Dry Run

One cannot say there is one aspect of the brewing art that is the most important. A poorly crafted recipe can make  a poorly balanced beer.  A lack of mash control can affect the body and head retention of the product.  A weak boil can impact clarity and hop utilization.  Post boil, good sanitation is certainly a requirement. But even if you do all of these things perfectly, a poorly managed fermentation will be the ruin of your efforts.

One key to proper fermentation is selection of yeast and pitching a properly sized and healthy starter.   If one buys a liquid yeast culture from Wyeast or White Labs, your generally promised a cell count of 100 billion cells, which is only adequate for five gallons of the lowest gravity beer.   Stronger beers need more yeast, which can be easily accomplished by making a starter, but at the small risk of introducing contamination into the culture.  This requires a few days of advanced planning which is a small inconvenience.  Also, if the brewing day is delayed then the yeast starter does begin to degrade and the viable cell count to drop.  Liquid yeasts are great, they just have some disadvantages.

A good alternative is dry yeast.  The only required planning is buying a few packages at the store.  The main problem with dry yeasts has been a lack of variety, but this is improving.  For instance, Fermentis now has a variety of specialty dry yeasts.  The most useful is Safale US-05, which is a great replacement for any recipe that calls for a neutral ‘American ale’ type yeast (it the same strain as White Labs 001 and Wyeast 1056, the ale yeast used in many famous California Pale Ales.  In fact, I no longer bother with the liquid strains of this yeast.).  S-04 is an nice English Ale yeast. They have also added two dry lager yeasts as well as three specialty yeasts.  I recently decided to try Safbrew T-58, described as a “Specialty yeast selected for its estery somewhat peppery and spicy flavor development”.  Based on the “spicy” descriptor and other comments read online I felt an appropriate test would be in a Belgian Blonde Ale recipe (14 liters at end of boil):

Grains Amount Percent
Pilsener Malt 3.72kg 87%
Aromatic Malt 0.16 kg 4%
Victory Malt 0.16 kg 4%
White Sugar 0.25 kg 6%
Hops Amount Boil Time IBUs
East Kent Goldings 28 g 60 min 24
Styrian Goldings 14 g 0 min 0

I have made this basic recipe before. The original gravity for this batch was 17.5 °P (1.072 sg) and the fermenter volume was 13 liters.  So how much dry yeast should one pitch?The T-58 datasheet calls for 50 to 80 grams per hectoliter, or 0.5 to 0.8 grams per liter, which represents 6 to 9 grams for this batch.  I just pitched the entire 11.5 gram package.

One can hear many methods to re-hydrating dry yeast. Some suggest merely sprinkling the dry yeast over the wort and letting it sit for 15 minutes or so before mixing and aerating the wort.  Detractors of this method claim high yeast mortality, as the high sugar levels of the wort impair the ability of the yeast cell to successfully re-establish themselves.  Sometimes I use this method for a one gallon batch, and it has never failed to start a fermentation.  But usually I re-hydrate in water.  I typically put about 100 to 150 ml (about one half cup) water in a one cup pyrex cup and bring to a boil in the microwave. I cover with plastic wrap and let cool until it is just above room temperature, 25 to 30 °C ( about 80 °F).  Don’t rush this – hot water will kill the yeast. I then pour the dry yeast over the top of the water and cover it with the plastic wrap again, without stirring.  Maybe 20 to 30 minutes later I take a sanitized spoon and stir the yeast into the water, and then recover and let sit another 15 or 20 minutes.  The yeast is now creamy and bubbling and very healthy looking. One last good stir and into the wort it goes along with some pure oxygen.

How did the T-58 do?  I started the fermentation at 18 °C and let it ferment there for two days before raiseing the temperature to 20 °C. As fermentation subsided I raised the temperature a couple degrees more to help the yeast finish its work.  The final gravity was 3.3 °P (1.013), an apparent attenuation of 82% and an ABV of 7.8%.  After one week I did rack into a keg and since I did not need it immediately it went into cold storage for a couple of weeks.

So can you use a dry yeast to make an authentic tasting Belgian?  Based on this experiment I would say yes you can. The high level of attenuation is critical to making an acceptable Belgian style beer.  The flavor profile reminds me of many of the classic Belgian yeast strains I have used before.

I know I will be trying this again. Safbrew T-58 could become as ubiquitous as Safale US-05 in my brewery.

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