Actual Brewing still hasn’t rolled out any actual beer for Columbus craft beer fans, but they’ve got one thing going: Actual Yeast. Actual is offering ready to pitch yeast for breweries of all scales, and I caught up with owner Fred Lee to get all of the details.
Warning: it’s about to get nerdy in here.
[Sage Wolfe] Actual Brewing, Actual Coffee, and now, Actual Yeast. How did this idea come about? In what order can we expect to see these products on the market?
[Fred Lee] Our yeast products are available for sale now. We can provide pitchable yeast quantities from 250mL laboratory pitches, your typical homebrew five gallon batches, and all the way up to pitches for sixty barrel systems. The yeast idea was simply born of our scientist’s expertise and looking at the market. There’s really only a few companies selling yeast strains for brewers. House strains are common for many breweries and even home brewers and over the years, we’ve acquired a few house strains. We put these strains in our library and make them available for brewers. The coffee lab will probably be operational before the end of October; we are already roasting and have completed most of our test batches. Our coffee, our science services, and our brewers yeasts will be available online within the next couple of weeks at actualbrewing.com.
[SW] Can you describe your yeast lab and the experience of your personnel?
[FL] We are really lucky to have complete gas chromatography capabilities, modern biology and QA programs as well as minor chemistry programs. Our chief scientist has a chemical engineering degree and has experience with major food producers and large breweries in QA and food biology. Our lab associates and assistants have degrees in microbiology, chemistry, food science and we have a new part time associate who holds nuclear engineering degrees. He says he prefers beer to neutron smashing. I don’t blame him.
[SW] As a startup, how do you justify (to your investors or yourselves) simultaneously launching three product lines? How do you appropriately allocate your time, energy, and capital?
[FL] As a startup or as any business, justification of investment has to do with the experience of the leadership team. Our chief scientist, coffee roast-master, and head brew-master are all experienced in their professions and passionate. When our investors taste our beers and try our coffees, we usually don’t have a problem acquiring investment. Getting investors is not very difficult in this economy, there’s a lot of garbage for sale out there and people are looking for a more genuine and local experience. All of the companies that carry the Actual brand were going to be companies on their own here in Columbus. We are pooling our resources to keep our costs down and utilize shared resources. Allocating our resources is as simple and complicated as we need it to be. We’re not just launching a brewery, a yeast lab, and a coffee roaster, we’re also launching a bar downtown. We have people working at Actual Labs that are starting their own professions and acquiring their own resources. We have amazing accountants, we have a ton of passion and we are really lucky to work with investors that want to be a part of this great thing we’re so lucky to be doing.
[SW] What advantage can you offer brewers over White Labs or Wyeast, on the home and professional scales?
[FL] I suppose the easy answer is price and service. Yeast is yeast and it’s pretty hard to tell whether a White Labs strain outperforms a Wyeast strain, but some minor things can be done. We fatten up our cells with loads of natural sterols before we deliver them, we give them some nice fuel reserves and make sure they are in top health, so they can make the trip from our brewery to their new home in your fermenter, but really, yeast do their own thing, we make sure they have plenty of food, air, and a nice clean place to live, but they don’t complain much and as long as we take care of them, they’ll take care of us. We think they reward us every time we drink some beers they’ve made.
[SW] What other services are available to hobbyists and pros?
[FL] We offer complete scientific analysis of beverages (alcoholic and otherwise) from calories, ABV, protein counts, dissolved solids, cell counts, volatile compounds, etc. all they way to our tasting panels. We have formal tasting analysis for coffee, beer and alcoholic beverages, as well as informal hipster parties where we capture tasting data anecdotally.
[SW] What volumes and cell counts will you offer? What about pricing or discounts?
[FL] We offer pitchable volumes for up to sixty barrels batches. Local SODZ members and BRU customers will receive 50% off all yeast products purchased online. We currently sell yeast in four containers, but we make any pitchable amount. 50mL, 250mL, 5 and 25 gallon.
[SW] What strains do you offer or plan to offer?
[FL] We have four strains for sale right now. [SW: more information about the yeast strains can be found here, if you want to get really nerdy]
[SW] What’s the shelf life of your yeast?
[FL] About a month. We will extend this if there is more demand.
[SW] Where can we find it?
[FL] Right now, you can only buy it from the ABC Brewery out by the airport. Yeast is made to order so plan ahead; we take about two weeks to deliver your order right now. We stock a few gallons, so call ahead.
As a homebrewer, I’m excited about Fred’s new business venture. Currently, if you buy liquid yeast from Wyeast or White Labs, you need to make a yeast starter (a process by which you increase the cell count of your yeast). Wyeast & White Labs offer about 100 billion cells per package, whereas Actual will have the flexibility to offer the exact amount you need up-front. Let me know what you think in the comments.