Archive for the ‘How To’ Category

Harvesting and Freezing Yeast

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

One of the more spendy inputs in beer making is yeast. You can save money by purchasing dry yeast at around $2 a pack, which works very well and produces award-winning brews, but limits you to just a few strains. Liquid yeast runs anywhere from $7-$10 for enough yeast to pitch into a five gallon batch, while the rest of the inputs for a five gallon batch typically run about $20. So a full third of your cost resides in that yeast. But if you think about it, after fermentation you have yourself a bumper crop of pricy yeast cells just sitting there dormant at the bottom of your fermenter. If you’re a prolific brewer, you can immediately dump fresh wort onto that yeast cake and that works fine once, maybe twice, but you can get a lot more action than that off your investment for just a small amount of effort.

All you need to successfully harvest and freeze your yeast is a few readily available items and a ferocious passion for sanitization. For this small amount of effort, you can easily extend the life of one vial of yeast for 40 batches. Suddenly your $10 yeast purchase accounts for $0.25/batch. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A 1qt. mason jar
  • 15ml test tubes w/caps
  • A small bottle of glycerine
  • A small foam cooler and a few ice packs

For this investment of under $30, you now have the power to extend your yeast’s work day.  This article on the Home Brewing Wiki painstakingly explains the steps for the harvest and freeze, so I won’t re-write that all here, but the basics are:

  • Sanitize the bejezus out of everything including your work space
  • Swirl the yeast back into suspension, dump into the mason jar and cap it
  • Let the heavy trub settle out for 20 minutes in the fridge
  • Carfully fill 3 tubes to the top and cap
  • Place the tubes in the fridge (upright) and let the yest settle.
  • Swirl up the yeast in the mason jar, cap it and let it settle again in the fridge for 20 minutes
  • decant the liquid off the settled yeast in the tubes and fill again from the mason jar

Repeat those steps 3x and you’ll easily have three vials about half full of lovely yeast.  Add some water/glycerine mix to each vile (to keep the cells from bursting), cap it and shake it up and you now have freezable yeast cells. Stick them in the foam cooler with the ice packs to prevent any premature thawing in the freezer. Pop out a vile a week or so before you need it and put it in the fridge for four or five days to thaw.  Let it come to room temp while you’re making a starter (yes you must make a starter for this to work well), let the starter go for a few days to build a viable colony and pitch!

You can then harvest and freeze three vials off of that batch! You can repeat this safely two more times this extending the original vial out four full generations.  Beyond that the risk of mutation becomes too high and you’ll want to start over with a fresh vial of yeast. I guess if you keep going you end up with zombie beer or something.  Nobody wants zombie beer.

Handy Chart for tracking yeast evolution (click for larger image)

So You Want To Start a Homebrew Club…

Monday, July 11th, 2011

Homebrew Get togetherFor some years I’ve complained about not having a local homebrew club in my area. I’m situated between the Worts of Wisdom (WoW), about 30 minutes away and DOZE in Concord, about an hour away. Both are great clubs, but the commute is just not conducive to being an active member in either. I thought of starting a club here in Half Moon Bay, but never felt I had the time to commit to doing so properly. As it stands, there now happens to be a club here called the Coastside Homebrew Club, which is a great! But how do you make a club successful? How do you gain and keep members? How do you handle money, websites, competitions, events and Facebook pages… you see where this is going.

One of my final sessions at the NHC was “Homebrew Club Organization” which featured presidents and officers from several clubs around the US. A lot of time was spent around information on how to organize your club into a 501(c) social organization, which gives you a non-profit status and makes life far easier when your club reaches a certain size. But what about clubs that one day only hope to have a problem like that? What about a club just getting off the ground? There were still good information to be had. I’ll break it down into the following categories

Gaining Members The whole thing is a bit pointless if it’s just you and your buddy who likes to drink your beer sitting around a card table doing “tastings”. You need people to enter competitions, make enough beer to pour at events and to wear that bitchin T-shirt you spent 6 hours on Photoshop designing. Not that I’ve ever done that. *cough*.

A great way to gain membership is to hold your meetings at the local brew pub or homebrew shop, if such permissions can be granted from the owners. You want to avoid holding session at a members house as new members are more reticent to go to a private home than to a public place. You can advertise on homebrew forums, in the local paper (if you can spare some $), or just put up flyers in local beer joints (get permission!), there’s always several people who would love to find out about your hobby.

Keeping ’em coming back Good job, you now have 10 active members and 5 or so who show up from time to time. That’s a great start. Now what do you do to keep them interested so you can enter lots of competitions and make a run for that Club of the Year award at the NHC? Have different members present topics they’re interested in. Homebrewers are always looking to find out new tips and tricks, so get them researching the thing their interested in for the next meeting. If they don’t like presenting to the group, then find a member who does and have them present the research. Vary your topics. It doesn’t always have to be a talk on “Yeast Autolysis – a Detailed Discussion”. NO! It can be about the new bit of brew software or gadget, the plan for surviving Boonville this year, whatever! But try to source the topics from your members so they stay engaged and contributing.

It’s not always about the beer I mean let’s face it, it usually is, but break it up a little bit. Club camping trip (with homebrew competition!). Club movie night! Whatever, just make it social. This encourages the often non-brewing significant others to be involved and supportive of the club. For things that are about the beer, schedule a brewery tour in your area, or hit a beer festival.

Hold an event Oh how I dream of putting on the Half Moon Bay Beer Festival! This town is a festival-based economy, so it would so fit right in, but perhaps we should start smaller. Hold homebrew competition with some of the other clubs in your area. Get some buzz going and have a open tasting for the public of the winning brews. Just a small thing, but it’s another good way of getting people interested.

Handle your people well it’s a homebrew club, not your private little empire. Give others a chance to serve as an officer, or run an event. Make a series of rules to govern the meetings as they get larger like, “if you bitch about something someone did, YOU get to do it next time”. Makes it more fun and spreads the work around. Don’t let grumpy members or the know-it-all’s ruin it.

Structure your meetings Yes we all want to taste homebrew until the cows come home, but there’s a point to this – become better brewers! Have a social for 30 or 40 minutes before the meeting, but then get down to business and discuss something. People actually want to get better at this hobby.

Stay safe don’t let members get crocked at the meeting and drive home. If one of your frequent visitors turns out to be the town drunk, quietly but firmly make it clear that this isn’t the club for them. If you’re holding an event, make sure you have the permits and insurance sorted out. Nothing bums out a good time like getting raided by the SWAT team.

Being involved with a homebrew club is an excellent way to up your brewing game, make friends and try more interesting beers! And you may just learn something in the process! Happy brewing!

Going Pro

Friday, July 8th, 2011

Anchor Brewing

Anchor Brewing in San Francisco

Many a homebrewer has the dream to go pro. Several have tried and a few have succeeded. What does it take? The Going Pro panel at the NHC was an interesting talk. It featured 4 pro brewers all of whom had opened their breweries within the last 5 years, Cyrena Nouzille (Ladyface Alehouse & Brasserie), Jeremy Raub (Eagle Rock Brewery), Mike Hess (Hess Brewing), Patrick Rue (The Bruery). The talk was structured as a Q&A session, but a few themes came out as the critical success factors in making it as a pro brewer.

The Business Plan We all know brewing is supposed to be about doing whatever you want whenever you want, right? Not if you want to actually make it as a pro brewer. In the end, you are a small business owner and a small business needs at least two items to be successful:

  1. A product people want
  2. Capital

Sadly, not in that order. So unless you have $500K – $1.5M burning a hole in your pocket, you have a bit of capital raising to do. The only way anyone but your crazy rich ant Gertrude is going to hand over that kind of dough is a reasonably thought out business plan. Now I won’t go into how to write one, however Jeremy from Eagle Rock was kind enough to go into it in detail.

To know your local bureaucrat, is to love them Gaining your TTB license and ABC approval is no cakewalk, but these days it’s not that bad. Getting your local municipality to allow you to open a godless brewhouse in their upstanding city is quite another. planing commissions, zoning ordinances, those grumpy people who protest everything – these are obstacles that few know how to navigate. But there’s always one or two folks, perhaps on the planing commission or a clerk at city hall who know it front to back. Work to find them. Bring in some bottles of your pilot batch. See if anyone is a homebrewer. This will make your life radically easier.

Consistency of product If you’re brews aren’t consistent, neither will be your customers. It’s critical to get your process down and understand that it will change radically when you scale up to your new 50 barrel brew system. You’ll need to spend time honing the process and eliminating variables to get your product consistent batch after batch

There’s many more little things too like branding, location, distribution channels, etc. but the session kept coming back again and again to the topics above. And it makes sense really. Business is business and each has its own little quirks. Brewing is no different, but in this economy, it’s probably a bit easier to get the ball rolling when you start thinking about the tax revenue such business generate. But every single panelist said the same thing, “be careful what you wish for, you may get it”.

“Letters to a Young Brewer” – Calm Down

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

There’s been a rash of fermentation questions popping up on reddit/r/homebrewing lately and I thought I’d add to my earlier post about getting your fermentation set up for success.  I neglected to mention a vital process in achieving a successful fermentation and bottling – calm the %$#@! down.

“OMG – it’s been 15 hours and NO ACTIVITY in the fermenter!” – After questioning, there’s the start of the krausen forming, but the airlock’s not moving.  This is not “no activity”.   Everyone who’s been brewing for a while has had that wild batch that took off like a rocket and fermented all the way through in 3 days.  The standard is 5 to 7 for ales, so just keep an eye on it.  If you don’t see the krausen form inside 48 hours, you may consider re-pitching some fresh yeast. Until then, “relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew”.

“I waited until it looked like it was done fermenting and moved it to a secondary.  I took a reading and it’s down from 1.060 to 1.030, but not fermenting anymore!” – yeah, you took the beer away from the yeast leaving only the yeast in suspension to try to heavy-lift that bad boy all the way down to 1.012.  Not going to happen.  First, ask yourself why you are racking to a secondary?  If you’re brewing an ale, you can leave it in the primary for over 20+ days without a real danger of autolysis, even in a plastic bucket, though there is a very slight chance of oxidation due to the simi-permeable nature of the plastic.  Pulling the beer off the yeast after 7 days is not a hard and fast rule, it’s a rule of thumb.  Take your gravity readings and decide if the fermentation is complete, then make your move to bottle/keg, or if you must, a secondary.  Note: there are times when a secondary is necessary. If you’re fermenting a big barely wine or the like, you may very well want to age it at fermentation temp for over a month.   That’s a good cause for moving it to a secondary.

In brewing, as with most things in life, you shouldn’t make decisions without looking at the data.  Always take your readings before you make a decision to rack or bottle.  Keep an eye on your fermentation, but don’t freak out unless there’s cause (as indicated by the data).  If you’re in a big hurry, go buy beer at the store.  You can’t rush fermentation.  It’s done when it’s done.  If you bottle too early, you can get gushers from the excess suspended yeast going to town on your bottling sugar.  Or you can get a beer that was “half done” which won’t taste right and you’ll get discouraged.  Patience will be rewarded.  Now go brew!

Letters to a Young Brewer – Equipment

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

When you first start out on the brewing odyssey, you’re first stop is the equipment kit isle at your homebrew shop.  I’ve covered this before in the How To section, but I thought I’d take a different tack on it this time.  See, there are those that will buy a basic kit for around $200, brew once or twice and then unload it on Craig’s List for $50.  Then there are the others of us who will brew on it 5 or 6 times, get the “fever” and then start going bat-shit crazy picking up new gear and upgrading everything until we’re $1000 into it and have no idea where the money went.  It’s that second group of people that I’d like to address.

Truth be told, if you really really knew, deep down, that you wanted to brew and that you were going to do this for the rest of your days no matter what your significant other says, then there’s actually a few ways to get a hold of a totally bitchin’ rig on the cheap.  First, let’s just jump straight to all-grain brewing.  You know you’re gonna do it, so why bother avoiding it?  It’s not like it’s hard, nor does getting a rig that is setup for all-grain exclude the odd extract brew.  Second, skip the kits at the homebrew store.  There’s nothing wrong with them, but they’re priced at a bit of a premium and since you’re just going to go for it, you’ll want to save some dough for larger ingredients purchases you’re going to make.

Option 1: Scan Craig’s List.  There are always people who, for whatever crazy reason, buy in WAY too big and never use the gear.  It ends up taking up space in the garage, and one day they just dump it on CL for 1/3 of what they paid for it.  I see it quite a bit.  If you have around $1000 (sometimes less) you can score a full brew sculpture with pumps and chillers.  The worst thing you may have to do is purchase new high-temp hoses and give the kettles a good scrubbing.  The down-side to this is that it may take some time for one of those super sweet deals to pop up, so some level of patience may be required.  I don’t have that so I went with option 2.

Option 2: Locate a kitchen supply outlet.  There are two kind of these – ones that say they are kitchen outlets and knock off $5, and those that are overstock dumps for importers of stuff from China.  Guess which one you want to find?  The “restaurant supply stores” take the same stuff that you get from the Chinese supply store, but they’re usually not the direct buyer, so there’s not much savings to be had there.  So find the direct importer either near you, or on the intertubes, and get things like kettles, burners, large stainless spoons and digital thermometers from them.  For example, I picked up the exact kettle that my homebrew shop sells for $350 for $180.  No joke.  Same brand name and everything.  Next, if your using coolers for a mash tun, check out Costco.  You can get 75qt coolers for $40.  Pick up your stainless fittings (faucets and hose barbs) from McMaster-Carr.  If you’re putting together a ghetto rig like mine you can do a 10 gallon setup for under $500.

Option 2.5: Can you weld?  Well then you are in business!  Taking the same tack as option 2, you can weld up a free standing brew sculpture with just a few weekends of work. Though I’ve never priced it out, I have it on pretty good authority that you can put a system together for $1000 or less.  There are plenty of plans available on the Internet for you to choose from.  If I had the mad welding skillz, I would be doing this.  Here’s a guy who got one together for under $800!

Perhaps I can save somebody out there some big money.  I know I certainly would have benefited from knowing some of this stuff when I started out.

“Letters to a Young Brewer” or, “Unsolicited Advice You Didn’t Know You Needed”

Monday, September 13th, 2010

When I don’t get the chance to brew for several weeks in a row (my wife keeps us on the move pretty much constantly in the summer) I spend some time scanning the homebrew forums, looking for insights. Sometimes I find them, most the time I just find anecdotal BS passed off as wisdom, but hey, it’s the internests, so take it as it comes. I very often see posts by new brewers asking a series of questions that the seasoned vets among us don’t spend much time thinking about, but probably should.  So I thought I might do a quick rundown of the things I’ve learned brewing and pass along my own anecdotal BS wisdom. I think I may do this as a weekly.

Fermentation practices seem to scare the bejesus out of new brewers, perhaps rightly so, but I see lots of hand-wringing about it on the forums, so I thought I’d start there.

It can be said that sanitation in all elements of brewing is the most important thing you can do at all times, and you would be correct. However, if you accidentally touch the wort when transferring it to the kettle, or have to scoop out a stupid bee that decided to end it all by kamikazeing into your collection vessel (don’t ask), the boil will take care of most issues such as this. Do feel free to stomp on the bee and swear at its mangled corps once you have it out of the wort. No one could blame you for that. However, once the boil is done and the cooled wort is transferred to the fermenter, there is no safety net. I follow a few steps to mitigate contamination in the fermenter:

  1. Right about the time I have the boil started and the first charge of hops thrown in, I retrieve the fermenter(s) and give them a quick rinse just to get out any dust or loose “stuff” that may be hanging out.
  2. I fill them about 1/3 full of warm water and dump in about 5 tbsp of PBW powder, swish it around in the fermenter until I feel it’s mostly in solution, then fill it up the rest of the way.  I’ll let the fermenters sit like this for about 45 minutes while the boil is going on.
  3. After a good scrub with a cleaning brush, I then dump and rise the fermenters with warm water.  I usually rinse 2 or 3 times with about a 1/2 gallon of warm water each time to be sure the PBW is out.
  4. I then mix up a 1/2 gallon of warm water with about a tbsp of Star San, dump it in the fermenter, cap the fermenter with aluminum foil, then swish the sanitizer all around the vessel.  At this point, you have done about all you can to insure that there are no “bugs” in your fermenters.
  5. Just before I move the chilled wort to the fermenter, I give the sanitizer one more swish around, dump out the excess (no rinse needed for Star San), then drain in the wort from the kettle into the fermenter.  From that point you can add the yeast and aerate the wort by your preferred  method, cap with your airlock and store it for the primary fermentation.

Happy brewing!