Category Archives: Questions

Yeast Washing: A how to

Yeast is the single most expensive ingredient that you will purchase as a homebrewer. Per unit it blows away any other ingredient. Grain is generally $2.50 and under per pound. Hops runs $2.00 and under an ounce. And we don’t really put water into the equation since it’s cheaper than anything else. Yeast on the other hand is usually $6-12 a vial or smack pack depending on the store, variety, and rarity of the yeast stain you buy. Even dry yeast runs around $3.00 a unit. For this reason, many homebrewers like to reuse yeast and thus, bring down the cost per unit of their yeast. But what happens if you want to brew a stout and then a light colored ale? There really isn’t a good way of getting all of the beer and wort separated fully.

01-12-01

I’ve been trying to make some strides in my homebrewing costs and I stumbled into yeast washing. The idea behind yeast washing is that you take a yeast cake, add water, and then pour the slurry into smaller containers. You then give the slurry time to separate and repeat. The heavy materials (dead yeast, hop particles, etc) will settle to the bottom and the healthy yeast will remain in suspension or layer on top of the heavy materials. You then pour the good stuff into another container and get rid of the heavy materials. Now let’s get into the nitty gritty. Continue reading

Growing the homebrewery

During the summer I did a post about homebrew wants and needs. Since that time I have added a gas burner and a larger pot. Check off two of my three “needs.” More kegs will hopefully be coming by way of Santa, so I think I have my homebrew needs covered for the time being.

I started homebrewing in college when I found that homebrew was cheaper to make than buying cases of beer. The results also generally tasted better as well. I started with a Mr. Beer and used it for 6-12 months and then upgraded to a 5 gallon system. I stuck with my 5 gallon system for some time and I have recently upgraded things to a new level.

I still do 5 gallon batches but with my new kettle and burner I can do full wort boils. I have noticed a marked increase in my beer quality. Last Christmas I was lucky enough to have a wife that allowed me to build a keezer. I’m hoping to upgrade some of my fermentors to Better Bottles soon as well as get a new mash tun.

Since I have been out of college I have much more disposable income (it’s easy to move up from zero), but I have decided to stick with my slow growth pattern. This allows me to tweak things as needed and really zero in on things that might be causing problems in my beer. One thing that slightly annoys me about some homebrewers is their need to have tons of gadgets. Even some new homebrewers have the latest and greatest without fully understanding what they are doing. I’m all for the love of brewing, but I find it a bit unnecessary to buy every piece of equipment an established homebrewer has right away. I always come back to what my parents told me growing it, “it took us our whole lives to have what we have. You can’t have it right out of the gate, you need to work for it.” It’s a good lesson for anyone let alone homebrewers. I will continue to grow my homebrewery, as I work towards my future goals.

How do I make a yeast starter?

There are several things that you can do to help your beer turn out better, but one of the easiest things you can do is make a yeast starter. What is a yeast starter exactly? Well a yeast starter is a “mini” batch of beer that you make in order to allow your yeast to reproduce and become active. This allows you to pitch active and healthy yeast directly into your beer instead of yeast that have been dormant for a long time. By doing this, you cut down on your lag time between when the yeast first enters the wort and the time that it begins to eat the sugars. This limits the chances of other critters who like beer to get a head start. It can also allow you to ferment fuller and cleaner. You can read more about this from Mr. Malty along with information of proper pitching rates.

For my yeast start I use a 1:4 ratio of dry malt extract to water. I generally use 1/2 cup of dried malt extract and two cups of water. From there I boil it for 15 minutes and then cool it quickly. You can put a tiny amount of hops in or leave it without hops. In either case, your sanitation needs to be stellar. Remember these yeast are going to go in your final beer. I use a growler with an screw on cap and an airlock to pour my wort into (once properly cleaned and sanitized). From there I pitch my yeast in and give it 2-4 days to ferment. Make sure you plan your brew days ahead if you are going to do this. You should wind up with something that looks similar to the image below:

A quick recap

  • 1/2 cup of DME
  • 2 cups of water
  • Boil for 15 minutes
  • Cool quickly and place into (sanitized!)  growler
  • Aerate your wort
  • Pitch yeast into wort
  • Seal container with airlock
  • Give 2-4 days and then pitch into brew day wort Continue reading

Need to homebrew

I haven’t done any homebrewing in a few months. It may actaully be the the longest stretch I have ever going without brewing since I started. I miss it. I want to do it. I need to decide on a beer to brew. The last time I brewed was the weekend after Thanksgiving where I did a take on a Rouge’s Dead Guy Ale. My buddy Pete came down from Colorado to help in the brewing. That beer finally got bottled yesterday so now I have open fermenters, open space, and a bit of open time to brew.

I have narrowed down my choices to be either an amber, pale ale, or I was also thinking a pilsner. As strange as all of those may sound together, those are the styles of beer that I have been digging recently. I was thinking about an English ale, as I have been on an English ale kick for the past few weeks, but decided against it as I am getting burnt out.

For my next batch(s) I am also not going to be brewing the standard 5 gallon batch, rather I am going to half it and brew more often. I generally don’t like to brew until I am almost out of my previous brew. The simple reasons for that are time and the lack of bottles. While I do have a nice set of new cases from bottling yesterday, I suspect that is going to be gone by the time my next brew is ready to go. I am also going to be a lone wolf (the Hangover anyone?) at the end of next month as my wife and my friends will be going tornado chasing for six weeks. Yeah. Sadly I do not get to join in that experiment as I am not a PhD or Masters student in the Texas Tech Atmospheric Science or Wind Engineering departments. So I need to cut it back on the homebrew so I don’t have cases upon case just sitting around my dog and I. I’ll get an update on what I decide when I decide it and as always I’ll post my recipe and brewing plan. Any other ideas on what I should brew.

Homebrew carbonation problems

11-06-01I’ve brewed three batches of beer since I have been in Lubbock, Tx. Every single one of them has not had proper carbonation and it is starting to drive me nuts. The first two beers, Belgian Dubbel and Belgian Tripel, were both carbonated with carbonation drops. I put the proper amount, according to the packaging, into each bottle, but both are under-carbonated. The sad thing is that these styles of beer are supposed to be highly carbonated. They have nice flavor, just not enough of the bubbles.

For my Pumpkin Ale I went back to my old carbonation method, dry malt extract. It costs more than corn sugar and carbonation drops, and takes a bit longer, but I have always been happy with the results. As of right now it is more carbonated than the Belgian beers, but still not up to snuff.

I have been trying to think of reasons why my beers are not carbonating. I’ll say that I got a bad batch of carbonation drops or the packaging is wrong. The Dubbel is at 6% ABV and the Tripel at 9% ABV. I don’t think there is a problem with the yeast being tried and not fully carbonating. The Pumpkin Ale has its own problems which might be affecting it. Because of the stuck sparge and a few other things it is coming in at an amazing 14.5% ABV. The yeast I used is not known to be highly tolerant, so it could be stressed out or dead, thus the lack of carbonation.

Eventually I will be kegging things, but that is another year or so off. So until then I need to work on my carbonation. I never had a problem back in PA, perhaps the 3000+ feet of altitude change is part of it, I don’t know. My next homebrew is going to be lower ABV so I can get a better idea of what is going on.