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As bakers have trouble finding yeast, Pittsfield brewer steps in to help

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PITTSFIELD Like a lot of other cooking staples, bread yeast has been in short supply due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But a local brewer is tackling that problem by using beer-making techniques to provide customers with enough material to make their own bread.

Chris Post, the owner of Wandering Star Craft Brewery, started on this journey Friday when he began growing bread yeast in the same manner that he would normally prepare the yeast that he uses when making beer.

By Sunday, Post had grown enough bread yeast to begin providing it to customers. Each customer who went to the Gifford Street brewery Sunday was given enough yeast to make one loaf of bread.

"I had noticed that it was hard to find it," Post said, referring to bread yeast. "I was reading an article in The Guardian where a reporter said he couldn't get enough yeast anywhere to make Irish soda bread.

"Every time we make a new beer we have all the equipment to do that," he said, referring to making yeast. "So I thought let's do it with the little bit of bread yeast that we have left."

Post mixed his remaining supply of bread yeast with water into solution that causes the yeast cells to grow. Then Post and his children put the mixture under a microscope to determine exactly how many yeast cells would be needed to make a loaf of bread so they could parcel it out in that manner to customers.

"Regular bread yeast and beer yeast are very different; they're different organisms," Post said. "Normally, what you do with bread yeast is make a solution with the water, then use a microscope and a cell counter.

"It was a good home schooling exercise." he said.

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He let the solution grow over the weekend, and by Sunday had enough material for 25 loaves of bread.

"When I got into the brewery (Sunday) I took the yeast out of the incubator where it had grown the last three days and compared the cell count to what I had had since Friday," he said. "On Friday morning I had about 119 billion active cells. This morning I had 3.2 trillion. ... I didn't do it (Saturday) because I didn't have enough cells to give away a meaningful amount."

Each customer who went to the brewery looking for bread on Sunday received four fluid ounces of bread-making material placed in a 16-ounce can that had been put together by the brewery's canning machine.

Unfortunately for Post, only a few people visited the brewery on Sunday.

"We are deathly quiet," he said, around midafternoon. "We've had about five people come in to get yeast, which is actually huge because most of them are people who wouldn't have popped by the brewery. They're people we haven't met before.

"There's definitely been less travel overall this weekend." he said. "Everybody is trying to hunker down for the long haul."

Post plans to continue selling yeast to make beer next weekend.

"We're open Friday, Saturday and Sunday," he said. "We may open next Thursday as well."

Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6224.


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