Sunday, 28 April 2013

Brewday: John's Saison

Citra & Amarillo waiting
to go in the pool...
Saison is one of my favorite summer beers, and it is time to start brewing summer beers.  This beer is a recipe from a fellow London Homebrewer Guild member John, who also happens to be a co-worker.  John brought this beer to a meeting a few months ago - it was, hands down, one of the best Saison's I've ever had.  I'm not sure how on-style this is, but it is damned tasty.

Unfortunately, I had to mess with perfection.  John, like most students, lives in a small cramped apartment that is always hot - i.e. perfect Saison brewing temperatures.  I live in a house with a wife who saves money by not turning on the heat.  So I swapped out John's recommended Belgian Saison I Ale (WLP565), which is notorious for needed warm temperatures, for Wyeast's 3711 (French Saison), which is perfectly happy at the 18-20C my basement tends to be at this time of year.

Recipe & brewday below the fold...I hope John doesn't mind me posting it...

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Mailing Yeast

A yeast mailer loaded & read-to-roll
One problem faced by many yeast banks is the sharing of yeasts over long distances. Yeast plates, frozen cultures, slants, etc, can be expensive to send and are highly temperature/time sensitive. There is a better way!

Since the mid-1990's I've been using a simple & cheap method to mail yeasts. I cannot take credit for this - I think I first came across this method in rec.crafts.brewing (for the young whippersnappers out there, this is a usenet brewing group), or perhaps on the ol' home brew digest. It works very well, requires no special tools, is relatively resistant to swings in temperature, and relies on regular letter mail instead of expensive package mail or couriers.

The concept is simple - a foil envelope is built around a piece of absorbent paper. This packet is then sanitized, then liquid yeast is sterilely dropped onto the paper & allowed to dry. The foil envelope is then sealed & mailed. The recipient recovers the yeast (ideally) by placing it on a wort-agar plate and selecting the colonies that grow, or (less ideally) by placing the paper in a tube of media and letting the yeast grow out of that.

Details below the fold...

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Introducing Brettanomyces

As I have mentioned previously, part of my Hunting Wild Yeast project is writeups describing the more common yeast and bacteria that are found in sour beers & wild ferments. In my last article I wrote about the typical pattern of yeasts and bacteria observed in wild ferments. In this article I'm going to cover the basic characteristics, flavour profile, and purification of Brettanomyces yeasts.

Brett was discovered by N. Hjelte Claussen in 1904, and was identified as the causative agent in producing the characteristic flavour of old English ales. Brettanomyces is literally Greek for "British fungus". Of the wild yeasts, Brett is the best known and most widely used. Indeed, Wyeast and White Labs both carry a range of well characterized Brett strains, meaning that at least some Bretts are no longer wild.

Brett adds some unusual flavours and aromas to beers. Describing some of these to people who have not worked on farms is difficult - Brett can give off an aroma of an old horse blanket or a sweaty horse; I cannot think of a good replacement, but a musty old wool seater with hints of dust and sweat might be close. Other flavours such as stale/mousey, leather, band-aid/plastic, enteric (vomit), burnt protein/beans, and peppery also describe some of the flavours associated with Brett. To many these sound unpalatable - indeed, in many beers and wines the presence of Brett is a flaw. But managed properly, these yeasts can provide a novel and interesting set of flavours to a beer brewers ensemble.

More below the fold...

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Anatomy of a Wild Ferment

As part of my Hunting Wild Yeast project I am preparing a series of articles introducing brewers to the various wild yeasts and bacteria that can be found in wild-fermented beverages. But there is no point in describing the various players in a wild ferment without first describing what a wild ferment looks like.

Unlike conventional ferments, while involve one (or perhaps two) well characterized pure strains of yeast, wild ferments involve the successive action of a series of yeasts and bacteria. The organisms tend to appear in waves, with the ever changing nutrient and alcohol content of the brew enabling some species to thrive, while others die off. This complexity is what creates the unique flavours of a wild brew - a complexity that simply cannot be achieved with purified yeasts. My end goal is to purify a series of wild strains that can be used to replicate these multi-stage ferments, but without the risk of a true wild ferment - that being, contamination with a spoilage organism.

In this article I will briefly cover what is known of wild ferments, including the various species that can be found during the fermentation process.

The meat can be found below the fold...

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Why I brew & How I Got Started

How you started brewing and why you started brewing is a common topic one among homebrewers and on homebrewing boards. I was just asked this question the other day, thus this post...

My homebrewing career began young - probably before the age of ten - as our annual Christmas trip to my grandparents inevitably involved me assisting my grandfather in the preparation of schnapps (not the crap they sell here; the real German thing - i.e. fruit brandies), as well as helping pour off frozen applejack. Neither of those were particularly legal, but the below -30C temperatures of the Saskatchewan winter (plus a young and willing assistant) made the Christmas season the perfect time for my grandfather to finish his nefarious beverages.

In my early teens my grandparents moved into an apartment, and thus ended my early brewing career. I picked it up again a few months after my 18th birthday (legal age in Alberta, and that's all I'll admit too). These early beers had one goal, and one goal only - get me and my university pals as drunk as possible for as cheap as possible. To call these beers "beer" is to insult all beers everywhere (except, maybe, bud light). Basically, an old-school cooper beer kit went into double the water it was supposed to, along with a bunch of table and corn sugar. My first brew notes on my first batch were "tastes like crap, drunk in 2 beers".

You may wonder how we made due with such nasty stuff - the secret is simple. We started with the "good stuff" - AKA Molson Canadian (those were dark days) - and once our palates were destroyed, we moved onto to the homebrew. About 2 years in I learned of all-grain brewing, which I interpreted as a way of saving yet more money. For the first time in 2 years I added just hops, malt and yeast to a beer - and made a good batch of beer. As in one that actually tasted like beer and didn't require pre-drinking to tolerate. That batch (dutifully noted in my brew log as "holy shit!!!!!") led me to change tracks, and I went from "as much as possible for as cheap as possible" to "as good as I can make it".

By that time I was serious about perusing a science career, and my burgeoning interest in biology led to to really expand my beer horizons - within three years of starting brewing I went from making swill, to all graining, to sour and wild beers AND evolving my own "custom" yeasts. As I moved into a PhD program my sour/wild brewing was curtailed, but I continued with the all-grain brewing. During my post-doc years I all but stopped brewing - 2 people, 3 animals plus a 700 sq ft. apartment equals no brewing, but as soon as I took on my current faculty job, I returned to brewing. This blog covers all but the first 5 batches of beer I've made in my post-post-doc brewing period, and missing the first 5 isn't a bad thing - they were all kits...

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Identifying Yeasts Using Ribosomal Sequencing

A ribosome doing its thing.
From Wikipedia
So a few weeks ago I wrote a post about how to identify wild yeasts based on their biochemical and morphological features. As I mentioned, this is tedious, time consuming, and not the most accurate process. It also requires access to specialized growth media, agar plates, high powered microscopes, etc. Even though I have access to these items at work, their cost is prohibitive especially when you consider that my wild yeast project aims to purify & characterize a number of strains.

In that same article I mentioned my plans to use a high tech, and yet strangely cheaper, method. This method will be outlined in this post. This method uses a technique called "polymerase chain reaction", a method used to copy specific DNA sequences to identify yeast. We amplify a specific portion of the yeast (or bacterial) genome and then sequence the amplified DNA. The resulting sequence is then compared to a DNA database to ID the yeast/bacteria in the sample. Despite the high tech nature of the method, it is relatively cheap. Low-cost PCR kits, combined with crude DNA isolations and low-cost sequencing keep prices down to roughly $10/strain. While you wouldn't want to screen hundreds of strains, this method is more than affordable to identify the final candidates in the wild yeast project.

All the good stuff is below the fold...

Friday, 12 April 2013

Tasting Notes: Son of Gnarly

Gnalry's son is a
pale boy...
As a brewer you sometimes have to pay the piper - that is, suffer a bad batch to make up for all the good ones. Given that my brewing plans for this beer fell flat on their face - too little gravity extracted, far too many hops given the gravity, combined with the most unusual fermentation I've ever seen (oily yeast slicks that were unsinkable), I was expecting that this was a batch for the piper; fit only to fertilize my wife's petunias.

At the end of the day the beer started at 1.024, ended at 1.004, and going into the keg had a cloudiness that milk would have had trouble matching. It had all the signs of a dumper.

But its not the pipers day - in place of what I had assumed would be hop soup I've ended up with a rather pleasant beer. Light, bold hop flavour, and the palest colour you can imagine. Its not summer, but this is a perfect summer beer. Even more surprisingly, its almost lager-like in nature. I'm not sure how that happened - English malt, honey, English hops, an American ale yeast, and a touch of Hallertauer apparently equals a lager-like beer. If I had to describe the flavour, it would be like a light bodied grolsch. Yes, as in the Dutch lager.

Yes, I'm confused too...

Full review below the fold.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Old School Identification of Wild Yeasts & Bacteria

As part of the wild yeast project, I need to be able to identify the yeasts that we are purifying.  I've run the numbers and have decided to take the high tech route, as I have access to the equipment, and in the long-run, its actually cheaper than the conventional route.  That said, the conventional route is worth thinking about, and a recent opportunity has arisen to show an example of this method.  The high tech method will be outlined in a post in (hopefully) a few weeks.

The first thing we need is info on the yeasts we are looking for.  The good news is that there is a lot of info on the various taxa (groups) of yeasts & fungi.  The bad news is that much of it is in expensive textbooks that can only be found in university libraries.  None-the-less, some of this info can be found in free sources.

The key things we need are:
  1. An idea of which species we may find, given the source of the yeast and what we are growing them in (i.e. beer), and
  2. An idea of the structure & biochemistry of our potential strains.
This long article will outline how we go about identifying yeast, including an example of identifying a yeast using nothing more than a photo & a bit of detective work.  A legend (for those who don't want to crawl through the whole thing) is the first thing below the fold...