Left Hand Files Lawsuit Against White Labs Over Contaminated Yeast

Colorado-based Left Hand Brewing Company has filed a lawsuit against yeast supplier White Labs alleging that the San Diego-based fermentation specialists sold the brewery contaminated brewers yeast, which led to a $2 million recall in 2016.

In the lawsuit, filed last week in Boulder County district court and first reported on by Courthouse News Service, Left Hand alleges negligence and breach of contract by White Labs, which makes, markets and sells brewers yeast via outposts in California (San Diego and Davis), Colorado, North Carolina, Copenhagen and Hong Kong.

“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 released to media outlets. “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.”

For its part, White Labs is denying Left Hand’s claims.

“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.”

According to the lawsuit, Left Hand had exclusively used White Labs’ yeast to brew several beers — including Milk Stout Nitro, Extrovert IPA and Warrior Fresh Hop IPA — until early 2017. The craft brewer said it first received a consumer complaint of abnormally high pressure in bottles of its Milk Stout Nitro products in early July 2016 and later discovered off flavors in its Extrovert IPA.

That forced Left Hand to recall affected product in 37 states. The company said it destroyed $2 million worth of Milk Stout Nitro, Extrovert IPA and Warrior Fresh Hop IPA as well as “several thousand more barrels of unpackaged inventory.”

In order to root out the source of the contamination, Left Hand said it ceased production and shut down its brewery for more than two weeks between September and October 2016, the lawsuit states. After several rounds of lab analysis, Left Hand claims in its lawsuit that it discovered saccharomyces cerevisiae variant diastaticus, which is known to cause secondary fermentation in beer production, contamination in White Labs’ yeast.

“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 lawsuit said. “Left Hand has since changed yeast vendors and has not experienced any diastaticus contamination since.”

In the aftermath of the recall, Left Hand claims its company has “incurred significant financial losses and damages,” including a loss of market share. Additionally, sales of flagship Milk Stout Nitro, which the company said accounts for about half of its sales, have “significantly decreased after contaminated yeast product supplied by White Labs caused secondary fermentation in beers brewed using that yeast,” according to the lawsuit.

In a statement released to media outlets, Left Hand claimed that “White Labs has done nothing to address the issue” to date.

Meanwhile, in order to prevent future incidents of contamination, Left Hand said it convenes a sensory panel for every batch of Milk Stout Nitro. The company has also began filtering batches that pass sensory tests prior to packaging.

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