Aside from ubiquitous disagreements and copyright claims when it comes to new beer and brewery names, lawsuits aren’t exactly common within the craft beer community. Likewise, the industry’s biggest providers of raw materials aren’t often thrown under the bus by a brewery for providing less than adequate product. However, never say never.
Colorado’s Left Hand Brewing Co., makers of the popular Left Hand Milk Stout (in both carbonated and nitro variations) has filed suit against White Labs, one of the country’s largest providers of yeast strains for both professional and homebrewing applications. The lawsuit, which you can read in full here, alleges that White Yeast sold contaminated yeast to the regional brewery, which led to quality control issues that were ultimately to blame for the recall and dumping of more than $2 million in beer. That is a whole lot of milk stout, right there. The recalls happened in 2016, affecting Left Hand products in 37 states, and the following brands: Milk Stout Nitro, Extrovert IPA and Warrior Fresh Hop IPA.
“It is unfortunate we had to file a lawsuit, but we didn’t have a choice,” Left Hand co-founder Eric Wallace said in statement. “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.”
White Labs, meanwhile, denied culpability in a statement of their own.
“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,” the yeast supplier said via a statement. “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.”
Left Hand’s complaint strikes us as a rather difficult point to prove. They would presumably need to show that the saccharomyces cerevisiae variant diastaticus contamination was already present in the White Labs yeast before they used it, as the issue could otherwise have been introduced in their own brewhouse, fermentation or aging facilities. The brewery did cease all production and shut down for two weeks in Sept.-Oct. of 2016 as a result, eventually coming to the conclusion that the White Labs yeast was to blame.
“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,” states the lawsuit. “Left Hand has since changed yeast vendors and has not experienced any diastaticus contamination since.”
According to the brewery, the recall itself may have damaged sales of beer such as the flagship milk stout, causing “significant financial losses and damages.” Every batch of the stout is now subject to a sensory panel and filtering, which was implemented in the wake of the contamination.
It will be interesting to see how this case develops, and if Left Hand will be able to prove that White Labs’ product was at fault. We’ll report on future developments as they occur.