Using Old Yeast

John recently had a dilemma. He needed to rep itch some yeast into his braggot after a long a tiresome ferment. Worried that some fresh yeast was needed at bottling he looked to the fridge. All he had away an older package of white wine yeast. He rehydrated the yeast in some water and pitched it in hoping for the best. This week he asks the question: “How old is to old for yeast?”

The first thing going for John in these situation is that he had a dry yeast packet that had been stored in the fridge. Dry yeast tends to have a much longer shelf life than liquid yeast due to its nearly nonexistent metabolism while dry. You should always consult the side of the package for an expiry date or a packaged on date. In general these things will give you an idea of how old the yeast it.

Normally, under ideal conditions these things can be revived. Dehydrating the yeast and then putting old yeast into a mild starter (1.025OG) is a good idea. The little bit of sugar will encourage the yeast to start some activity. Within 30-60minutes properly rehydrated yeast should start to show some singes of CO2 production. This means there are some live cells in there. It doesn’t mean they are all alive or that you have a pitchable quantity but it does mean you have a shot at redemption.

The next step would be to let the yeast continue to make up in this sugar solution. Once it goes to completion, you can pitch it in a new volume (not more that double in size) with more sugar (this time not more than 1.040OG). When that once completes its process I’d recommend cold crashing it and seeing how much yeast volume there is. From there you might be ready to decant the spent liquid and go to a true 1-2L starter wort. Proceed as usual.

Ultimately there is no real good answer. Is the yeast too old? You have to put it in some sugar and see if its alive or not. No date on the package is going to tell you that. Like many things in home brewing you need to try them out and experience it yourself. Experience and gained knowledge will go a lot further than any “expert” source can give you.


Stir Plate or Ferm-Wrap

The curse of the home brewer is equipment upgrades. There are so many gadgets and toys available to make better beer or to help you make beer easier. And once you get those gadgets, there are usually newer gadgets to replace those gadgets. The cycle can be exhausting. This week John prepares himself for his next set of upgrades. We discuss the merits of choosing between a stir plate or Ferm-wrap.

The premise of using a stir-plate is that you generate lively and healthy yeast. In the past we have all been taught to believe that the stir plate also increases cell numbers as well. In reality cell numbers do increase, but depending on the size of your starter and the length of time you give it, the cell number issue can be pretty varied. However, a good steady supply of oxygen and access to fresh sure will certainly increase the viability and performance of any starting source of yeast.

Using a Ferm-Wrap has different benefits. Many of us have fridges that we can use with a thermostat controller to keep things cold in the summer. Active heating is something that is usually an after thought. But in the winter time a cold fridge or basement isn’t going to help brew most ales. A Ferm-wrap in combination with a temperature probe can really help maintain a constant temp when the ambient temps fall. I always found that having the option to heat up a brew towards the end of its ferment a benefit. This practice helps drive the beer to its lowest gravity before the majority of the yeast start to go dormant and flocculate out. A Ferm-wrap also makes it easy to heat up a fermentor in an attempt to restart a sluggish or stuck ferment.

Both of these things certainly point towards better beer through better fermetation or yeast management. My vote for anyone is always temp control. Temp control before even any type of starter. You can always buy more yeast, but you can’t ferment at 70F in a 50F basement. In John’s case, I think he already does a good job with a standard starter made by occasional shaking to create and suspend the yeast. His beers have very little fermentation flaws derived by sluggish or under pitched yeast. So my vote would be for the Ferm-Wrap to assist and lend more control to the good yeast he is already pitching. A stir plate later down the road would only enhance the high quality yeast he already pitches.

What’s your take? What’s your vote? Do you have experience with one or the other? Do you think one provides bigger rewards when in the absence of the other? Let us know with a comment or an email.


Down Under IPA Brew Session

We’ve been talking a lot about hops lately on camera. We’ve even talked more about hops and hopping off camera. Over the past several months John has collected a stash of hops from Australia and New Zealand. I think we intended to do some more hop tasting experiments with these, but even for us that’s getting a little boring. Instead we bring you, the Down Under IPA.

This 1.070 starting gravity beer starts its 60 minutes boil with 3/4 of an ounes of Warrior hops. I love using Warrior hops because of the clean bittering. It give a nice base of hop bitterness that you can build on with more characterful hops later in your process. With 10 minutes left in the boil, John added an ounce of Pacific Jade, which is a hop variety that has a distinct earthy spicy and black pepper-like presence. To finish the boil off, at flame-out, John performed a sort of hop burst. He added a blend of 1 oz Australian Topaz hops and 3 oz of New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hops -A 4 oz hop burst. He let this sit for 15-minutes after flame out.

We discuss this in the video as a hop bursting exercise, but to me it seems more like a hop stand really but we can save that debate for discussion when we do a tasting around this beer in several weeks. Regardless, of what we call it, I am hoping for a big fruity citrusy IPA with a clean bitterness. I am very interested in how the black pepper quality of the Pacific Jade comes through. It could be a nice balance not with all the fruity hops.

For yeast, this beer is being fermented with two strains, WLP001 California Ale yeast and Wyeast 1217 the West Coast Ale yeast (aka Pacman from Rogue). No real special strategy here, he just used with two yeasts that are very similar. It turned out to be just a little insurance policy in the viability because the WY1217 may have been hurting from a freezing shipping trip across the country. If the blend works out well though, I’d like to get some slurry from the primary. The Pacman strain is one I’ve wanted to use for a while as it might make a fine cream ale. Although with all that hopping in this beer, maybe I should pass.

Stay tuned for an upcoming tasting video of this one. In the meantime… BREW ON!

Whirlpool Hopping Techniques

Recently John experimented with some hop bursting for an IPA he did. This week we ask the question ‘What is the fundamental difference between hop bursting and whirlpool hopping?’.

Both techniques are all about maximizing hop flavor and aroma from hops, but each takes a slightly different approach to get there. Hop bursting relies on very large quantities of hops added late in the boil to generate some bitterness while capturing a bigger return on the flavor and aroma end. While traditional wisdom dictates that short boils do not contribute much bitterness, the effects of a short boil time on the hops is compensated for in volume of hops added.

While hop bursting can be effective, it is an expensive way to enhance aroma and flavor while at due to the large amount of hops needed to generate enough bitterness to balance the beer out. This is where whirlpool hopping can come to the rescue.

In whirlpool hopping, a normal bittering charge is often added at the start of the boil. The real magic comes by adding hops after flameout and before the wort is run off into the chiller. With the heat source of the wort is no longer rolling with a boil, hence less volatiles are escaping the wort. This preserves more of the delicate oils in the hops and keeps them in the wort. Pro-brewers experimenting with this technique have also experimented with the temperature of the wort and the time the hops sit in the boil.

The technique of whirlpool hopping is named as such due to its origins in the professional brewing space. At the end of a boil the wort in the boil kettle is pumped back on itself to induce a circular flow within the brew kettle. The resulting whirlpool creates a center cone of hot break in the kettle so that as the wort is drawn out of the kettle usually through a kettle edge placed port; that break material is easily left in the kettle and out of the chiller.

In some case, brewers report chances in hop aroma profiles by perching their wort some to get further below the volatilization stage. You might here of brewers pre-chilling into the range of 170-180F first then adding whirlpool hops. Obviously you could experiment to with the length of time the hops stay in that whirl-pooling wort.

So regardless of how you approach it there are many ways to get more and more hop aroma and flavor into you beer. Hop backs, hop bursting, whirl pooling and don’t forget dry hopping. there is some interesting stuff happening in the area of dry hopping these days too.

What’t your favorite approach to getting more aroma and flavor into your beers? Aside from IPAs and pale ales are there other styles where you’ve use one of these techniques?
Let us know. Drop a comment either here in the blog or over on the YouTube channel.


Cellared Cranberry Cider

We recently tasted a couple fresh ciders that we had made towards the end of 2014. Fermenting freshly pressed apple juice is how many generations before us preserved that valuable food item. Fortifying the beverage certain must have made for some good times in back in colonial times. Packed with vitamins cellared ciders probably help stave of different types of vitamin deficiencies during the long winter times. This week John digs into his cellar of beverage and brings us a cranberry cider from early 2013!

This thing poured with an very interesting pink hue. (Watch the video for a good close up that captures the hue pretty well.)
The aroma of this cider however was pretty strong for me with some odd notes. Right off the top of it I got a distinct meally, vegetable oil smell. Like what your shirt smells like after frying up chicken fingers or something. John really was focused in on what he describes as acetic acid. I think its a cleaner smell than that and not vinegar like.

On the first sip I was really taken back by the acidity. It was pretty strong at first. My palate adjusted a bit as you’d expect it to when drinking sour beverages. The next sips gave way to a subtle lingering cranberry and apple combo. Though the cranberry was pretty soft at this point.

After drinking more if the flavor sort of grower on me, but that vegetable oil thing was just a bit too much. I suspect that flavor may be a long term effect of yeast autolysis. Autolysis is classically described as being meaty. So maybe on my palate that’s coming across as vegetable oil. Fortunately for me I guess, I don’t have much experience with yeast autolysis.

So it is interesting tasting something that had been cellared for so long. When we first tasted this one a couple years back it was strictly dry and tart with a very pink hue. I think the hue has only diminished because the cider is far more clear now than it was back then. Tasting something with so much age on it showed me two things. First its amazing how well something can hold up. The higher acidity and alcohol content certainly helps out a I suspect. Second, the presence of what I assume to be a yeast autolysis flavor was something new to me. Now I’ll be more keen on its flavor presence in other beers or wines that have been aged extensively.