Saturday, 19 July 2014

Your Home Yeast Lab Made Easy - DIY Alcohol Lamp

The second video in my Your Home Yeast Lab Made Easy video series is on how to build and use an alcohol lamp - a key piece of equipment required for any home yeast lab.

One of the most important tools for any yeast or bacterial culturing lab is a powerful flame source. Traditionally, scientists have used a Bunsen burner, but these tools are expensive and can be unsafe in the home environment. A safer (and cheaper) alternative is the alcohol lamp. Like a Bunsen burner, these lamps generate a flow of air which provides you with a clean space that is relatively protected from contaminants in which you can open yeast samples, tubes of fresh petri dishes, and so forth. In addition, the flame itself can be used to sterilize some of the equipment used for yeast culturing. This is a must-have tool for the home yeast lab!

New Video: Your Home Yeast Lab Made Easy

I've been asked many times here on my blog, on my YouTube channel, and in person, to do some videos and posts about how to employ some of the methods I use in my lab to culture yeast in the home. I've long been promising to prepare videos that do just that, and today I begin making good on that promise!

This is the first video in a planned series of 9 or 10 videos. The goal is to keep the videos short as to give the information in easily-digestible bites. This first video shows you how to set-up a workspace in your home for yeast culturing.

At this time I have video filmed for two additional episodes - how to make an alcohol lamp (a DIY Bunsen burner), and how to do a streak plate. Watch for these over the next few days! Future videos will include:

  • Basic sterile techniques
  • Preparation of starters
  • Preparation & use of agar plates in the home lab
  • Preparation & use of slants in the home lab
  • Freezing yeast at home
  • Purifying wild yeast

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The tartness of his face sours ripe grapes.

Instead of weeping when a tragedy 
occurs in a songbird's life, it sings 
away its grief. I believe we could 
well follow the pattern of our 
feathered friends.

I'm quoting Shakespearean tragedies - clearly something has gone wrong. If the melancholy intro didn't give that away, the picture to the right should - that's a full keg of beer going down the drain. Specifically my Easy as 1-2-3-4: a Rye Berliner Weiss...

...clearly it wasn't as easy as I intended. So where did things go wrong?

The short answer is "I don't know", simply because I threw so many new things into this batch that its not possible to point the finger at a likely culprit. I'm 99% sure the problem was the ratio's of the yeast I threw in. Two of the three yeasts - both brett - were reputed to have a lemony character, and combined were half the yeast I pitched. Their lemony character was present in this beer - in spades. The lemon was so intense it was "chemical" in character; more in-place in a bottle of furniture polish than a beer. In addition there was a strong acetaldehyde/nail polish note - perhaps due to the use of a pure lacto culture, or perhaps again due to the yeast used. Moreover, the yeast wouldn't settle (even after a cold-crash), leaving the beer hazy and with a strong yeast character.

I shouldn't complain too much - this is the first dumper in over 7 years...& that ain't bad.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

2014 Wild Yeast Hunt

This years sources of wild yeast, waiting for wort.
L->R: Clover, Chokecherries, Raspberry, Tomato, Blueberry, Young hop (goldings)
I've been doing a bad job keeping my hunting wild yeast project up to date. The brief re-cap would be that I captured and characterized a series of wild yeast I purified off of some Pilsner malt. The first results were not satisfying, but I kept the ferment going and continued to collect yeast over a period of 6 months. To summarize the results of the over 80 strains I captured and tested - they all sucked. Only half attenuated worth a damn, and those which attenuated left beer that tasted either oxidized, phenolic to the point of being undrinkable (burnt plastics and dirty socks abounded), or both.

While the first hunt didn't turn out as well as I had hoped, it did serve to get a lot of groundwork established.  I now have a tried and tested method of identifying yeasts using DNA sequencing (posts 1, 2, 3 and 4), as well as my purification methods down its time for the 2014 hunt!

This years strategy is a little different. I'm stealing some wort from my Ephemeral Cranberry Wit, and am inoculating it using various yeast sources from around the yard. My wife runs one hell of a garden, and form there I'm taking yeast from some raspberries, blueberries, tomatoes, and strawberries. In addition, we've got some hops, choke-cherries and wild clover growing in the back, so I'm going to harvest from those as well. Each fruit/veg (OK, technically they're all fruits but the clover & hops - which are neither fruit nor veg) will be dropped into ~25ml of freshly brewed wort and allowed to ferment out for at least a month.

After the month is up I'll do my first harvest of yeast, plate them out, and see what I find.  Every month or so thereafter I'll repeat the harvest. Interesting yeast will be kept frozen and eventually subjected to fermentation tests to see how well they work, and how well they taste. I'm also going to harvest the end-product of the ferments (at about 6 months) as mixed cultures, potentially for use in some sour beers down the road.

I'll add more posts as we go, but to finish here's some semi-artsy shots of the yeast sources.

SWIMBO's garden

Brew Day: Ephemeral Cranberry Wit

Its time for another summer brew - this time a Wit brewed with cranberries. This recipe is formulated roughly along the lines of Unibroue's Éphémère Cranberry, although in no way is this a clone. If you haven't had this beer, you should try it - its fantastic! My recipe is aiming to achieve a similar beer, but is far from a clone. In fact, its essentially a leftovers beer - i.e. its been formulated as best as I can manage based on the grains & hops & yeast I have on hand.

In addition, I'm trying a split brew-day, where I'm mashing in late at night on Friday and then getting up at 6AM Saturday morning to finish the brew (not my choice - SWIMBO planned family events without mentioning them to me). I'm looking forward to seeing how well the split brew session works, because it may get me brewing more than my current busy schedule allows.

Recipe and brew-days notes below the fold.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Tasting Notes: Shipwrecked Saison

I've been drinking this one for a while, so its time for a review. I brewed this beer a month or so ago, with the beer fermenting while I was away on holiday. This meant my fermentation strategy was "the upcoming weathers temperature profile looks saison-ish, so lets stick the fermenter upstairs, turn off the A/C, and let-er-rip". Turns out this was not one of my better ideas...details below.

Appearance: The colour is a little dark, I'm guessing because the sugar I prepared for this batch was a little darker than I intended. Instead of the usual light-straw colour, this beer leans towards the dark straw/copper end of the spectrum. Like most sainsons it is cloudy, and the wheat in it gives it a rocky head - one so rocky that it breaks up into little islands half way through the pint.

Aroma: Bread, followed by bread, with a subtle hint of bread in the background. Jokes aside, it is very bready on the nose, with a fruity - almost citrusy - undertone. The aroma itself is acidic, and tingles when you inhale.

Flavour: Remember in the intro where I said my approach to fermentation temperatures was not a good idea. This is where you notice that. Sainson's are supposed to be fruity, but there is fruity and then there is FRUITY. This beer has more than enough fruity esters - a clear sign that it was too warm early in the ferment (apparently the weather gods didn't get my memo about how quickly I wanted them to ramp up the heat). Its not at the point that it is unpleasant, but it is at the point where its a flaw rather than a "fruity saison". The fruitiness itself is pears & grapes - if in a better balance with the beer they would be dead-on style.  The phenolic notes are toned down compared to what is normal, with the typical "drying" earthy-peppery phenolics of this yeast being present but quite subdued. I'm actually happy with this aspect of the beer - while I enjoy phenolics, the amounts typically produced by the Saison Dupont yeast are usually more than I care for. The underlying body of the beer is great - a nice bready wheat character with a hint of a biscuit note and right amount of bitterness. The only thing it is missing is a bit more hop character - a late addition of some more Saaz hops, which would add a nice herbal character, would complement the phenoics and provide some more balance to the fruit. Alternatively, if fermented at a more reasonable temperature (i.e. was less fruity), a late addition of  Nelson Sauvin and Amarillo Gold would add a nice white wine & citrus/orange character that would work well with the base beer.

Mouthfeel: Light bodied and dry, just as a saison should be. It s a little under-carbonated for the style, but effervescent enough to be pleasant.

Overall: I can see why this recipe was an award-winner; it is a damned good beer and is a beer worth re-brewing - with proper temperature control, of course. Despite its fruitiness it is still a great, refreshing pint of beer at the end of a hot day.

Friday, 4 July 2014

2014 Hop Garden

Its been a while since I posted, but in my defence I was away on holiday and had bigger fish to fry. While I was away y hop garden really took off, so I thought I'd post a few shots.

Front two are Goldings,
Back two are Cascades
Cascades are growing
like weeds!
Plenty of hops are already forming
on the cascades.