Sunday, December 20, 2009

New Lasso Activity, Basic Brewing Radio, and Kombucha!

Life is good at the Ranch!  I recently brewed a big American IPA full of Simco and Amarillo hops and lots of late additions which is somewhat out of character for my usual brewing habits.  I figured if I was going for a big classic American IPA I should use a classic yeast.  So Wyeast 1056 - American Ale into the fermenter and into the ranch.  What a great yeast, it ripped through my IPA with an 88% apparent attenuation in less than a week and that was with a pretty bad underpitch on my part.  I'm happy to have this one on hand and will probably be brewing with it frequently. 

I also lassoed a sample of Wyeast 3068 - Weihstephan Weizen from my friend before he pitched it into a weizen he brewed.  I don't brew or drink a lot of wheat beers so it is interesting getting this into the collection.  It should prove inspiration for some future brewing.

Speaking of inspiration, check out the December 17th, 2009, episode of Basic Brewing Radio.  Yours truly an some of the guys from the SouthCoast Homebrewers Association discuss our big partigyle in an episode James calls Partigyle Gone Wild.  We are now referring to the technique of combining second runnings from multiple mash tuns to build a stronger beer as "collaborative mashing"  Just about everything is fermented out now but some is waiting to get into the bottle still (I'm currently having a bottle shortage!).  Thanks James, we had a blast on the show and plan to do another collaborative mash in the spring.  This time we are talking about doing big wheat beers so that Weihstephan Weizen should come in handy!

On a side note from beer.  I recently got a Kombucha starter from my friend Scott.  I just put my first batch in the fridge tonight.  I had never heard of Kombucha until recently but I'm gain to try anything that ferments!  My first batch is tasting pretty good.  Now I just need to get a ginger beer plant....

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Trappist High Gravity, Sour Mashes, Partigyles.........Beer is way to much fun!

Since the last post I've added the Trappist High Gravity (Wyeast 3787) to the stable.  My brewclub got this yeast to use for a Belgian partigyle that we did a couple of weeks ago.  The partigyle was an interesting affair that was a adaptation of a standard partigyle (many thanks to Scott for all his hard work on figuring this out).  We didn't want a big beer and a small beer, instead we wanted 3 beers of good or strong gravity.  We used two separate mash tuns each to produce a strong wort.  Then we sparged a second running out of each mash tun with about half the volume we would have for a normal beer.  We combined these two second runnings together to create the wort for the third beer.  The result was that we created a Quadrupel, Tripel, and Dubel all in one session.  For an added bonus we sourmashed our leftover grains for 24 hours and were able to produce two sour beers of reasonable gravity as well!  (I added sour cherry juice to mine in the fermenter and it is tasting fantastic so far)

The Trappist High Gravity has done a great job fermenting out the Quadrupel and has handled the multiple "Candi" syrup additions (Listen to the Homade Candi Syrup episode on Basic Brewing Radio to learn how to make this) very well.  The beer is a wonderfully malty, complex big beer.  It doesn't have as much of the "Belgian" character from the yeast as I was hoping for but I don't have temperature control for my carboys yet and it fermented around 66-68 F which is lower than what I would have liked to ferment it at.  Even so it is shaping up to be a great beer.

This evening I created a 50 ml starter and picked off a colony of the Trappist High Gravity to toss in.  This should be going into a friend's Patersbier next weekend.  Can't wait to see how that comes out.

I'm planning an American IPA next weekend which is a little bit different from what I usually brew so I'm looking forward to that.  Lots of Amarillo and Simcoe hops and lots of late additions!  I'm picking up a package of Wyeast 1056 which seems like a fitting yeast for this type of IPA.  I haven't brewed with this one in years but will be sure to snag a sample to go into the stable so it can work it's way into the rotation.

Pretty soon I'm going to need to make up some more plates and slants!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I could Cry Havoc all night long!

So that little Cry Havoc starter got built up into a 1 liter starter and went into a 1.084 Imperial Oatmeal Stout.  Boy it is nice when you have a good starter.  There was obvious fermentation going on within an hour or to of pitching that yeast.  Good thing I have a blow-off tube!  Too bad the bow-off bucket I used was too small!

Anyway, I've been really happy with the Cry Havoc yeast.  I fermented this beer in my basement where the temp has been around 65 or 66 F and it brought this beer down to 1.020 in 3 or 4 days!  I was hoping to get the gravity a little lower but my mash ended up being pretty warm and there are a lot of oats in this beer.  Regardless this little guy gave me an apparent attenuation of 74% which is pretty good considering it is only rated to 70%.

This coming weekend the SouthCoast Homebrewers Association is planning a Belgian Partigyle.  It's a bit of an experiment for the group.  This isn't really a traditional partigyle but a sort of hybrid where we are using to mash tuns.  One will produce a wort for a Quad, the second will produce a wort for a Tripell, and the second runnings from both systems will be combined to try and make a Dubell..  On paper it works, we'll see what happens once the yeast is pitched.

I'm breaking out my trusty culture of WLP 550 Belgian Ale for one beer and we have a new addition to the stable, Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity.  I'm really excited about this one too!  We will be using it in two of the beers.

Right now I only have one stir plate so the Trappist yeast is getting a stir and the Belgian Ale is building up old school.  Interestingly, I do have a second stirplate stashed away.  A couple of years ago I decided to build my own with a computer fan and rare earth magnets.  It was a fun project and everything looked great but I was never able to get the stir bar I had at the time to couple well with the magnets and actually stir.  Since I got my new stir plate and stir bar I finally figured out what the problem was....the original stir bar that I had was not magnetized!  It is just a plastic coated piece of metal.  It sticks to the stir plate but even on my new stir plate doesn't make a strong enough magnetic coupling to stir.

Well that stir bar is going straight into the trash (as soon as I fish it out of the bottom of the WLP 550 starter)!  I have a new magnetized stirbar on the way.  Now I just need to fish out the homemade stirplate, re-solder some of the connections that have become broken as I have fiddled with it, and I will be all set to have 2 starters stirring concurrently!  YeeeHaaawww!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Go Little Guy Go!

As I mentioned with my latest starter I decided to pluck a colony and through it into 35-40 mls of wort vs the 10-15 mls that I have been doing.  I was a little worried that that little colony would have trouble inoculating that volume of wort.  I am happy to report that that little Cry Havoc yeast had no problem showing that wort sample who is boss!

This postings pic is my little 50 ml ehrlymer with the Cry Havoc starter fermenting away on my stir plate.  Hopefully tonight I'm going to kick it up to 400-500 mls and in a few more days see if I can push more towards 2 liters.

I've got a big stout coming soon with an estimated OG of around 1.090 so I want to make sure that I've got lots of yeasties to handle it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Happy Fermentations!

Everything is going well on the old yeast ranch.  The Eastcoast ale starter did a great job fermenting out the "Redheaded Stepchild".  There was evident fermentation within 2-3 hours of pitching the yeast!

All the strains were successfully replated with no contamination picked up.  It is great to see those colonies looking happy and healthy again.  They were starting to look pretty sorry on the old plates.  In addition I put several strains onto slants.  This is the first time I've done slants and I really like them.  They take up a lot less space in the fridge, are much less likely to pick-up contamination, and are less likely to break than my glass plates.  I don't have enough tubes to transfer my all the cultures over to slants yet but I will be getting more at some point.

I'm planning a big imperial oatmeal stout next weekend so I'm getting another starter going.  This time around instead of starting with 10-15 mls I am starting with 45 mls of 12 brix wort.  Hopefully that is not to much volume for that little colony to handle, I guess I'll find out.  My goal is to create a larger starter than I usually do.  Usually I have a 700-800 ml starter.  This is basically because I have a 1000 ml ehrlymer flask that I usually do my starters in.  I think many people would argue that 700-800 mls is underpitching.  This might be true, right now I'm not set up to do yeast counts.  I do know that the starters I've been using have been taking right off and fermenting my worts out well.  Usually I am doing session beers with a gravity in the 1.035-1.045 range, this time around I'm aiming for 1.085-1.090 and I might need some more yeast cells than my typical beer!  I am going to step this starter up into an old growler.  That should let me get my volume and yeast count up.

Oh, in case you are wondering I'm stepping up Cry Havoc of one of the plates.  I really like this yeast and it should be able to handle the slightly cold temps in my basement right now.  Thanks Charlie Papazian!

Friday, September 25, 2009

EastCoast Ale Starter and new plates!

My EastCoast Ale starter is going strong!  I went from a 10 ml starter from a single colony to a 125 ml starter.  Yesterday I kicked it up to an 800 ml starter and it has really taken off.  I recently got a stirplate and this is my first chance to get to play with it.  I put both the 125 ml and the 800 ml starters onto the plate.  The 800 ml starter is happily spinning away.  I'm brewing my RedHead in 2 days so I think I should be in good shape.  I'm expecting that fermentation to take right off!

In other news.....I recently purchased some glass petri dishes!  Brand new at bio supply companies they can be kindof pricey but I found some on ebay at a great price.  I suspect they may not be as high of quality as I might purchase from FischerSci but I think they are going to do a great job for me.  My last batch of plates ended up with a lot of contamination.  Part of the problem was the hot and muggy weather we were having this summer and mold spores floating everywhere.  Since I poured my malt-agar into plastic plates I was only able to keep things sanitized and not sterilized.  With the new plates I mixed up the malt-agar solution and poured it into clean plates.  I then ran the poured plates through an autoclave at work.  For those of you without access to an autoclave a pressure cooker would work just fine.  So now I have a bunch of nice new sterile plates to work with.  My cultures are getting old and a few have picked up some contamination.  The nice thing about working with the plates is I can see contaminant colonies and pick up a nice healthy looking colony and re-isolate it on a new plate.

I made up a few slant tubes as well.  I figure plates work great for isolating colonies from a liquid culture but they do take up some room in the fridge, can become contaminated when opened, and can dry out.  Slant tubes address all of these problems.  Once you have a pure isolate they are a good way of storing the culture.  My Cry Havoc plate still looks in good shape and has some happy looking colonies.  I picked one up and inoculated a slant with it today, can't wait to see how it grows.

Monday, September 21, 2009

10 mls of love!

I plucked a colony of East Coast Ale yeast of my plate the other day and used it to innoculate10 mls of wort starter.  After 24 hours at room temp I was showing signs of fermentation and after 3 days there is very active fermentation!  Today I am stepping it up to 100 mls of wort.  After a couple of more days I hope to get it into my typical 700-800 ml starter.  By this coming weekend I should have tons of happy yeast at the ready for my brew day!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Oaking the Belgian IPA

I am trying my hand at oaking for the first time today.  I have my big IPA from the group brew aging in the secondary.  It already has a big difference in flavor and aroma from the last time I brewed it when I used the Cry Havoc yeast.  Last time around it was a great beer.  Since the point of this brew is to brew up a large batch and divide up the wort and have everyone ferment their portion differently I thought I would go for something very different.

The Belgian yeast strain has already given this beer a great aroma and flavor.  I got ahold of some American oak chips.  I would prefer to have some of the cubed french oak but the American chips were what was available.  This morning I tossed an ounce of the chips in the toaster and toasted them until they started smoking a little and started picking up color.  Boy did that smell great!  After they cooled down I soaked them in water all day.  This evening when I got home from work I thieved a sample out of the secondary for a taste test (yum!) and in went the oak chips!

I'm planning on sampling the beer every day or two and try to track the changes in flavor.  Once it gets where I want it I'll either send it off to the bottling line or rack it to another carboy to get it off the oak.  This one should really stand out from the crowd when everyone gets together for a tasting of this brew sometime next month!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Thanks Basic Brewing Radio

Thanks so much to James of Basic Brewing Radio for having me on the podcast.  I've gotten a lot of brewing inspiration from BBR and I find it an invaluable resource.  I love exploring the different ingredients that go into beer.  I think one of the most underappreciated ingredients is yeast.  Certainly there's lots of hop heads out there and a decent number of people that love the malty goodness.  A lot of people even do some sort of water treatment such as adding Burton salts or filtering their water.  I've really begun to appreciate the subtleties that different yeast strains provide.  My interest has slowly been growing in this area over the last several years but really took off when my homebrew club did a group batch where we brewed up a large amount of a single wort and each fermented it differently.  It was amazing how different each beer was.  All the same elements were there in each beer but at the same time each beer was distinctly different.  Each strain of yeast had taken all those flavor elements and worked them in its own way as well as adding its own unique flavors.  We just repeated this experiment a few weeks ago with a new set of yeast and I can't wait to taste the results.

I'm learning a lot of this as I go and having a good time doing it!  I love watching those little yeast colonies grow up on the plate almost as much as I love growing them up to ferment a new batch of beer.  As I mentioned to James yeast ranching is pretty simple.  Basically you need an alcohol lamp and a wire loop that you can sterilize.  Pre-poured malt/agar plates are pretty cheap and available from homebrew sites such as morebeer.  With these you just need to flame your loop, pick up a yeast sample, and streak it onto the plate. With a pressure cooker or access to an autoclave you can mix up your own agar and pour out your own plates.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Saturday, August 29, 2009

New Plates Are Poured!

Today I'm making up some new blank plates so I can catch up on my yeast sampling.  I've found a variety of recommendations for recipes to make up malt/agar plates on the internet.  Honestly, I didn't write down what I did for my first batch so I can't tell you.  This time my recipe is as follows:

  • 100 grams H2O
  • 1.5 grams agar
  • 1.5 grams Fermaid K
  • 12 grams light DME
I have access to an autoclave at work and use it to routinely sterilize my glassware.  However, things get kind of busy and hectic there so trying to mix up some plate media would be difficult and get in people's way.  I also worry about having agar spill out into the autoclave and make a mess.

Since I don't want to deal with mixing up my media at work I am breaking the rules of sterility and mixing it up stove top. I dissolved the solids in hot H20 and boiled in a sterile 250 ml beaker on my stovetop. This should be good enough to kill any yeasts and most bacteria (except for the spore-formers). If I was using these plates for a commercial application I might be concerned but since they are for my own use I'm taking the"Relax, Don't Worry, Have A Homebrew!" approach.  I will let the plates sit for several days to a week to look for any growth to indicate contamination.

After finishing I realized I might want to make up some more plates to reculture out some of my existing plates since they are getting a little old.  Well one thing at a time....

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Making Plates and Slants

I realized the other day that I've got a couple of yeast samples hanging out in the fridge that I want to plate out and isolate. Since I recently used my last plate to isolate the Whitbread strain its time for me to make some more plates.

You can buy pre-poured plates at but I like to pour them myself. I mix up a solution of water, malt extract, and agar and boil it up. Be careful because this solution loves to boil over and I made a mess of the inside of my microwave the last time I did this :)

Right now I have plastic plates so I am not able to autoclave the plates and technically my agar mix is not sterile with boiling alone. The plates came pre-sterilized and so far I haven't had a problem with my boiled media into my pre-sterilized plates. At some point I would like to invest in some reusable and autoclavable glass plates.....

Once the boiled media has cooled down enough for me to handle the glassware I either pour or use a syringe to fill my plates. They gel up pretty quickly. I seal them up and will keep them out at room temperature for several days to a week to watch for any growth. If anything grows I know that I have some contamination. If they stay blank I bundle them away into the fridge for storage.

There's a lot of information about these procedures out there on the Internet. One of the sites that I found helpful was the BrewKaiser

I can't wait to get my new plates set up so I can add to the stable. One of my projects is to try and recover yeast from a 15 year old BarleyWine. I'm pretty interested to see what if anything has survived in there for so many years. If I do manage to recover anything it will also be interesting to see if it looks like I am getting a single isolate or more than one.....

Monday, August 24, 2009

Thar She Blows

Nothing quite like christening the new 6 gal better bottle than a blow-off! Apparently my Belgian starter that I built up last week was pretty happy. I was seeing fermentation within 2-3 hours after pitching which I think is the soonest I've ever had activity. This morning I got up to check on the fermentation and there was my airlock sitting on the floor and krausen right up the neck of the carboy! I love it! (only because it is in my basement and easily cleaned) In fact this is one of the most vigorous fermentations I have ever had!

It looks like the krausen is already down slightly from where it peaked last night so I popped the airlock back on. Since this better bottle is brand new and has a different neck size than my glass carboys I don't have a blow-off tube that fits it yet.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Big Brew Day!

Today was the big group brew. We brewed up a 20 gallon batch of Warrior IPA (lots of Warrior hops with some cascade at the end). Last time we brewed it, it came out great. This time around we put in an extra 1/2 pound of special B which I think should be good.

Anyway, all three starters were ready to go. Within 2-3 hours of pitching the Belgian strain into the batch I took home there were obvious signs of fermentation :)

Three of the four batches used starters built up out of the yeast library. The fourth is being fermented with S-05 dry yeast which I think will do a nice job as well. I can't wait to compare the Belgian version to the ones done with the American yeasts.

As an added bonus I brought home the dregs of a White Labs tube to try and culture some Kolsch yeast out of. I tasted the Kolsch that was brewed with it and it was quite good so I am excited to get this one into the stable.

Time to pour some more plates!

Friday, August 21, 2009

My three starters are looking good today after a big step up last night. There was nice fermentation activity already this morning. The Belgian Ale yeast seems to be the most active. I think it is really loving the warm weather we have been having. The Belgian is the starter in the erlenmyer flask, you can see the nice layer of yeast that has developed in it already. This should really kick of the IPA when it gets pitched in a couple of days.

I really need to get a stirplate, I constructed one following the plans in Zymurgy a few years ago but it has never worked right. Either my magnets aren't strong enough or my RPM's are too high because the stir bar always ends up spinning off to the side and not working properly. One of these days I'll either have to figure out how to get it working properly or buy one for myself. I've been pretty happy with how my starters work out without using a stirplate so I'm not in any rush.

My next priority is pouring some more plates for myself so I can add to the collection and maybe making some slants as well.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Stepping it up baby!

This has been a busy week on the old ranch. The big group brew is coming up this weekend and the ranch has to stud for 3 of 4 batches being brewed. Working of the plates I started a single colony into 10 ml starters earlier this week. They are now fermenting away in a couple hundred ml bottles and tonight they are getting stepped up to somewhere in the 500-750 ml range.

It's pretty amazing how quickly a single colony can be built up into a good starter. I'm going to make sure tonight's wort gets well oxygenated so I can get some really good growth over the next couple of days so there ready to handle the 5 gal batches this weekend.

I have the White Labs Belgian Ale, Cry Havoc, and East Coast Ale getting ready for this weekend. The coolest thing this time around is how much like a Belgian ale my little 10 ml starter of Belgian yeast smelled like. I was really tempted to drink it instead of pitching it up!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Welcome to the Safari

Welcome to my adventures in fermentation. I have become a huge fan of all the work that microbes such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae do for us. I have been brewing beer since the early 1990's and have always been fascinated by the process of fermentation. Having studied way to much biochemistry I can fully appreciate why our yeasty friends are so happy to ditch the Kreb cycle and stick to good old fashioned anaerobic respiration!

As I explore the art of brewing I continually look for new and exciting aspects to play with, one of my more recent adventures is starting a yeast farm. Thanks to google, AHA tech talk, some basic information from white labs, and some rudimentary lab equipment I have begun to lasso those crazy yeast out there and bring them into the corals. I have been building up the collection both for personal satisfaction and for use by my homebrew friends.

Currently the stable includes:

  • Cry Havoc
  • Belgian Ale
  • London ESB
  • Whitbread Ale
  • East Coast Ale