Left Hand Brewing files lawsuit after $2m beer recall

Colorado-based Left Hand Brewing has filed a lawsuit against yeast supplier White Labs alleging that the yeast it received resulted in US$2 million worth of contaminated beer.

Left Hand Brewing filed its complaint against San Diego’s White Labs, a yeast maker and supplier, last week on 14 November in Boulder County, Colorado.

The brewer is suing for negligence and breach of warranty after it was forced to recall $2 million worth of beer sold across 37 states in 2016, as well as “several thousand more barrels of unpackaged inventory”.

It also states that the incident led to a drop in business, adding that the “market share and consistently increasing sales of Milk Stout Nitro” – one of the affected beers and which, according to the company, accounts for half of its sales – “significantly decreased”.

Eric Wallace, CEO and co-founder of Left Hand commented on the brewery’s decision: “It is unfortunate we had to file a lawsuit, but we didn’t have a choice. As an employee-owned brewery, the fate of our brand and employee livelihood was compromised and we are asking White Labs to take responsibility for the quality of their product and stand behind their guarantee”.

Responding to the claims, in a statement, White Labs denied that its yeast was responsible for Left Hand Brewing’s contaminated beer.

“There is no specific proof on where the contamination originated from, as each White Labs culture undergoes a rigorous testing process from start to finish, which includes 61 quality checkpoints throughout the propagation cycle.”

“Additionally, every batch of yeast is tested to confirm it is contamination free prior to shipping. We cannot provide further comment due to the ongoing litigation,” it added.

According to the lawsuit, the brewer had used yeast supplied by White Labs in a number of its beers, including its Milk Stout Nitro, Extrovert IPA and Warrior Fresh Hop IPA, until early this year.

In 2016, Left Hand received numerous complaints citing “abnormally high pressure and gushing beer” and later itself discovered both an increase in alcohol content in its Milk Stout Nitro and undesirable “phenolic characteristics” in its Extrovert IPA.

Other reported issues included “broken bottles” (presumably caused by the increase in pressure), “off flavours,” and “disruption of the distinctive nitrogen cascade” (the formation of the frothy, white head when stout beer is poured).

The lawsuit states that for two weeks in September and October 2016, Left Hand ceased its operations in Longmont in an attempt to discover why this was happening. This involved stopping the production of all beer, “disassembling all production equipment and rebuilding all valves and pipe pathways in an effort to discover and correct the cause of the contamination”.

The brewer continued: “Left Hand’s entire team of brewers and maintenance personnel worked day and night to make sure every single soft gasket, pipe junction, automated venting tank top, and basically every nook and cranny of the brewery was inspected, cleaned, and repaired”.

After conducting several rounds of lab DNA analysis on its stout, Left Hand found that it was contaminated with yeast strain Saccharomyces cerevisiae variant diastaticus which can cause secondary fermentation in beer production.

Once this was determined, Left Hand conducted more tests to establish the source of the contamination.

“Based on its thorough and wide-ranging investigation, and confirmed by multiple test results, Left Hand determined that White Labs’ yeast products were the source of the diastaticus contamination,” the brewer stated in the lawsuit.

It also revealed that it has now changed yeast suppliers and had not experienced any diastaticus contamination since.

As a precaution, however, every batch of its Milk Stout Nitro passes through a “sensory panel” while batches are filtered to ensure they pass “sensory tests” before they are packaged.

The lawsuit can be read in full here.

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