting their own wild brews.
    Copyright 2018 by Pascal Baudar

The Wildcrafting Brewer (Chelsea Green, 2018) by Pascal Baudar shows readers how to combine the assortment of wild plants growing in their backyard with their brewing skills. By bringing unique ingredients into traditional brewing practices, Baudar helps his readers keep their brewing techniques and recipes creative and innovative. In the following excerpt, he explains where to find yeast in the wild.

Let’s start with a simple definition: Yeast is a type of fungus that is used in making alcoholic drinks (such as beer, wine, or mead) and in baking to help make dough rise.

Basically, what yeast does is convert sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide gas (CO2). In fact, if you take a look at the origin of the word yeast, you’ll discover that it comes from the Old English gist and Old High German jesen or gesen, which mean “to ferment.”

Most people who are into making beers or sodas will purchase their yeast online or at their local brewing supply store. I’m not a commercial yeast expert, but basically the type of yeast that you use will imbue some specific flavors to your brew and also determine the percentage of alcohol you can expect after a full fermentation. I’m much more into what nature is offering me, so I tend to use wild yeast.

You may not realize it, but yeast spores are present everywhere. They’re in the air we breathe; in plants, flowers, fruits, and soil; and even on our own skin. As I continue experimenting with brewing, I keep finding more and more sources of wild yeasts. For example, last year, while I followed an old recipe for unripe pinecone syrup, I found out (after my jar exploded) that my pinyon pinecones were completely loaded with wild yeast. So much so that I actually brewed some primitive beers by just placing unripe pinecones in the cold wort to ferment, and it worked like a charm. (Wort is a brewing term: It refers to the sweet infusion of herbs, ground malts, or other grains before fermentation, used to produce beer.)

When I taught a fermentation workshop at Sterling College in Vermont, I had the students experiment with wild yeast starters: They mixed some organic ingredients such as barks, leaves, flowers, and branches in sugar water. To my surprise, over 80 percent of the starters actually worked. Some of them were made with very unusual ingredients such as white pine branches, yellow birch bark, fern leaves, spruce tips, apple blossoms, and so on.

4/10/2018 9:15:18 AM

Wondering if these yeasts also would be good for bread making and other ways that commercial yeasts are used. Or would they be far too "hit or miss" to be more of a bother? ------We just started making our own yogurts with great success and are beginning to experiment with the whey left (we usually make Greek Type Yogurts) in bread making and many other uses (pets love it, to cook oatmeal, rice, beans in it, etc.). Any info about all this too is appreciated! THANKS!

4/10/2018 8:22:40 AM

Interesting. Its marginal here (QLD) for growing elderberry (too warm) and I get a low alcohol yeast from my flowers that I have used for both light fermented drinks and for a sourdough starter. I like it fir drinks because mine seems tomake CO2 more than alcohol and I wanted a fruit lemonade more than beer or wine

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