cowdery wrote:As for yeast, I think it's probably fair to say one of the most important if not the most important skill for a distiller, not just on the frontier but up to and including the early 20th century, that would distinguish a true master distiller from an average or poor distiller would be his yeast-making ability.
I would agree with this statement 100%. I don't think that this is apparent to many distillers both large and small. You can tell this by the fixation on fiddling with cooperage rather than yeast strains. I guess it's easier to sell whiskey that's finished in sherry/rum/whatever barrels than it is to sell the fact that an interesting yeast strain or strains are. From a brewer's perspective, it's all about yeast handling until you get larger and then it's all about yeast handling and subsequently shelf life. The rest is sound and fury if your yeast isn't healthy.
I will say that very, very few Master DIstillers or Master Brewers handle yeast when the plants are regionally sized or larger. Their lab techs do all the work, and the Master merely reads the reports. Only the small guys do it all...assuming they're fermenting, that is.
But you're right, Mr. Cowdery: I'd bet that the majority of craft distillers these days have never handled yeast in their short careers. But some of that is because of tradition. Gin and Abisnthe distillers, as an example, never work with yeast....and this practice is over a hundred years old. In fact, it's illegal for English producers of Gin to produce the neutral spirit on the same site that the Gin is redistilled. I don't think less of those who don't ferment....that's not my place....but I do think that they're missing out on a craft, and a heck of a lot of fun that can be a PITA sometimes!
DIstillers of high ester rums will spontaneously ferment, btw. One of my classmates in distilling school was a Caribbean high-ester rum maker, and he told me that the most important guy on the campus was the groundskeeper. He had to keep the right mix of flora in a perfect state of health if the wild yeasts and bacterias were to ferment the open pit molasses slurries properly. Pretty neat.
Using that egg method presumes that you've got the proper wild yeast in the air to begin with. I suspect that this wouldn't work as well in the dry climate that I work in, but I'll give it a try before the summer's out and let you know how it works. If it works, I'll put down a barrel.