Tag Archives: Yeast

A Hard Day’s Work

P3200041-beer and yeastIt is the first day of spring and it is snowing outside, so no better excuse than to make some bread and drink some good beer.  The bread recipe came from Jeffrey Hamelman’s book Bread.  It is an bread made with rolled oats and whole wheat flour, with a little honey, milk, and oil.  It is the first time I have tried this recipe, but it is bread so how bad could it be?

The beer is a simple English bitter that checks in at about 4% ABV, pleasant to drink but very sessionable.  The recipe was a little bit of a cupboard clearer – a little brown malt and crystal malt on top of a load of English malt (Golden Promise and Maris Otter malt). Also a little flaked wheat just because.  I used UK Goldings for bitterness and finished with some homegrown Fuggles.  The yeast was Wyeast’s West Yorkshire variety, which makes for a very enjoyable English Bitter.



Mighty, Mighty Head

imageMy favorite saison yeast is Wyeast 3711, French Saison.  I have talked about it before: it has a nice spicy flavor and attenuates without much fuss.  My standing joke is that this yeast will ferment your concrete floor if you let it sit.  The thing is, the saisons I bottle almost always end up a bit over carbonated.  I do not know if this is just the 3711 continuing to work, or if I am picking up a slight infection. The bottles do not gush, but you can only pour about half of the beer before you run out of space.  The flavor is still OK, so if it is infected it is a pretty benign critter.  But when those beers are poured man do they end up with one whipped cream like head.  I am surprised the head is so big and long lasting, as I thought the continuing fermentation would tend to break down components in the beer which contribute to head formation.

Bicentennial Brew & Stats

Last weekend a milestone was reached at the LittleBoy Brewery.  The 200th batch of beer was put into the ferementer.  Because this was a milestone brew I made it something unique, a sour red ale.  I used the same recipe as the So Was Red brew, but instead of a Berliner Weisse yeast I pitched a pack of Wyeast Roeselare Ale, which is a blend of ale yeast, brettanomyces, lactobacillus and pediococcus.  I put it in a plastic bucket fermenter and intend to leave it sit for one year.  You can’t rush sour.

200 batches of beer is not that much for someone who has been brewing since 1997, but it has been a fun hobby.  Here are a few additional statistics:

  • The 200 batches made 3203 liters of beer or 846 gallons. That is just over 27 barrels.  Budweiser spilled that much this morning.
  • For the first ten years of brewing I never made ten batches in a single year.  I have averaged 23 batches per year in the last five years.
  • I have used 48 different varieties of yeast.
  • My most used yeasts are dry yeasts: Safale US-05 is my go-to: I used it for 22 batches, followed by Danstar Windsor (21 batches), Danstar Nottingham (20 batches).
  • Most popular liquid yeasts: White Labs WLP 002 English Ale (13 batches) and Wyeast 3711 French Saison (12 batches).
  • Most popular categories: English Pale Ale (35), Belgian and French Ale (22), Stout (20), American Ale (13) and Pilsner (12)
  • Most popular styles: ESB (17), Saison (16), Dry Stout (12), Ordinary Bitter (11) and Classic American Pilsner (10).

Of the 200 batches I only really dumped one. It was a spiced Christmas Ale that just never tasted right.  I don’t think it was spoiled, just too bitter and too much ginger.  I kept it a solid year before I gave up on it though.

Brew on!

Easy Yeast Starters

Have I ever mentioned that managing fermentation is really important to making great beer?  Sure I have.  And I know that one of the biggest challenges to most home brewers is controlling fermentation temperature.  Well, maybe you don’t have a dedicated fermentation chamber but you can certainly make sure that you pitch the correct amount of yeast.  Unfortunately, much like IBU calculations, figuring out the correct yeast pitch relies on a bit of guesswork.  Still, a little knowledge can be a good thing.

First, how much yeast is needed?  The simplest number is about 1 million cells per milliliter of wort per degree Plato.  A more detailed recommendation is pitching 750,000 cells per ml per °P for ales and 1.5 million cells per ml per °P for lagers.  For ease I am going to use the 1 million value.  A 5 gallon batch is 18.9 liters or 18,900 milliliters.  This means that we need 18.9 billion cells per degree Plato.  So for a beer at 10 °P (1.040) this means that 189 billion cells are needed.

The challenge for the brewer is that your basic White Labs tube or Wyeast smack pack only promise 100 billion cells.  Despite any claims of being “pitchable” the volume of cells in these packages are not truly sufficient, one needs about twice as many yeast cells.  The easiest way to double the volume of yeast cells is to pitch either a White Labs tube or Wyeast pack into make a one liter volume of wort and let it ferment out.

Here is an easy solution: get some empty two liter soda bottles, wash them and sanitize with your favorite sanitizer.  Add one liter of wort and and the yeast, and cap the bottle.  Shake like crazy, then crack the cap and squeeze the bottle until the liquid is near the top.  Set in a nice warm place and let it do its thing. The great thing about 2 liter pop bottles is that they are incredibly strong.  Once the yeast begins to work and liberates some carbon dioxide, the bottles will become quite firm to the touch.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACracking the lid allows some of the CO2 to escape, and you can once again squeeze the bottle before resealing.  Shake again to redistribute the yeast.  it makes a great substitute for a stir plate.  And, when the yeast has finished growing you can put the whole bottle into the fridge until it is needed.  it is safe, sealed, and secure.

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.

Yeast Stats

I have a predilection to record data.  I think I was born that way, I am not sure. I have a little book in the glovebox of my car where in which I carefully record the date and mileage for every tank of fuel I buy.  I used to keep a record of every round of golf I played, but as I seem to keep getting worse at that game I have managed to give up that particular addiction (the record keeping, not the game).

Anyway, fancying myself a better brewer than golfer you can bet I keep lots of records about brewing.  I have kept a record of every batch I have made (167) including the ingredients, batch size, fermentation info, etc.   Recently I reviewed the information about the yeasts I have used.

Of the 167 batches, roughly one third were fermented with dry yeast, one third with White Labs yeast and one third with Wyeast.  In my early days of homebrewing the local shop carried only Wyeast, but at some point early on they switched to White Labs.  As readers of the blog know I have had my issues with White Lab yeasts, so today I am more likely to use either a dry yeast or order Wyeast online.

In total I have used 42 different yeasts: 18 from White Labs, 17 from Wyeast and 7 different dry varieties.  Since some brands are ostensibly the same yeast (e.g., Wyeast 1056 and Safale US-05) I cannot say I have actually used 42 different types of yeast.


Number of Uses












WLP 002 –
English Ale








WY 3711 –
French Saison




WY 1084 –
Irish Ale




WY 1469 –
West Yorkshire




WLP 008 –
East Coast Ale




WY 2124 –
Bohemian Lager




WLP 500 –
Trappist Ale





As you can tell, I like dry yeast. I like its convenience and the fact that it is easy to pitch the correct amount of yeast, versus liquid that is always a bit of a guessing game. I have never done a direct side by side comparison of dry and liquid varieties, but despite a lot of hullabaloo from liquid yeast proponents, I suspect there is little difference between the two. Personally I have not written a book with the owner of a company who sells liquid yeast cultures, so unlike other people with a radio show I am pretty neutral in this situation. Now for certain beers it is hard to find just the right dry yeast. I would be surprised if one could make an award winning Trappist Ale or Saison without a proper liquid culture. If anyone thinks they have please let me know.

As for the yeast performance, I must give a shout to the WY 3711 French Saison. At an average of 95% attenuation, it can ferment almost anything. The WLP 500 Trappist is no slouch, either, averaging 83% attenuation on stronger beers. Overall the only one that surprised me a but was the Windsor Ale, the average attenuation of 65% is pretty low. I know I tend to use this yeast in experimental beers, still it surprises me.

Comparing Saison Yeasts (and What’s on Tap)

Recently I gave the recipe for Saison Wry , the beer that won a gold medal in the recent TRASH beer competition.  I recently re-brewed the recipe, splitting the roughly six gallon batch into two fermenters. In the first carboy I used my standard Wyeast 3711, French Saison yeast.  I love this yeast. It is rock solid and I believe it could ferment your concrete garage floor down to 1.002 or so.  It is the yeast I used in the medal winning recipe.  In the second carboy I pitched Wyeast 3726, Farmhouse Ale.  The 3726 is a limited release strain, and according to Wyeast it has an expected attenuation of 74% to 79%, versus the 3711 which claims 77% to 83%.

To make starters, I split active Wyeast smack packs into two, 2 liter soda bottles with about 1 liter of starter wort in each.  I noted the 3726 was a very powdery yeast; it settled OK but was much easier to disturb than the 3711.  In the end, I ended up with about 40 ml of fairly solid 3711 yeast but about 120 ml of very powdery 3726 yeast.  The 3711 smack pack was a few months older so perhaps some of the volume difference simply could be due to viability, but I think most of the difference was due to the 3726 not settling as well.

The wort had an initial gravity of 15.4 °P (1.063), and after pitching I aerated each carboy with pure oxygen for 90 seconds.  The wort was about 16 °C (61 °F) at pitching but I let the controller to 19°C (66 °F), and let it rise to 22°C (72 °F) by the third day.  The 3711 finished at a very typical 1.0 °P (1.004) for an apparent attenuation of 94% and 7.9% ABV.  The 3726 finished at 2.8 °P (1.011) for 83% attenuation and 6.9% ABV.

Today, here is the beer fridge, it is “Farmhouse vs. the French”:

So, which yeast “wins” ?  Both yeasts cleared well and both beers turned out very clear:

The Farmhouse Ale is softer and rounder, and perhaps a bit fruitier than the French Saison.  The French Saison is spicier and definitely drier and has a noticeable bend toward the higher alcohols.  In fact it has a slightly solvent like character that is stronger than I remember.  I guess I need to compare it to a bottle from the first batch to see if I am remembering correctly.  Which do I prefer?  It is funny, I seem to prefer the one that I pour first.  If I try the Farmhouse first,  then the French seems a little rough.  If I start with the French, then the Farmhouse is not a crisp and tart as the Farmhouse.  Which will I use going in the future?  Well, the Farmhouse is a specialty strain and not regularly available, so it will probably be the French Saison yeast.  And that is OK with me.

Down the Tube

Ok, I have finally had it and I am ditching the tube.  Well, not the tube itself the yeast that comes in a tube.

For the second time in recent history I purchased a tube of a lager yeast, pitched it into a large (like 6 liter large) starter only to see…nothing.  Three days after pitching there are a few languid bubbles on the surface of the wort and no airlock activity.

The problem with the tube is you just don’t know what you are pitching.  Live or dead?  The tube could have spent a week in a 120 degree warehouse and you would not know until it was pitched and failed.  When you use a smack pack you can tell if you have live yeast – if it doesn’t swell then the yeast is dead.  No way to tell with a tube, until it is too late. It is a shame because  have found the people at the tube company helpful in the past.  But unfortunately I cannot recommend their product anymore.

Added 17-May-2012:

OK, so the yeast finally began to ferment, but it was at least 72 hours after pitching.  As of today the kreusen has dropped, I let the ferment temp rise a bit but I have not checked the final gravity.  So it wasn’t dead, but it was piss poor performance.