Safbrew S-33 Dry Ale Yeast: First Impressions

Safale S-33

Safale S-33: The incorrigibly stubborn prima donna of dry ale yeasts.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of dry yeasts.  I know a lot of homebrewers think dry yeasts are inherently inferior to the various liquid offerings from Wyeast and White Labs. But I’m not one of those guys.  I’ve been consistently happy with the results I get from Danstar Nottingham and Safale US-05 for quite a while.  However, after a friend’s recommendation, I recently tried Safbrew S-33.  So far, I’m not terribly impressed.

The original plan was to brew a Dopplebock.  However, I don’t have access to a proper lagering system.  So after some modifications to the grain bill, we brewed what I think most homebrewers might accept as a Baltic Porter.

The recipe:
8.0 lb. Extra Light DME
1.0 lb. Crystal 10L
1.0 lb. Crystal 40L
0.25 lb. Chocolate Malt
0.25 lb. Roasted Barley
1.0 oz. Northern Brewer @ 60 mins
1 pkg. Fermentis Safbrew S-33 Ale Yeast
SG: 1.072
FG: 1.019

Fermentation started fast.  The airlock was bubbling steadily in less than 12 hours. However, after 3 weeks in primary, our hydrometer indicated that we were still 10 points above our target final gravity.  I was a bit surprised, but I wasn’t particularly concerned yet.  We simply put the lid back on the bucket, carefully roused the yeast back into suspension, and postponed bottling day.  After an additional week, we were 3 points closer, but still too high to start bottling.

More waiting.

After five weeks, we were still 5 points above our target gravity.  However, hydrometer readings indicated no change over the course of 3 days, so we called it “done” and started bottling.  So already I’m frustrated with this yeast.  We gave it 5 weeks in primary to do its job, and it crapped out short of 70% attenuation.

Despite an unusually long primary fermentation, the beer tasted fantastic.  It had a rich, full body with toffee and caramel malt sweetness and subtle nutty/coffee flavor.  Maybe not 100% “according-to-style”, but to hell with that, it was great.  At this point, I was starting to think the wait was worth it.  I couldn’t wait for this to carb up. Little did I know just how long I was going to have to wait.

After 3 weeks of bottle conditioning, and a quick 24-hour cold crash, we popped the top off the first bottle.  I don’t have the vocabulary to explain how frustrated I was to see absolutely flat beer pouring into the pint glass.  And I mean flat — not a touch of carbonation.  Disheveled and heartbroken, we pulled the beers out of the fridge and gave them more time.

Two weeks later, we gave the beer another try.  There was finally some carbonation, but it was mostly just fizzy bubbles, incapable of producing anything that could possibly be interpreted as a head.  The worst part is that all the wonderful flavors that I remembered were gone.  The beer was now overwhelmingly cidery and acidic.  I know we didn’t have problems with fermentation temperatures, and I know we used an appropriate amount of priming sugar.  The only conclusion I can make is that the beer is still very green.  But after five weeks?

You’re killing me, S-33!  It’s been 10 weeks and I’m still waiting on this beer to mature.  If this were some sort of massive barleywine, I would have expected this.  But 1.072 is hardly the type of gravity that should require extensive aging.  I did a little research and found a number of forum discussions indicating that S-33 has a bit of a reputation for being a lazy prima donna — you have to babysit it, pamper it, stroke its ego, etc.  I’m not digging it.

I’m certainly not saying that S-33 is incapable of making great beer.  In fact, I found a number people who love it and use it regularly.  But frankly, I don’t see the point in waiting 3+ months for a 7% beer to finish, when Nottingham or US-05 could have done this in 6 or 8 weeks.  With that in mind, I think this is the last time I’ll be using S-33.

Has anyone else tried this yeast?  How did it work out for you?

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13 Responses to Safbrew S-33 Dry Ale Yeast: First Impressions

  1. Andrew says:

    Hey,
    I’m just about to try a Trappist Double fruit ale with this yeast… Figured that it will be a good one with the slightly fruity after taste that many people rave about.

    Has it improved since you made this post?

    Andrew

  2. Ryan G. says:

    Hey Andrew,
    Yeah, it’s getting better. But it’s certainly not in any hurry. It’s drinkable at this point, but it’s still somewhat green. The cidery flavors have mellowed out, but they’re still there. I haven’t given up on this beer, and I think I’m going to stash a couple of 6′ers away for a few months and see how it eventually turns out.

    I think good results can be had with this yeast. But you’ve got to have the patience of Job.

  3. TR Hollems says:

    I just used this yeast to brew a Belgian farm ale. My fermentation started off like a rocket. After 2 days it slowed way down. After 10 days, my final gravity reading was 1.015 — a little high for what I was shooting for (particularly since I added about 2.5 pounds of honey at the end of the boil, hoping that would dry it out a bit). The sample tasted really good and I bottled on July 4th, so it still has some time to go. I will probably sample a bottle this weekend to see where I am at. Hopefully, I have better luck than you did, as I am counting on this to be my “nightly beer” for the rest of the summer.

    I have been reluctant to try the Nottingham, in that I have had wonderful results with the US-05. But everything I have about the Nottingham, I am leaning on using that yeast for my next batch — a Marriss Otter SMASH (just need to figure out what hops to use).

  4. Ryan G. says:

    The beer is still coming along and continues to get better. I love Nottingham because I get consistent attenuation and it’s highly flocculant — good for cask ales with some cold crashing. I like US-05 for anything that calls for Wyeast 1056 or White Labs WLP001. It’s an excellent, neutral yeast for American ales.

    With regards to your Marris Otter SMaSH, I really like Amarillo. My Marris Otter/Amarillo SMaSH Recipe.

  5. James says:

    I use S-33 as my House Ale yeast and it’s a violent Fermenter and finishes fermenting my beers in 48 hours. I sustain and propagate my own strains of yeast that I have. It has a great attentuation and doesn’t need to be baby’d if handled correctly. It does like to finish around 75% attentuation on average with my brews I craft.

  6. Ryan G. says:

    I’ve asked around about this yeast, and I get mixed responses. But I think you’re right. I didn’t know much about that yeast prior to using it for this beer, and really didn’t know what to expect from it. The cidery flavor finally subsided after a good deal of bottle conditioning, but it never really went away entirely. I hear a lot of people say they get great results using it in Belgians and French farmhouse ales. But I don’t really brew many of those outside of a particular Saison recipe I like. But it sounds like it works for you. Congrats and godspeed!

  7. Mike says:

    I’ve only used this yeast a couple of times, and also found it to be damn slow. Worth the wait, though!

  8. Andrew says:

    Been tucking into my Fruit Ales and they are fantastic – this yeast is good, but not as good as some others I have used as it reacts differently to some of the spices I use to get the unique double fruit flavours.

    Still I will keep this one in my kit for future experimentation.

  9. Christina. says:

    Did you happen to record the age of your yeast? I wonder of some of your problems were related to under-pitching. If the yeast was six months old, the MrMalty calculator says that for OG 1.072 you should pitch 19gms of yeast, which is pretty near two packages. When I have just used one package of S-33, I have had similar issues. Results are better using two packages, but FG is still a little high and bottle conditioning still a little slow. Very yummy though. James, who ranches this yeast, does not seem to have these issues; he is probably getting the best out of this yeast.

  10. Alex Goligoski says:

    you pitched a single pack of lager yeast into a 1.072 beer and your blaming the yeast for flavour problems and finishing slow? That is a VAST undepitch.

  11. Ryan G. says:

    This could be a very legitimate point. We didn’t make a starter, and I typically don’t. This was a few years ago, and was my first attempt using this strain. My point in the post was my impression of this yeast as it compared to my experiences with both Nottingham and US-05 — both of which had provided me with very successful and predictable results. We could have done any number of things to increase our success; using Nottingham or US-05 instead of S-33, for example. But as I said in my post, I like the results I get with Nottingham and US-05, and as such, I’ll continue to use them. I wish everyone the best of success with this yeast. It’s just not for me.

  12. spatin says:

    S-33 needs about 70 degrees F to take off. I just racked a Trappist Ale that had an OG of 1.074 after fermenting with S-33. I didn’t just pitch it dry. I made a 1200 ml starter with it and let it get going real good about the time I pitched the 70 degree starter into the 70 degree wort. It was bubbling in an hour. The next morning a had a steady stream of bubbles out of the blow off tube that kept going like that for 2 days, then it slowed down and just happily bubbled for another couple of days. Got the SG down to 1.012 then racked it. Can’t wait to try it. I like S-33 it’s good stuff.

  13. Ryan G. says:

    Sounds like things worked out for you. I hope the beer turned out great.
    Cheers!

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