A missing part of the New Zealand beer puzzle is about to fall into place with the launch of Froth Technologies – this country’s first yeast laboratory.

New Zealand’s hops are rightly world famous and our barley is of the highest quality – and of course there’s the water. That’s three of the four key ingredients for beer readily available in Aotearoa. Until now, yeast had to be sourced from overseas – whether it was dried or liquid. Yes, some breweries (and homebrewers) will culture their own strains but there’s never been a commercial yeast lab here.

Froth is the brainchild of Simon Cooke and Ryan Carville – a pair of brewers with deep connections in the industry. Carville has brewed at Eagle in Christchurch and is currently at Garage Project’s Wild Workshop, while Cooke has a small contract brewery, Kakariki. They both came from a homebrew background and produced their first all-grain brew together in the kitchen at Wellington’s LBQ bar.

They started down the yeast journey more than a year ago when they had an inkling there might be demand for New Zealand-grown yeast.

“We had to be sure this is what the market wanted or needed,” Cooke explained, “so we did focus groups and one-on-one interviews with brewers around the country. We got an overwhelming response that this was something people wanted.”

The reasons are simple: freshness, cost, accessibility, choice. Cost is an important element as the perishable nature of liquid yeast means it has to come to New Zealand via refrigerated air-freight. As a result, Cooke notes, a lot of brewers default to using the US 05 dry yeast “because it makes life so much easier”.

Once the idea was seeded, the pair knew they had to get breweries on board – and they have a group of what they call “foundation” breweries who will use Froth yeasts.

“We wanted to strengthen people’s faith in us – so we approached a handful of breweries we had relationships with and our foundation breweries are Garage Project, Behemoth, Eagle, Choice Bros, Double Vision, Funk Estate and Rhyme & Reason.” 

Some of those breweries will have Froth-fermented beers available in Wellington around the time of Beervana.

Froth will be growing fresh liquid yeast cultures from their lab just off Cuba St in Wellington – in a commercial kitchen that appropriately used to be a bar, The Big Kumara.

While they’ll be up and running with six strains of yeast, a PledgeMe crowdfunding campaign goes live on August 7 to raise enough capital to ensure they can service more breweries as well as home brewers across New Zealand.

A core range of six popular industry strains will be initially released, with an R&D project aiming to release NZ wild strains. 

The six strains – all fresh and commercial pitch-ready liquid yeasts – are:

  • American ale – Buddy (sourced from Sierra Nevada)
  • Belgian Wit – Unicorn (Hoegaarden)
  • German Lager – Krisp (Weihenstaphan)
  • Saison – Paddock (Unknown)
  • English Ale – Biscuit  (Fuller’s)
  • Hazy – Vape (Boddington’s)

They’ve been able to source the yeasts royalty-free for a variety of reasons.

“These are strains that are everywhere in the world except New Zealand,” Cooke says. “They are not protected by [Intellectual Property laws]. A lot of these are quite old, so any IP would have lapsed and in the US you can’t protect micro-organisms with patenting.”

By growing the yeasts in New Zealand, Cooke says brewers here will get fresher yeast and therefore better-quality beer. The pair will also provide the necessary ‘human support” that doesn’t come with an imported packet of yeast.

In doing their market research, Cooke and Carville discovered a wide range of practices in New Zealand breweries,

“There’s a spectrum of practices,” Cooke said. “Some people pitch a commercial batch of dried yeast every time; some buy home-brew sized pitches and propagate them up; others buy commercial sized pitch-ready liquid yeast, re-pitched up to nine generations in some cases.

“The challenge many brewers face is the access to fresh liquid yeast and freight costs for commercial pitches – that directs them towards dry options. Other problems they have are around the time and resource needed to ensure the quality and vitality of the yeast. They might not have a microscope or a lab set-up – so a lot of what they do is educated guess-work but without the precise cell counts or health checks on the yeast that we can give.”

At this stage, there’s no homebrew sized pitches available – but that will come.

“We started as homebrewers and we know how important that community is to the wider industry. Initially, we’re just doing the commercial offering – but we hope to offer all our strains in homebrew sized pitches soon enough. That’s where crowd-funding comes in, because there’s a few technological steps we have to make around packaging, labelling, distribution – there’s more work to do there compared with commercial pitches.”

Homebrewers who invest via PledgeMe will get rewards including early access to smaller pitches when they’re ready, though Cooke warns it might come in a jar rather than a fancy package.

They also have an ambitious plan to isolate and grow unique New Zealand yeasts.

Carville says it’s not dissimilar to an ambitious yeast project Garage Project are undertaking – they are working with the University of Auckland, which has a huge bank of New Zealand yeasts, trying to work out if any are viable for beer-making.

Carville explains that Froth are approaching indigenous yeast from a slightly different angle.

“I’ve been working in the Wild Workshop at Garage Project for the past year – their yeast project is entirely independent to what we’re doing. When I came on at GP I told them what I was doing with Froth and we discovered we both had similar pursuits but with different angles. GP are running through an established bank of yeasts with Auckland University – while we’re looking to find unique yeasts that tell a New Zealand story.”

Cooke adds: “We have plans for a research and development project to isolate commercially-viable wild New Zealand strains – there are lots out there and the more help we can get tracking them down, the more likely it is we can make beer with some of them. So we’re saying to brewers, if you’ve got something special tucked away, we’d love to hear from you … we’ve already had people call and say: “Hey, we’ve got this yeast…”