Wow, I've been bad about posting on here! Life has been busy. We finally settled into a permanent home last summer in the woods outside of Fairbanks. Brewing has continued but the yeast ranching has suffered. Through the spring of 2011 I was brewing out of cultures in the collection. Since then I've been doing more seat of the pants brewing and not giving myself enough lead time to get a starter made. For the most part I've been brewing with dried yeast which is much easier to get ahold of here. There are a couple of places to get yeast but in general the liquid cultures available are wildly expired or obviously have frozen in transit and it isn't worth the price being asked. I've been having great success with yeasts like S-04, S-05, and Nottingham though.
I finally decided it was time to revive the ranch. Going through the collection I realized I hadn't re-cultured since 2010! I sat down a few nights ago with fresh slants and transferred over my old samples. Low and behold it looks like I am getting good growth on the new media. Yeast is such a wonderful thing! I'm sure stressing the yeast by storing it on old media the way I have may cause some selection and drift in my cultures but all yeast changes over time. Once I get these cultures nice and healthy I am thinking about making some glycol preps to put in the deep freeze so I don't have to worry about them if I get too busy for maintenance of the samples again.
In other news. The Yorkshire Square is alive and well in Fairbanks. I've recently brewed several batches in it after sitting dormant for a couple of years and they have come out great. Brewing in the stone sure is a lot of fun and aesthetically pleasing. I was a little worried that two winters in the shed with 40 below F weather might have caused some leaks but everything is still ship shape!
Speaking of weather, I've learned to brew in some pretty cold weather. The month of January this year averaged -27 F in Fairbanks. I'm lucky at my house, the coldest it got here was -37 F last winter. For cold weather brewing I've moved my mashtun inside. I keep my propane burner out on the deck and heat my water and just carry it in to mix into the mash, sparge, etc. It works pretty well for me except opening and closing the house door with a kettle of hot water in your hands can be a pain in the butt. I have no problem getting water to temp or keeping a boil going even in pretty cold weather (although I try not to brew below 20 below) but I sure do blow through a lot more propane and I always try to keep a spare bottle around.
I've also finally gotten a kegging system up and running. Thanks to my friend Erin who gave me an old wine fridge she wasn't using I have room to keep kegs chilled. I decided to build a custom tower for the kegerator. I found a nice piece of birch in the yard and drilled it out to make a draft tower. Attached it to a base and installed a nice Perlick faucet and I've got a great kegerator. The birch tower was another fun little project like the Yorkshire Square using materials at hand from the local environment. I'm hoping to use more of the birch on my property to construct a bar at some point.
Speaking of birch I noticed how easy it is to get birch sap when it is running. I'd love to tap a few trees and boil it down to syrup sometime. Even more fun than that is the idea of trying to run some sap next spring and see if I can recover any local wild yeasts from it. My vision is to spend a couple of weeks collecting yeast samples and seeing if I can isolate anything. I would love to be able to find a yeast that makes good beer from my own trees. It will be an interesting project. If I have any success I will be sure to share with anyone who is interested.