The Weekly Tasted: Saucy Brew Works Drifter, Firestone Walker Nitro Merlin, and Coronado North Island IPA

Our senior editor, John Holl, took to his stoop with three beers this week to give them a taste and think about life in general.

John Holl Jan 18, 2018 - 8 min read

The Weekly Tasted: Saucy Brew Works Drifter, Firestone Walker Nitro Merlin, and Coronado North Island IPA Primary Image

A few weeks ago I wrote about a wild yeast strain that was discovered in Philadelphia that produces Lactobacillus while fermenting. The yeast, known as GY7B has gained a lot of interest from both professional and homebrewers alike.

Seems the University of the Sciences isn’t alone. Shortly after the piece ran online I received an email from Saucy Brew Works in Cleveland, Ohio saying they have been working with Wild Pitch Yeast “to pioneer a new strain of yeast that makes lactic acid.” They call their strain YH72.

There’s a seemingly endless amount of beer on the shelves and on tap these days. While I get to write about beer for a living, I sometimes like to take a break from the desk and I head down to the stoop with some recent beer releases and spend a little time relaxing and taking in the world and the flavors.

This week I tipped back a growler – sent to the home office for review purposes - of the YH72 beer, that the brewery calls “the Drifter.” It’s a sour blonde ale. “We aren’t the first to brew a yeast-only sour, but we are the first brewery to successfully do it at production scale,” Eric Anderson, the brew master at Saucy told me.


The beer itself has a honey and green apple like fruitiness with the unmistakable sweet savory character common in Lactobacillus dosed beers. A soft cereal grain malt character rounds out the flavors in what is a pleasant, easy drinking ale that won’t send the beer world into a tizzy, but is still a fine choice for a glass at the pub. Anderson blamed time and transport for the green apple note, noting that acetaldehyde didn’t show up at the brewery. That said, it’s not totally distracting.

Bright and copper like a shiny penny, with no haze and a thick head that dissipated relatively quickly, I found myself getting lost in the thought of a summer picnic. It’s the kind of beer that lends itself to a lazy afternoon in the sunshine with no plans on the horizon. A background beer that has pops of lemon acidic character along with under ripe mango and other tropical fruit flavors into the mix, it’s not in-your-face but a surprisingly fun find every few sips. It finishes dry and clean, not overly sharp like some Lactobacillus beers.

YH72 was harvested from the bark of an ash tree in Plum, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh in mid-2017, Anderson says. It was coaxed along by the Wild Pitch yeast guys, Matt Bochman who runs a lab at the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry at Indiana University in and Rob Caputo the Executive Director of the Brewers of Indiana Guild.

There’s a lot of runway for brewers to use a yeast like this, and Anderson said the biggest hurdle (once he can get past the fact that his brewery doesn’t have a Lactobacillus infection) is explaining what it is. It’s not a kettle sour, it’s not a lambic, it’s a “yeast-only sour” they tell customers. In fact, he thinks this kind of yeast is more suited for every day styles, like a blonde ale or IPA rather than a Berliner Weiss.


It’s an interesting strain to work with, Anderson says. After pitching it the pH drops rapidly. It stated around 5.5 and the dropped to 3.7 in a day and a half. Then the ethanol started forming. The beer clocks in at 5.6% ABV.

He treats it as a regular yeast and says it’ll be interesting to see how it evolves batch after batch. The brewery plans to can the beer soon, but for now you can try beers made with the yeast, and others from the trial, at the brewery’s tap room.

Also this week I tried:

North Island IPA from Coronado Brewing Co.

A New England-style IPA from a San Diego brewer. It’s the near-perfect mash up of the two hop-forward styles that dominate each coast. Turbid and juicy with a dank hop smack. The fun thing about a style still in its infancy is that it’s open to interpretation.


Some will simply concentrate on a hop profile, while others will focus solely on looks. The ones who get it right are the ones who focus on the whole package and that includes yeast. In this case the brewery decided on a British ale yeast that adds a touch of fruitiness to the overall beer while letting the generous hop dosage take the main stage.

Tangerine and ripe papaya couples with orange pith, just-ripe pineapple, and the resinous marijuana-esque sticky hop all mingle together in this tongue-coating, fun to drink 7.5% ABV ale.

Nitro Merlin Milk Stout from Firestone Walks Brewing Co.

Once upon a beer time if we wanted a nitro stout we had one option. Thankfully this is an age of choice and in recent weeks the well awarded California brewer released its milk stout in cans. Available on draft for the last two years Merlin is now mobile.

It has all the visuals of a nitro stout, and the creamy mouthfeel too. For a milk stout it’s noticeable smoky with a Tootsie Roll-like flavor. This is a beer that I’ve looked forward to at the pub on blustery, raw winter days. At cellar temperature it’s almost warming against the elements outside but at 5.5% won’t contribute to loss of balance on an icy walk home. Now I only need to walk as far as my refrigerator. The rest of this already brutally cold winter in New Jersey just got a little more bearable.

The can does not use a widget for the nitro experience. After looking at that technology the brewery decided to go another route. Per a brewery press release:

“The answer was to retrofit the brewery’s canning line with a liquid nitrogen drip machine. A drop of liquid nitrogen is released into the can, which immediately flashes off into nitrogen gas. As the can is filled and sealed, a portion of the gas fills the head space while the remainder remains suspended in solution—only to be released when the can is cracked by the beer drinker. The surge pour completes the effect, providing for a rich, creamy nitro stout experience.”   “It took a lot of work to dial in everything on the canning line, but we are really happy with the result,” Matt Brynildson, the brewery’s brewmaster said in the release.

Look for it on shelves now.

John Holl is the author of Drink Beer, Think Beer: Getting to the Bottom of Every Pint, and has worked for both Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine® and All About Beer Magazine.