Friday, April 22, 2016

Forest and Main Brewing Co.: Exploring their indigenous culture

Kids allowed, which is always a plus for me.
Situated in an old Victorian house at the corner of Forest Ave. and Main St. in Ambler PA you'll find one of the most unique brew pubs you will find anywhere in the world. Forest & Main Brewing was founded in 2012 by brewers Gerard Olson and Daniel Endicott in that 19th century Victorian home that the two renovated from house to pub and brewery. Gerard and Dan have their own brewing focus' with Gerard's being Saison/Farmhouse inspired and Dan's, who spent time studying brewing in England, English ales. The two viewpoints come together to craft a tap list that ranges from the funky to the malty and sessionable with a some hazy IPA's mix in as well. The beers, the space, and the food come together in a very harmonious manner making for a comfortable and inspiring atmosphere that you won't soon forget upon entering the foyer of the quirky home turned pub.

That atmosphere, more specifically the house's Terroir, is on display in their farmhouse style beers in the form of wild indigenous cultures that the fellas cultivated from their surroundings in Ambler. I reached out to Gerard to describe their vision for this line of beers, which I was already a fan of, but didn't realize how exciting and unique their process was. I will let Gerard describe it...
"It's our intention to create a sort of saison vintage with these cultures. We will use a given culture for roughly that entire year. Each spring, we'll begin again, and embrace the differences that new sources, weather, or other influences may provide." -Olson
I absolutely love this idea, not only do the beers represent a sense of place through local microbes but that sense of place will vary year to year with the consumer being able to experience the changes first hand. This feels like a throwback to the old days of Farmhouse brewing where the brewers did not have the option to send a culture out for isolation, analysis, and banking to be used every year. Those brewers of the past had to do what Gerard and Dan are doing out of necessity, something that's been lost in most modern brewing where consistency is more important. Myself, and many others, enjoy the batch to batch or seasonal variations in beers brewed with this method.

Taking a bottle to go from the bar.
On a recent visit to the pub, trips that don't happen nearly as often as I would like, I was pleasantly surprised to find a bottle of Solaire Reserve for sale. This is a non-barrel aged Saison brewed with the aforementioned culture. It's a travesty that these bottles last even the few days they do, but I am glad some lingered long enough for me to grab one. According to Gerard this beer is brewed with the 2015 culture...

"The 2015 culture was grown off cherry blossoms (from the tree in the front yard) and lilac blossoms (from a bush/tree in the backyard) - all on the brewery property." -Olson

Solaire Reserve was a delicious beer, delicately balanced like most of F&M's beers, evoking floral notes, some fruit, white pepper and a dry finish with a subtle acidity to finish. A delicate beer with unique and inviting nuances that was supremely refreshing. I once again reached out to Gerard for some info on the 2015 culture (he's surely sick of the questions by now), fermentation temps, attenuation, if there was a bottling strain in the mix etc. Once he confirmed it was fresh and culturable for brewing I got the dregs in 500ml of wort and onto the stir plate. Within 8 hours things were lively and frothing vigorously, as Gerard said it likely would. I then fed the culture a fresh 1L of starter wort and called that good for a 2.5 gallon batch. One thing I noticed is that it flocculated out very hard after a few days in the flask and dried out the DME wort very quickly. If I could produce a beer half as good as Solaire Reserve with it I will be happy.

I brewed a big batch of a Nelson Sauvin hopped Saison and put the culture, I've since dubbed Dan & Gerard's seed, to work in a portion of that batch. I didn't use an airlock, a standard Saison practice for me, during primary fermentation opting only for a foil cover to reduce pressure and stress on the fermentation that may inhibit its ability to dry the beer out. Gerard mentioned that he was curious to see how it performed in a cooler environment but that they don't normally ramp the temps up too high anyway letting seasonal temperatures dictate. So i went for a cool and very unscientific "room temperature" fermentation. He also mentioned that in a low hopped wort the acidity is more prevalent, so at 35 IBU there may not be much bacterial activity but I didn't want an overly acidic beer.

Over the years I've found well used cultures to be more hop tolerant than a fresh lab pitch anyway, but time will tell. This culture has never been looked at under magnification or streaked out on plates so I really dont know what lives in here, but I imagine it's a heavy mix of various organisms. 

24 Hours since I pitched there was a mess to clean up.
I pitched the whole starter into 2.5 gallons of wort and gave it 30 seconds of shake aeration, within 24 hours I had vigorous frothy fermentation. The most active fermentation calmed down after 72 hours at which point I bunged and airlocked the carboy. After 10 days visual fermentation mostly ceased, save for some light co2 off gassing. I waited a full 21 days before I pulled a sample and the gravity was 1.002 and totally finished so I kegged it up, and filled a 6 pack of bottles to condition naturally. It was interesting that the beer did not flocculate out as dramatically as the it did in the starter, but that could be due to the wort composition among other factors.

Dan & Gerard's Seed: Batch #1

AppearanceDeep yellow, mustard like color but not your stupid yellow mustard. Like Champagne mustard that comes with a holiday Ham. All my beers are practically the same color but this one is a tick darker yellow thanks to the Naked Golden. Medium carbonation with a wispy white head that fades and leaves a ring on the top. Moderate to high lacing. 

AromaI was having a tough time pinpointing an aroma descriptor at first but after a few glasses it hit me, it smells like roses! Wow, just now hit me. It really smells like roses, pretty wild. I do pick up on a slight acetic note but not as strong as balsamic or anything but its there. Some bready malts, melon, and earth, mixed in with the aforementioned roses in a floral note..

TasteSlight dryness on the tip of the tongue, some spice in the middle with a tick of sweetness giving way to an acidic finish that's dry and linger, biting the back corners of your mouth. The sweetness almost gets to be too much and then the spice comes and the bam, the acidity hits and cuts it all off in a timely manner. As it warms the sweetness amplifies a little but it's a really nice ride of flavors, complex yet drinkable. 

ImpressionsThis has changed a ton since packaging. When I first kegged/bottled it was heavy on the hops and very tropical from the Nelson, that's really faded away and now it's a more well rounded bouquet. This is a refreshing and complex beer that's beautiful for spring. The acetic note is a surprise but it's a nice level of complexity at such a low level. It did not seem to bat an eye at the 35 IBUs I threw at it, plenty of acid was created. Beautiful blend of aromatics and flavors in such a small simple beer. 

Thanks to Gerard for fielding my questions about their beers and this culture in particular. I plan to use this culture a bunch more going forward to see how it evolves but I am also going to try my hand at a similar practice with yearly indigenous cultures as Gerard described above. It's such a cool idea and really jives with old school farmhouse brewing traditions. Oh, if I haven't yet sold you on making a trip to Forest & Main then we probably can't be friends.

Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 7.00 gal
Post Boil Volume: 5.82 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 5.50 gal
Bottling Volume: 5.25 gal
Measured OG: 1.052 SG
Measured FG: 1.004 SG
ABV: 6.4%
Estimated Color: 6.0 SRM
Estimated IBU: 43 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 80.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

87% - 9lbs 4oz - Pilsner Malt (Avangard) (3.2 SRM)
13% - 1lbs 6oz - Naked Golden Oats

Boil: 60min - 0.63 oz CTZ [14.0 %] - 31.2 IBUs
Boil: 15min - 1 Whirlfloc Tablet + 1 tsp Wyeast Yeast Nutrient
Boil:  5min - 1.25oz Nelson Sauvin [11.40 %] - 10.1 IBUs
20 Minute Whirlpool 185f - 1.25oz Nelson Sauvin [11.40 %] - 1.5 IBUs

Dan & Gerard's Seed: Generation #1

Sacch rest - 60 min @ 150.0 F 

Fly Sparge 5.50 gallons 170f

Misc: 30 seconds of pure O2. Cherry Hill, NJ Tap water. Mash pH 5.33, Water Profile ( 113ppm Ca, 6ppm Mg, 10ppm Na, 107ppm Cl, 101ppm SO4). Some acid malt and some Lactic acid was used to lower the mash pH, your water profile may vary. This was part of a big split batch, the other will have a post shortly.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Gueuze Showdown: Je Suis Bruxelles!

After the tragic terrorist attacks that took place today in Brussels I had considered not posting this entry today as planned due to this post's relation to Belgium and its indigenous beer, Lambic. But instead decided to carry on and pay my respects to Belgium herself and the family and friends of the injured and deceased. Terrible and senseless violence that blows my damn mind, too scary out there sometimes. Je Suis Bruxelles!

-cartoon by artist Plantu as posted by newspaper Le Monde

Beer drinkers tend to judge beers before a drop of it even touches their glass, we are all guilty of it. Whether it's something world renowned like Cantillon Gueuze or something new that you may or may not like the branding of its hard not to judge a book by its cover. It can really be hard to be impartial when you finally get a hold of that white whale bottle you've been dying to taste for some time. For those reasons blind tastings, a key to the success of, of commercial beers helps remove the hype and branding of the beer and really just evaluate it for what's in the bottle. Not a novel idea of course, but something everyone should do from time to time with any style, the results just might surprise you.

I recently lined up a blind tasting for my buddies and I of some of my favorite Gueuze examples that I was able to procure. To add a little wrinkle to the tasting, and to prove just how shitty of a blender I am, I snuck in a bottle of a Lambic blend I did over a year ago. It had been a while since I had a bottle and wanted to see how it has aged but also to see if it I, or the other tasters, could pick it out as the odd bottle of the group and how it held up to the real experts.

From my visit to Brasserie Cantillon.
Gueuze, and Lambic in general, is one of the most fascinating beverages in the world. Depending on what brewery/blender the beer is from the Gueuze will vary based on many factors including terroir, blenders taste, among others, and yet from producer to producer each example is unmistakably Gueuze Lambic. You would think with a spontaneously fermented product, aged 1-3 years, then blended the end results would be totally unlike each other from blender to blender. Sure there are flavor nuances and differences between brewery/blenders offerings but with the methods used to brew and blend these beers it's amazing that they share such similarities. It's a real testament to the tradition and craft that these brewers/blenders are able to produce such beers of quality and consistency. Did my blend achieve that unmistakable Lambic character? Doubtful. Here are the contenders.
Ed's homebrew blend, Girardin 1882 Black Label, Boon Gueuze Mariage Parfait,
Tilquin Gueuze, Lindemans Cuvee Renee, Cantillon Gueuze 100% Bio

Some heavy hitters in the mix here with Cantillon, Tilquin, Girardin as some of my personal favorites, sadly couldn't find a Drie Fonteinen bottle. But also some readily available options with the Cuvée Renee and Mariage Parfait (higher alcohol % I know but still fits). I know I shouldn't be pulling favorites but I secretly hoped to like The Cuvée Renee the best because of it's availability and price point, or maybe I should have hoped to like my own better? All bottles were poured out for the tasting by a third party to ensure blindness, using mostly all the same glasses but unfortunately we were a little short. I was trying to keep all variables the same but we could only procure so many small tasting glasses. 

Here are some quick notes I took on the beers, blindly of course. 

A: Picked out as Ed's Homebrew blend immediately, ethyl acetate, tart but a sweetness in end cuts it. Clearly stands not a blend by a classic Gueuze blender :(
B: Boring aroma, not very tart, very carbonated, champagne like. 
C: Beautiful funk, sweaty, dry, lightly tart, effervescent. Awesome. 
D: Cloudy, light funk, quite tart, effervescent, dry, acidic, peppery, lingering tartness. Very nice. 
E: Sweaty Brett funk, similar to C in aroma, hay, slight vinegar, acidic, dry and effervescent
F: Smells of crackery malt, boring Brett/fermentation aromatics, sweet, not very acidic. An otherwise snoozefest of a Gueuze.

Thanks to our independant pourer, can you tell she used to tend bar? Me neither :)

Palate fatigue really set in with this tasting, it might have been wise to cut the number of bottles in half because it felt like a lot of repeating characteristics and became tough to differentiate some of them. There were some clear standouts and clear losers right away. First of all it was incredibly easy for me to pick out my blend, it was the most "un-Gueuze like", especially when put on display side by side with against folks who grew up blending Lambic. It's still a good blend and is aging well but it cannot hold a candle to what the experts with years of experience can accomplish. My blend actually has some of the same Lambics these folks use in their blends and yet it is not like the others, even a little bit. Amazing what guys like Pierre Tilquin, Jean Van Roy, etc. can do. My blend all boils down to one bad blending component, when I was working on the blend I felt it helped add body and complexity but after some aging there is still an underlying sweetness in the finish that's very distracting. I do believe it can and will continue to change with time, but the lesson learned is if a component isn't great on its own keep it out of the blend. There are about 7-8 bottles left and they have been locked away and will not be touched again for at least a year, thinking I will only pop them once a year until they go.
The Coolship at Cantillion, an amazing place to visit.
Each of us ranked the beers on our own, which was really difficult to do actually and felt like splitting hairs due to palate fatigue, plus I had a toddler hanging on my leg. We took those rankings and averaged them to get a group "consensus". Most definitely a very small sample and most of us dont have more than a few Lambics per year so please dont consider us experts. We tried to guess which was which, a futile task really but I did accurately picked out the Cuvée Renee (something I drink on a regular basis) and the Girardin, likely dumb luck. Three of the four tasters (the fourth being me) actually ranked mine as the best, but that's likely because it stood out from the others, for the wrong reasons if you ask me, while the Belgians were consistent. The number indicates the ranking the taster assigned the beer, the lower total number the better, BOLD are my rankings.
  1. Ed's Lambic Blend: (1, 1, 1, 5) Total: 8
  2. Mariage Parfait: (2, 5, 4, 1Total: 12
  3. Cuvee Renee: (3, 2, 6, 2Total: 13
  4. Cantillion: (4, 2, 3, 6Total: 15
  5. Girardin: (6, 5, 4, 3Total: 18
  6. Tilquin: (5, 6, 3, 4Total: 18
The numbers are skewed it you ask me, mine was clearly not the best, I rated it a 5, but thems the numbers I guess. Its interesting to see how wildly different we ranked them, all but my blend received at least one last place vote. Probably has more to do with palate fatigue and lack of some folks experience with these beers but still interesting. I was very disappointed to see the Cantillion Gueuze 100% Bio as sample F, it was just so lifeless and boring when put up against the others. I actually enjoyed it less than my own blend, the other tasters rated mine higher as well. Bottle age varied greatly here and aside from my blend the Cantillon and the Tilquin were the youngest, something I think came into play with our impressions of them both. I will continue to buy and drink Tilquin and Cantillion of course, but in this lineup they didn't fair well. But it would have been nearly impossible for me to line up similarly aged bottles, and this was meant more as a learning experience and not a scientific one. Oh well, was a fun and eye opening learning experience for us all. When it was all said and done the dregs found their new home in one of my barrels, oh except for the dregs of my blend :)

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The haze averse, why is everyone so butthurt?

One side is Tired Hands HopHands, the other is my clone. Juice cocktails the same.
There is a divide in the beer world that has been festering for some time now, it started small but is getting quite heated of late. On one side of that divide you have the New England style IPA fans (for lack of a better term)  who crave a cloudy beer, and on the other side you have the Anti-Haze camp who believe all beer must be bright. The answer has to be somewhere in between, I mean is there no common ground to be found? These two camps have been butting heads ever since the first Heady Topper was poured into a glass, then that D-Bag forgot to recycle. But now with so many breweries brewing and excelling at this style, Hill Farmstead, Tired Hands, Trillium, Treehouse, 2nd Story, Other Half to name a few I like, this debate is raging in a lot of beer circles. Even ending some friendships, actually no I made that part up, but people are swoll.

I will start with the New England IPA fans, of which I clearly am a member so grain of salt and everything. I really don't want to turn this into an East vs. West Coast thing but the delineation of the two "styles" or takes on IPA has been draw using the regions so I will continue with it. I'm not sure who started brewing these Hazy NE IPA's so I shouldn't speak for whoever that (genius) is, but I will anyway. The way these beers are constructed produce a beer with haze that I see as a necessary evil to achieve a certain character, which is fruity/tropical, lowly bitter and supremely drinkable...and yes, Hazy.

Oats for days brah! But wont it be murky? Lets fight!

Most of these beers include quite a bit of adjuncts in the mash, Oats/Wheat specifically, in some cases as high as 20+% of the grain bill. This is to achieve a silky, fuller bodied beer that gives the characteristic of fruit juice but also tend to make beers quite hazy. They are bittered on the very low end of the IPA spectrum to keep them drinkable. The majority of the hops are reserved for late boil/whirlpool additions as well as very high dry hopping rates, in the 2-3 LBs/BBL range. These beers are then finished with fruity, and sometimes low flocculating, English yeast strains that really ties it all together. These beers are then served unfiltered, without finings, and as fresh as you should serve all IPA's

When you combine the high percentages of adjuncts, long whirlpool (causing chill haze), high dry hopping rates, and a low flocculating yeast it's going to be hard to get away from the haze. In my own brewing I have hit these beers with gelatin and even after a month cold in the keg the haze remains. Fining these beers is something I do not like to do because if flocculating yeast cells can strip volatile oils then surely gelatin, or filtering, does as well. We work really hard to get those oils into our beer why then strip them out? But even I, and avid fan of these beers, think that there is a line that shouldn't be crossed. There is a difference between murky and hazy, at home I may pour myself a murky HopHands Clone but if on a commercial level I would likely clean it up a little. The protein, yeast and chill haze in the beer does add to the flavor, for better or worse, so there is a threshold that should be paid attention to.
She's a beaut, or maybe not?

I completely understand the plight of the Haze Averse, these beers can be pretty ugly from a classic beer perspective but some folks seem to be writing them off based on appearance alone. What's More, some are claiming the brewers of said beers are either rushing the product to market or somehow mishandling the fermentation creating a "Yeasty" or "Murky" beer. Now don't get me wrong, I am sure there are examples of this style that are yeasty and there most certainly are some that are very murky. But to make a blanket statement like that about a growing style is both closed minded and against the line of thinking that got craft beer to where it is today. Some of these very brewers put out bright beers sold alongside the hazy ones, so clearly the brewing acumen is there.

It is one thing to not like a style, we all have styles that we don't like or don't "get" (erhmm Black IPA, Black Saison, please stop mmmmkay?) but it seems both sides of this debate are clingy to their proverbial guns. If you go out and try, better yet brew, one of these beers and flat out dont like it, or just really can't get past the hazy appearance then that's totally fine. But lets try to refrain from claiming brewers don't know what they are doing just because you dont like it, the line outside of Tired Hands for can releases that sells out 300+ cases in a few hours seem to prove the market for haze is very demanding...clearly they know what they are doing.

An over the lin murky version of HopWards, this was 4 weeks cold in the keg
even after being hit with gelatin. I assure you that's not yeast.

Opinion rants are something I always said I would never do on this blog, yet here I am. A total sucker for controversy.

Friday, February 19, 2016

HBC-438: The Homebrewers Hop, for now.

Hop breeding is a mind blowing science to me, I have virtually no understanding of what goes into breeding new varieties of hops but the little I do know kind of blows my mind. I can barely grow a damn hop plant and get a decent yield, let alone understand cross breeding varietals. We laud Lambic blenders for their years of experience in doing, but how about waiting 10 years from breeding to commercial release of a hop? That's a lot of time to put into a possible failure, and some people think aging a sour beer for one year is a long wait, pfft. Yet it seems there are loads of new types of hops coming to market each year, clearly these folks know their trade. Its nearly impossible to keep up with all of them but I am always looking to see which might work best in an IPA or Saison, sometimes it's both. Last year HBC-438 caught my attention as one of those new varietals that could work in the types of beers I like to brew.

By the ounce...where are the 1 Lb bags?!?!
I first heard about this hop via in the series on Neomexicanus hops, fascinating reading, Derek does a great job on that series. But it wasn’t until a few friends returned from NHC 2015 in San Diego where samples of the hop were given out that I got interested in giving it a try. I unfortunately did not get a chance to try the conference beer Ron Mexico from Russian River, a single hopped HBC-438 session IPA, so my first sensory experience with HBC-438 was my buddy Tom’s homebrew.  

Tom‘s beer was bright, tropical, crisp and a bit dank, a pretty complex single hop profile. so I was pleased to find some 1 ounce packs at Philly Homebrew. I was even more pleased to learn after the fact that all sales of the Homebrewer only release of HBC-438 went to Ales for ALS, a great new hop supporting a great cause.

Sticking with what I know so I can get as good an impression of what this hop is all about I brewed up a single hopped version of HopWards, my Tired Hands HopHands clone-thing. I stuck with CTZ to bitter and replaced all the boil and dry hop additions with HBC-438, fermented out with Wyeast London Ale III 1318. Water profile was adjusted for a target mash pH of 5.3 and close to a 2:1 Chloride:Sulfate ratio for maximum creamy texture.  I suppose this isn’t simple enough a base beer for some folks, but this the style of pale ale I brew so it will give me the best idea of how the hop will perform in my beers. Which for me is the goal because I want to know if I will ever brew with it again, plus I gotta brew something I want to drink you know?
Hop carnage.
Beer specs and recipe are below, but first the tasting notes and impressions on HBC-438.

HopWards: HBC-438

Appearance: Hazy AF (as my little sister would say), Mustard yellow thing going, thin white head but significant lacing on the glass. The beer is looking like a shook up glass of OJ, as is tradition.

Aroma: Very fruit forward with tropical citrus notes, peach/apricot, a big orange zest character but there is also a Melon note on top of a bed of raw oats. Honeydew and a bunch of cantaloupe with an underlying dank/grassiness.

Taste: Quick sharp hop bitter bite, giving way to a silky smooth body and some tingle on the tongue. Every sip leaves you with a lingering dry/bitterness and a dank, sticky hop bite that makes you want to reach back for this citrusy/melon-y/juicy oat-y cocktail. Super drinkable yet assertive and complex for maximum refreshment. 
This beer lights up a room.
Impressions: As far as single hopped beers go this holds up very well on its own. Its got a fairly unique profile, but all the citrus and stone fruit you could dream about in your IPAs. In my example here I am getting that melon character, Im wondering if thats somehow the way this hop is interacting with the Oats and London Ale III because I hadn't gotten that from other HBC-438 beers. I had a few other people try the beer and none mentioned the melon so it might just be me, but I dig it alot and this is an extremely drinkable beer. 

I had a few friends try this beer and nobody noticed the melon note that I am getting, doesn't mean one of us are wrong (I'm probably wrong actually) just what we all picked up on. Everyone got the tropical and stone fruit and two people mentioned a spice note, specifically thai basil giving credence to the herbal note on the package. Maybe that's what I am confusing for melon, melon or thai basil it's doesn't much matter this is a pretty cool bouquet. 

Sans light, still doesn't portray the true color of this beer. It's much more pale than this.

Single hopped beers can be pretty one dimensional if the hop isn't complex enough to carry the beer through. But from the citrus to stone fruit to melon (Thai Basil?) to sticky dank bitterness HBC-438 is a hop fully capable of supporting a hoppy beer on its own. I can also I can see this pairing really well with Simcoe, Centennial, Nelson Sauvin, or any other trendy IPA hop that's overpriced. I think it will work incredibly well in a Saison, especially with this Thai Basil thing people are picking up on. Hopefully we will be able to find this hop by the pound soon, because I don't normally purchase by the ounce but I am glad I made an exception for HBC-438.

Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 7.00 gal
Post Boil Volume: 5.82 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 5.50 gal
Bottling Volume: 5.25 gal
Estimated OG: 1.050 SG
Measured FG: 1.010 SG
ABV: 5.2%
Estimated Color: 4.5 SRM
Estimated IBU: 45 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

81.9% - 8lbs 8oz - Pale Ale Malt (3.1 SRM)
18.1% - 1lbs 14oz - Flaked Oats

First Wort Hop - 0.30 oz CTZ [13.0 %] - 16.3 IBUs
Boil: 15min - 1 Whirlfloc Tablet + 1 tsp Wyeast Yeast Nutrient
Boil:  5min - 2.00oz HBC-438 [16.60 %] - 24.8 IBUs
20 Minute Whirlpool 185f - 3.00 oz HBC-438 [16.60 %] - 5.8 IBUs
Dry Hop: 5 days - 5.00 oz HBC-438 [16.60 %]


Sacch rest - 60 min @ 150.0 F 

Fly Sparge 5.50 gallons 170f

Misc: 30 seconds of pure O2. Cherry Hill, NJ Tap water. Mash pH 5.37, Water Profile ( 132ppm Ca, 5ppm Mg, 7ppm Na, 155ppm Cl, 76ppm SO4). Some acid malt and some Lactic acid was used to lower the mash pH, your water profile may vary.

Notes: Fermented at 64f for 7 days, bumped to 70f for 3 days then kegged and dry hopped in the keg for 5 days. Tapped 15 days from brewday. Slurry was harvested via my standard method after kegging.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Harvesting and Re-Pitching Slurry

At some point in a homebrewers life he or she starts thinking about re-pitching yeast from prior batches to save money, for which there are countless tutorials online. You can opt to wash yeast slurry left behind after a previous batch. Or the more recent, and very popular, technique documented on where Marshall harvests from a larger starter. I've used both of these methods in the past with varying levels of success but each method poses hurdles that were either concerning to me or simply more work than I wanted to take on. 

For the last two plus years I have been simply re-pitching unwashed harvested slurry batch to batch similar to how a commercial brewery would harvest and repitch. I realize this is not a revolutionary technique, there are plenty of homebrewers who do this as well, but it's a technique I think that is being overlooked by a lot of homebrewers. It's a very simple process and actually has helped improve my beers and my knowledge of how a yeast pitch can evolve from generation to generation. Before I get into this keep in mind that I am not a microbiologist, so there may be some things that folks disagree with here but this practice has been tried and true over 40+ batches of my own beer, as well as in a commercial setting. 
A look down the carboy neck at some fairly clean slurry.
There are a two "prerequisites" of sorts that makes this process work for me, the first being that I plan my beers out to use a particular yeast strain in successive brews. I brew at least once a month which is frequently enough that I can actually keep two strains relatively fresh and healthy, usually a Saison strain and one for Hoppy beers. The second being you keep the trub amount going into the fermentor as low as possible. Not because it might affect the flavor of our beer, it likely does not, but because it will be easier to estimate the amount of yeast you're harvesting/re-pitching with less kettle trub in the way (try as you might, there will always be some). I use a Stainless Hop Spider, and a good whirlpool with my pump, to achieve this. Don't worry about the proteins and other debris from the boil and fermentation that is in the slurry, some of it can actually beneficial to the remaining yeast cells during storage.

With those two points in mind all the only equipment you really need is a vessel to store your slurry in. Mason jars work fine but I opt for something more fit for yeast storage in these Media Bottles or Polypropylene Jars. I like the media bottles best because both the lid and bottle are autoclavable, with the lid being polypropylene and the borosilicate glass container, so I can ensure the thing is super sterile by boiling or better yet using the pressure cooker. Not to mention this is a lab grade product and should last forever, assuming you don't drop it! The Polypropylene jars are great as well but I notice the rubber gasket can get gunked up over time, I tend to use those more for storing strains of Brettanomyces and mixed cultures where they spend more time in the jar being fed and will reside in for long stretches.
This was, believe it or not, a pretty hoppy beer. Look how "clean" the slurry is.
Obviously sterilization and sanitation is key here so be as thorough as possible to ensure your culture stays as clean as you can. Prior to racking I will use the pressure cooker to sterilize the media bottle, boiling should work fine its just not totally sterile. Once the bottle cools a bit use star-san to sanitize everything, and give the bottle a little co2 flush for good measure. Rack your beer off of the yeast cake and simply pour your slurry into your sterilized, sanitized, co2 purged yeast storage vessel. One thing I do to try keep as sterile an environment as possible is to light an alcohol lamp (not pictured because I'm a shitty photog) to get an updraft and keep things from falling into the jar while I am pouring, this isn't a lab so it won't be perfect. Throw the lid on ,but don't tighten it fully as there might be some off-gassing, then throw it in the fridge. Come back the next day and tighten the lid down. Make sure to mark the date of when you harvested the slurry so you can determine viability once you're ready to re-pitch, also keep track of what generation the pitch is.
The Alcohol lamp is there, i swear.
Leading up to the next batch you plan to brew using your harvested culture take a look at the date it was harvested to calculate the viability of the yeast remaining. Depending on how long it's been you may or may not have enough cells to complete a healthy fermentation based on your batch size and gravity. I use Mr. Malty to roughly calculate the viability and how much slurry I need. Based on my experience I think the the calculator assumes a drop in viability quicker than it does in reality. Steve at has done a bunch of tests on viability of washed and unwashed harvested slurry and found that the viability decreses at a significantly slower rate than Mr. Malty calculates. If it's within 2 weeks of harvesting you should be good to pitch the slurry only into well aerated wort of a reasonable gravity (~1.050). If you're concerned just wake it up with 250-500ml of starter wort and you'll see activity super quickly. Some people might cringe at this since it's a very rough assessment of how many cells and being pitched. But by using the calculator and ensuring the slurry is fresh and healthy you will get a healthy fermentation via close approximation on your pitching rate. Lets face it, most of our home starters are rough assessments anyway given that we use a generic pitching calculator across all strains, each of whom likely have different growth charts. 
Once settled this was about 800ml of dense slurry.
Aside from the simplicity of this process I do genuinely think this has improved my beers to an extent. In my experience the strains tend to get comfortable in the environment and the manner I use them making for quicker ferments and more repeatable results. This has especially been the case for The Yeast Bay's Wallonian Farmhouse and WLP565, still my all time favorite, both of which I have been able to push to 8 generations with exceedingly great results with every passing generation. This is something that has been reiterated by Neva Parker from White Labs just recently during her Reddit AMA. Below is her response to the question regarding the benefits of harvesting from batches of beer.

There is absolutely a benefit (see answer at the top of the thread):
In general, yeast from a lab takes 2-3 generations before they are optimal condition for actual fermentations, so if yeast can be harvested well, you'll get some great yeast out of it.
It can take a few turns for the yeast to be completely acclimated to the fermentation environment, but once they are, performance is optimal around generation 3.
With a starter, its not that you're necessarily losing these benefits. While the yeast is not getting used to environments without oxygen (fermentation), you're still building up yeast metabolism and yeast activity so you'll get a faster, stronger start with a shorter lag.
I already had this post mostly finished when I saw Neva say this and I am glad I waited to post it because this is useful information from someone smarter than I. Her point about the 2nd or 3rd generations being the most optimal is totally in line with my experience, but I would have said generation 4 was the sweet spot. It's nice to have some reassurance from a leader in the industry.

Call me a romantic but I love seeing how the culture performs as those generations pass, sometimes the changes are good but there is a point of diminishing returns. You'll know when that time comes, it's been more of a gradual shift than an abrupt one for me. If you notice off-flavors (fusel alcohols, acetaldehyde, diacetyl etc) or under attenuation you should dump and get a new pitch. In the case of the 8 generation Wallonian pitch I had recently, I would have pitched it further but it got older than I wanted and decided to add it to a mixed culture that needed some extra Saccharomyces help. I think Wallonian was released in early 2014, and I've only bought two pitches in that time. With it being a Saison strain I'm not as afraid of some contaminations of LAB, Brett, or wild yeast as I would be my preferred hoppy beer strain Wyeast 1318.

As with any home yeast procedures it's inevitable that you will get some sort of contamination in your slurry, per Jamil Zainasheff on the Brewing Network most professional breweries do! There are some more advanced techniques including acid washing to clean up your culture if you want to go that route, I don't however I may try it just for the learning experience. Normally after 4-8 generations I am fine spending another $7-10 for a new pitch. I know it might seem a bit scary to do this, but give it a try at least once and see how you make out. One things for sure, you'll see active fermentation as fast as you've ever seen.