Skip to main content

Harvesting Berliner Weisse Bottle Dregs

Some background

It’s been awhile since I posted but I’m back and should be on a regular posting schedule. I’ve haven’t been brewing a ton in recent months but I’m trying to build up a stockpile of beer as I have my first child on the way and I’m guessing that I’m going to run short on brewing time. With that said, I picked up a beer that caught my interest recently and text on the can really caught my interest. The beer in question in a Berliner Weisse from White Birch Brewing; review coming soon(ish). The can said:

Our ales are unfiltered, unpasteurized, and traditionally made…

What does that mean? Well it means that their beer has not had all of the yeast and bugs stripped out of it from filtering or pasteurization. Why is that good for me? It means that I can harvest yeast from the bottom of the can, pitch it into a starter, and eventually use it to make a full blown beer. Awesome.

 What is yeast harvesting?

As I mentioned above, yeast harvesting is the process of taking dormant but still viable yeast from the bottom of a bottle or can. Generally, beers that are not pasteurized or filtered or bottle conditioned have yeast mixed into the beer. The yeast can generally be found on the bottom of the bottle of the can as dormant yeast will fall out of the beer and lay on the bottom.

How to harvest yeast

Harvesting yeast is super easy, but there are some precautions that need to be made. I’ll go over my process below as well as give you the quicker version. The number one thing that you want to be concerned about is making sure that you sanitize EVERYTHING. If you have brewed before, you should know the process.

Step 1: Setup your mash/malt

For yeast harvesting I generally like to make a starter from the harvested yeast. The main reason for this is that there is not enough yeast in the bottom of a can or bottle to properly ferment 5 gallons of beer. When I make a starter, I’m shooting for .75 gallons.

For this yeast starter I wanted to make a mini version of the end beer that I wanted to brew. The main reason for this is so that I could test brewing in a bag. I started off with a scaled down malt bill of my original beer recipe. I put .6# of pilsner malt and .3# of wheat malt into the grain mill. You can see how little grain there really was (note this is a six gallon bucket)


Step 2: Sanitize

 After my malt was ready to go I sanitized a one gallon jug with some PBW and then StarSan. I wanted to make sure that nothing was left living inside of the glass container except for the yeast that I would eventually add.


At the same time I had a bowl filled with StarSan and I placed two cans of my donor in it. The goal here is to kill anything on the outside of the can as the yeast will touch the outsides on its way out during a pour. I also had an airlock, drilled stopper, and a funnel in the bowl.

Step 3: Mash/Boil/Brew in a Bag

As all of the important stuff was sanitizing, I prepared for a brew in a bag (BIAB) attempt. My first ever attempt at BIAB. I knew that I wanted to end with .75 gallons of liquid and my calculations showed that gain absorption and boil loss would account for .15 gallons. So I placed .90 gallons of water into a small stock pot and brought it up to 148 °F.

As the water heated I placed my BIAB bag over the pot and waited for the temperature to hit the magic number. For my BIAB I used a simple nylon paint straining bag found at Home Depot for $3.


Once the water hit my desired temperature I poured the grain into the bag and stirred to mix up any dough balls. The basic concept here is that I didn’t want to mash .9# of grain in my normal 10 gallon water cooler as the thermal loss would be too significant. I also didn’t want to clean my mash tun for such a little job. BIAB allows you put place the brewing grain and water into the brew pot and mash while in the pot. The 148 °F magic number is where I wanted my mash to rest for an hour. I placed the bag in once the water hit temperature and monitored it for awhile until I dialed my stove in to stay at 148 °F. At this point I let it rest at that temperature for an hour.


After the hour was up I picked up the bag, let it drain of liquid and tossed the grains in the trash. The bag was cleaned and saved for future brews. I turned the temperature up on the stove so that I could get the wort to a boil. A 15 minute boil was all I wanted I just wanted to kill whatever might be in the liquid (I know, I know. 15 minutes isn’t enough to kill everything, but it’s enough to give my yeast the upper hand).

Post Boil

It’s a pretty typical situation at this point. I cooled down the wort, which happens incredibly quickly with only .75 gallons of liquid, and readied my fermenter. Once I got the wort down to 70 °F I emptied the sanitizer from my gallon jug, placed the funnel on it and poured in my wort. I then took the two cans of beer, opened them, and pour 3/4 of them into a glass. The final quarter left at the bottom was swirled and dumped into the glass jug. I then shook the jug to try and get some oxygen in there for my little yeast buddies. Once I was done I got something that looked like this:



I took the jug into my basement and placed it in a box to protect it from light (there was a small amount of hops in this on scale with my recipe). The hardest part of harvesting yeast is seeing if what you did actually saved them. I waited for a few days to see if it worked because I honestly forgot about my starter. About three days after brewing I got this:


Fermentation had clearly happened and my yeast buddies were still at work. This starter was allowed to sit for another day or so (thanks work) and was pitched into a full scale version of this beer over the weekend. I’m not sure how much of the souring critters made it as they take some time to show-up, but if they are in there, they will grow.

I’ll get a recipe and such up shortly but harvesting yeast is not difficult. The quick and dirty version is below.

Quick and Dirty Version

I have described the easy way to do a yeast starter previously. You can find it right here but the basic idea is that instead of doing a mash, you use malt extract as your base and boil a mini beer from there.


Make your own Belgian Candi Sugar

I’m a big fan of drinking and brewing Belgian beers. Many Belgian beers require the addition of Belgian Candi Sugar. Brewers use the sugar for many reasons as it will help boost the ABV, increase fermentability, and thin the mouthfeel of the beer. As a homebrewer, I’m always looking for ways to save a buck and Belgian Candi Sugar is one of those ingredients that is super expensive. Luckily, you can easily make your own sugar without much effort. I’ve done this several times and I’ve been very happy with the results. In the steps below I will explain the process of making Belgian Candi Sugar and hopefully show you how easy it is.

Step 1: Gather the ingredients

You will need the following items in order to create your own Belgian Candi Sugar:

  • Table sugar (I use five pound bags of sugar)
  • Water (I use 2.5 cups of water)
  • Food grade acid (lemon juice or cream of tartar are my go to’s)
  • Boiling pot
  • An accurate thermometer that can sit in boiling mixtures for extended times (candy, fryer, or digital thermometer with a long probe will work fine)
  • Tin foil
  • Tray


Cleaning a whiskey barrel

As I noted a little while ago a friend and I decided to go in on a used 15 gallon whiskey barrel. We decided to brew a Rye IPA as our first batch (recipe coming soon) and before any beer can go in the barrel, the barrel itself needs to be cleaned as to not contaminate 15 gallons of beer.


Questions to ask

To begin with I want to quickly look at some things that you might want to consider when picking a whiskey barrel. Below is a small list of things that I would take into account if I were getting a barrel:

  1. How old is the barrel?
  2. Was it recently dumped?
  3. What did it previously hold? Beer, liquor, wine?
  4. Are there any noticeable cracks, bulges, or anything else that looks out of sorts?
  5. Is the barrel sealed or is the bung open?

There are many reasons to ask these questions, but the main thing you are looking for is something that will turn out a quality beer. The age of the barrel matters because you want to know the strength of oak and or liquor flavor that you are going to get. A newer or once used barrel will not give as much liquor flavor, but it will give a lot of oak flavor. A recently dumped barrel is important as you don’t want the wood to dry out, thus giving air and the little bugs that come with air a chance to make their home in the wood. Some used barrels will hold things other than liquor. My preference is to not get a barrel that once held beer as there could be yeast in there that you will never truly get out. Make sure that you barrel looks like a barrel for many of the reasons noted above. Finally you want to make sure your barrel is sealed. Ours was sealed with a wooden bung, that needed a hammer and several good whacks to dislodge. This helps ensure that your barrel stays air tight.


There are several options to cleaning your barrel. In this process you are looking to get rid of anything that would contaminate your beer. Remember, a barrel is the same thing as a secondary fermentor. Below I have outlined several options and provided your with the option that we went with and why.

Sanitize like a fermentor

You can put a typical no rinse sanitizer into a barrel like what you would do with a fermentor and let it sit for awhile. This will kill most things on the surface of the barrel and if your leave it sit for long enough, it will absorb into the wood killing things that are deeper. It will not get rid of anything, nor will any of these methods. I considered this for a long time, but decided against it as I didn’t want anything left that would kill any yeast that transferred over. We are looking to bottle this beer after aging so I want to have some yeast alive for carbonating the bottles.

Campden Tablets

Campden tablets are usually used in wine making. They kill pretty much everything that they come in contact with. For the reasons noted above we did not go this route, but may in the future.

Potassium Metabisulfite Powder

This is the active ingredient in campden tablets and I did not pick it for the same reasons.

Hot Water

I decided to go with hot water. I heated 15 gallons of water up to 170 degrees and then poured it into the barrel with the help of a funnel. I then sealed the barrel up and left it sit there for 30 minutes. I was looking to neutralize anything on the surface and to also check for leaks. The hot water allows the wood to swell quickly, ensuring that any leak would be plugged more quickly. I also knew that we had a good barrel that was sealed well. In addition, the beer going into the barrel is currently at 9.5% ABV, so most critters that would like to ruin our beer wouldn’t be able to survive in that setting.

The beer has been in the barrel for about a week at this point. I’ll give it a few more weeks before I check it and add back any beer that has evaporated out. There are a number of other ways to clean a barrel, but hot water in a well sealed, recently dumped barrel, did the trick for me.

My new used whiskey barrel

If you haven’t been following our Facebook and Twitter, and let’s be honest, why wouldn’t you, you missed the news that I recently came into a 15 gallon used whiskey barrel. Actually a buddy of mine and I went halfies on it. I’ve been wanted to do some barrel aging for some time as it seems like a new fun challenge.

02-22-01As you can see it looks like a full sized barrel, just scaled down a bit. The barrel was sealed immediately after it was drained and when you swish the barrel around a bit you hear a bit of whiskey in it. I’ll post a few things about barrel aging beers and tips if you want to do something similar as well. The first beer to aged in it will be a Rye IPA, which was brewed on Presidents’ Day (all 15+ gallons). After that we will fill it with a Belgian Tripel and then an Oatmeal Stout. From there I need to do some planning. Anyone have any specific questions on barrel aging homebrew that I can answer in a future post?


Colonial America beer

11-17-01I’ve been trying to come up with my next recipe for homebrewing and I can’t really decide on what I want to do exactly. I keep going between a porter, a winter warmer, or some type of amber ale. I really just can’t decide at all. And then I got an idea; how about a Colonial
America style of beer?

I thought it sounded like a great idea so I have been doing a lot of research into beer styles and brewing techniques during the Colonial time in America. I have run across several helpful articles and have really started to dive into them. I am still working on a solid recipe but I thought that I would share my current ideas and information and see if anyone can point me in a more correct direction.

Right now I am looking at three “styles” of Colonial beer. The first would be a basic porter, not super strong, but packed with roasty flavors and medium carbonation. The second style I am looking at is more of a British style pub ale that Thomas Jefferson is said to have enjoyed. Who knows if that is true, but it makes a good story. In place of all of the British malts and hops I would substitute American malts and hops. The final beer that I am looking into is a Spruce beer that was common during the Revolutionary War. It would be a darker beer, similar to a porter, but also have some essence of spruce put into it. Now I just need to narrow down my focus a bit.

I also am concerned with doing this beer authentically. I will have to use some modern brewing practices, but I would like to get the ingredients as close as possible. I know that hops change from year to year, and there is no way to actually know what the barley was malted at during that period but digging into some more material, I hope to find some more clues.  Below are a few links that I have been looking over the gain a better understanding of Colonial brewing in America.


As I said, I have a lot more research to do, but these links are a start. I have a few books that I can get more information out of, but I will have to dig in and find the correct information. If you find any other info out there I am more than willing to take it.