Making a yeast (Brettanomyces in this case) starter


Honestly, officer, this is NOT a meth lab…

I’d always lived in fear of making a starter, thinking that it would all end up as a stinking mess.

Well, in planning for my next beer, I’ve been rather forced into doing it…

I’m planning to use Brettanomyces Bruxellensis Trois (White Labs WLP644) as the primary yeast, because it apparently produces excellent tropical fruit aromatics that age gracefully into a gentle background funk.

…trouble is, because Brett (hark at me!) is normally only used as a secondary yeast in sour fermentations, there simply isn’t the cell count in the supplied vial to carry out a primary fermentation*

(*I’ve had this confirmed by a nice lady from White Labs)

So it looks like I’m stuck with trying to step the cell count up.

I took the white labs vial of yeast and pitched it into a sterlized conical flask – containing 500ml of boiled and cooled 1035 wort and, rather than putting it straight onto the stir plate, I’ve simply left it in a darkened cupboard at 20-odd degrees C and am regularly swirling it (for that read: when I remember to swirl it)

20150526_150247-aThe result of just a little bit of manual swirling

As Brett is always a little slower than brewer’s yeast – I’m going to give this one 5 days and then add another 500ml of boiled and cooled 1035 wort – meaning that after 5 days I should have a full-sized 1L Brett starter to really kick this fermentation off

20150530_140055-aSetting controls for the heart of the sun.

If this was normal brewers’ yeast I’d do exactly the same but only put it on the stir plate for 24 hours prior to brewing – brewers’ yeast multiplies a whole lot quicker then Brett and really likes the constant aeration of a stir plate all the time.

Apparently Brett gets over-excited when given too much aeration and can start to produce acetic acid when in the presence of lots of oxygen.  I’ve been told that if your starter seems vinegary you can still pitch it and that vinegar note won’t carry over to the finished beer.  If you’re afeared of doing that, just let it settle for a day and decant off the liquid and pitch the slurry from the bottom of the flask.

(PS: Yes, alright, let’s leave the whole “WLP644 is actually a Sacchromyces rather than a Brettanomyces strain” argument for another day…)

Washing and re-using yeast for fun and profit

20150527_125835-aSome Belle Saison yeast, all washed up and ready for action…

Maybe you’ve just brewed something a bit exciting – which involved splashing out on some liquid yeast – and now you’re thinking that you’d quite fancy using that same yeast again, but without having to fork out more cash to White Labs or Wyeast…

Well you’re in luck.  Here’s the Yeastismybitch guide to re-using your yeast:

Once your beer has finished fermenting and you’ve racked it out of the fermenter into kegs or bottles; pour a litre or so of boiled (and then cooled to tepid) water straight on top of the remaining yeast.

Give the whole thing a good swirl until you’ve got a creamy looking soup.

If your fermenter is a glass carboy, let it stand for about twenty minutes, if you’re using a plastic bucket you’ll have to pour the lot into a sterilized glass demijohn or whatever and let it sit there.

In time the creamy-looking soup will start to separate – and once you notice a clear line of separation between the two different types of soup, pour the top lighter layer off into another smaller sterilized clear glass jar or container.

You can now discard the remaining heavier soupy sludge that was left behind and wash your fermenter – that stuff was just the trub (pronounced “troob” – if our US cousins are to be believed) and trub consists of dead yeast, coagulated proteins, conspiracy theories, shadows and lies and all that sort of stuff.

Keep an eye on the smaller glass jar and watch for another line of separation (which may take longer, this time) when you see that separation clearly – pour off the top caramelly/watery layer into another sterilized container, stick a lid on it and bung it into the fridge – this should be the healthy yeast that’s left in suspension, the remaining trub in the original container can also be discarded.

After a while you’ll notice a nice solid layer of dormant yeast cells forms at the bottom of the jar – and there’ll be some clearish liquid sat on top (see main picture)

There you are…you’ve just washed some yeast and it should keep for a good couple of months in the fridge.

When you want to use your washed yeast, pour off the watery layer, leaving a little bit to swirl up the solid yeast layer from the bottom of the jar.  This liquid yeast can now be used to make a starter.

I’ve just washed some Belle Saison yeast dregs from my two saisons – so I’ll let you know how that yeast turns out…

Keep an eye out for an article on making yeast starters…it should be appearing above this fairly soon…

In defence of Safbrew S33 yeast

0001439_safbrew-s-33-115-gThere.  I’ve said it…

I used S33 on my latest oatmeal and coffee porter – and whilst it’s not displaying any Belgian craziness so far, it certainly did the job I asked it to:  i.e. taking a 1063 wort down to 1013 in under two weeks.

There are some things to be aware of, though, and these are things that I think helped me out a lot:

  • Don’t expect WLP001 or US-05 performance – you aren’t going to get to 1009.  It just ain’t going to happen
  • It won’t get below 1020 if the temperature is below 20C and certainly not if it fluctuates.  This yeast looks like it’ll stall out at the first opportunity, so cosset it and keep it comfy
  • Although I said it’s not Belgian crazy, it is estery.  I’ll report back further on that as the porter develops and ages
  • Don’t expect rapid flocculation: even though the bottles are looking clear, there’s still a certain cloudiness near the bottom.  You WILL need to cold condition for a while.  Even the corny keg is not clear yet (8 days later)
  • I have no plans to use this  yeast in anything other than “dark” strong beers.  Not IPAs, Not Bitters or anything else like that.  I am, however, very keen on putting it though it’s paces with stouts and maybe even fruit beers

So there you go.  Give S33 a whirl and see how you get on…I’d love to hear your experiences, so comments are welcome…

Click to access SFBS33.pdf

Cheats Hybrid Sourdough Bread in a Kenwoood or Kitchen Aid Mixer


Ah Sourdough.  The king of breads.  There’s nothing quite like its huge, chewy, delectable flavour.  Unfortunately it does take a heck of a long time to prove and can be be a bit a nightmare to shape…

Eve has this great method for getting a lot of that sourdough taste and chewiness in way less time and with much more of a rise!

Before we get to that we need to deal with getting the starter together:

Get a reasonable handful/cupful/half-a-mug-full of unbleached wholemeal flour – organic if you can; apparently fresher is better as this increases the chances of there being some good viable wild yeasts contained within it.

Add some tap water to the flour and combine until you get a sloppy mixture the consistency of thickish double cream.

Now beat the daylights out of the mixture with a whisk…you’re looking to really aerate it, this will give any yeast present the air it requires and also brings in any airborne yeasts that happen to be floating about.  Lastly put a couple of unwashed grapes into it…grapes are notorious harbourers of wild yeasts, so we’ll have some of that thank you very much.

Pour/spoon the mixture (and grapes) into a jar and cover with cling film/saran wrap -or whatever it is you know it as- and leave for 48hours.  Do check on it from time-to-time – Eve put this starter in a coffee jar, forgot about it for a bit and things went a bit awry:


After 48 hours (shorter if it’s warmer, or longer if it’s colder) you should see some signs of activity and evidence that some yeast has taken and is working, normally that’s some largish bubbles on the surface – like this…


…and a strong yeasty/sour smell.  Don’t be put off by this.  Although if it’s really rank -and believe me you’ll know when it’s off; the smell of dying yeast is unbearable- you should dump it, wash everything up and start again.

Assuming that everything is OK, you should divide the mixture in half and discard one half (plus the grapes) and make the volume of the remaining half up to a little more than where you were before with more flour and some water, this will give your little colony more food to eat.  Remember you’re still aiming for that double cream consistency.

You need to now halve and re-feed your starter every day for the next few days (about a week).

Once a week has gone by you can start using the discard half as a sourdough starter for loaves or  you can give it away to friends so that they can maintain their own sourdough starters.

Once you’re up to a reasonable volume of starter, you can keep it in the fridge and feed it occasionally – that means you’re slowing the fermentation down a bit and can use it whenever you need to bake, being careful to replenish as you use it with more flour and water.

To make a hybrid sourdough loaf:

You basically make the basic bread recipe here:

…and replace some of the liquid content with the equivalent sourdough starter.  That’s all there is to it.  It’s a guaranteed, dependable rise and has a really lovely sourdough flavour….