In a thread about driving in the snow
's LJ, we got to talking about the original Redhook Ale, and I mentioned having heard that "the yeast went dingo and had to be destroyed," which is why the beer tasted different when they brought it back a few years later. As usual, my understanding was suspect, even to myself. However, in poking around the Web a bit, I'm still not completely clear what the true story is.
What everybody agrees on is that the original Redhook Ale had an unusual taste (at least to us local yokels), which apparently got it labeled "banana beer" by the critics. However, an influential British critic said it had a Belgian flavor, and this supposedly prevented Redhook from changing the recipe immediately. Everybody also seems to agree that the unusual flavor was the result of the yeast used. But this is where it gets a little confusing. In one interview I found
, Paul Shipman (a Redhook founder) says, "Bert [Grant] was the first person, when we were clearly making the original Redhook Ale with a wild yeast strain, to come straight out and say it, and that angered us. And Bert was right. We had a yeast problem. The original Redhook Ale was a Belgian-style beer. We would have stopped making it early on, except Michael Jackson came along and was so enchanted with our 'Belgian-style ale,' that we were stuck with it."
I'm having a difficult time making sense of this. It does contain an interesting factoid, which is that the yeast was a wild strain, which is probably where I got my "the yeast went dingo" idea, except that it was apparently dingo from the get-go. But why was this a problem? Is there something inherently bad about wild yeast? It is also very, very strange to essentially say "it was a Belgian-style beer, which we would have stopped making early on if someone hadn't come along and said they liked Belgian-style beer." That just doesn't add up. I smell a whiff of bullshit.
But then there's also the Amazon.com listing of Peter J. Krebs' history of the company, Redhook: Beer Pioneer
, which contains this account from Kirkus reviews: "Red hook cultivated an eccentric image as the maker of an eccentric product, an ale that reviewers at first described as tasting 'like bananas.' The wild northwest yeast gave it distinction, claimed Redhook's makers; it was the Belgian style they were really after, they claimed. Actually, the yeast was contaminated, but by then they had a following, so why announce their continuous tinkering? Still, tinker they did, finally getting the yeast right with a chemists help ...."
I'm still not sure I understand the story here. They used a wild yeast, but it was contaminated. Contaminated by what? Cooties? The upshot seems to be that the yeast gave the beer a taste that wasn't what they were after (the goal is described elsewhere as "a classic English ale," which puts the lie to "it was Belgian-style"), so they switched to a different yeast. Far from cultivating an eccentric image, Redhook beat an embarrassed retreat to something less wild, as it were. Twenty years later, Belgian-style beers are all the rage around here and nobody blinks an eye at banana flavors. Or that bubblegum bock that the Elysian made a few years ago ...
Well, I guess it's no wonder my grasp of the history was a little confused, what with these confused accounts floating around. I even read one account of a visit to the Redhook Brewery in Woodinville
where the person claims the story he heard was that the hops in the original ale were the problem. Perhaps the wild yeast contaminated the hops, resulting in bananas. It was a crime against nature! No wonder Redhook sold out to Satan