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Culturing Yeast from the Bottle/Can

Posted by Matt on 2/27/2015 at 08:23:53 AM

 
About six months after I started brewing, when I first realized how important yeast selection was in the final product, I went a bit nuts with yeast and I haven't really recovered. Most everything I do is a split-batch between yeasts, and I honestly find trying new yeasts exciting. Real world example, I recently ordered two new kinds of yeast and made a three-way-split-batch on a whim because someone brought it up. Evidence hereI'm a big believer that finding the right yeast is one of the keys to a great beer, and so when I encounter a great beer one of my first questions is "What yeast did you use?". 

Unfortunately, when I ask this question about a commercial beer, the answer isn't always out there, especially since most breweries filter out the yeast from their beer. Some breweries are incredibly private about the strain of yeast they use, many which may not have an available equivalent anyways. So when I come across an unfiltered bottle of great beer, I can't help but get excited and prepare to add a new kind of yeast to my collection. 

So, how do we go about culturing yeast from a bottle/can? 

Step One: Find an unfiltered beer

Can of Heady Topper
Obviously, you need to find a beer to culture the yeast from. There are quite a few breweries out there that don't filter their beer. Find one that you like and go with it! The first beer I ever cultured yeast from was Oberon by Bell's Brewery, which is their versatile house strain. Great yeast. Currently, I'm not aware of a comprehensive list with beers you can culture yeast from, so if anyone knows of one I would love to see it! If not, let me know of some beers you CAN culture from, and let's get this list going.


For this post, I was lucky enough to acquire a can of Heady Topper, which uses the famous Conan strain that Homebrew Dad had a short contest to send out. The yeast is famous for its peach and stone-fruit flavors, supposed to be incredible, and so it seemed like a great yeast to have. 

Step Two: Preparing and pouring the beer

You went to the store and got your beer, and now you're excited to culture that yeast! Unfortunately, that won't be today. In your drive home, the movement has knocked some yeast into the beer, and pouring it now would pour it out. There will be some left behind you can use still, sure, but you want as much of the yeast as you can get, especially since we are doing this from a single bottle/can (if you have more than one bottle/can, use two or three!). So, let your beer sit in the fridge for three or four days to make sure that the yeast has settled. 

Open the beer and sanitize the lip with flame (Note: If you're worried about applying a flame to a cold bottle, go ahead and use star-san!). This is something that I read from Bell's Brewery, and I think it is a worthwhile extra precaution. 

Pour the beer into a glass, leaving about 1/4 or 1/5 of the beer still in the bottle/can. You want to do this is one motion, since tilting the bottle back up after pouring will knock yeast back into suspension, and you want to save that yeast! 

Heady Topper
Bonus Step: Drink Beer!

Step Three: Preparing the starters

I'll list the volumes and steps in order at the end of this section, so if you aren't interested in the reasoning and are only interested in the steps themselves that go ahead and skip to them.

I got some advice on the forums here about the yeast starter. Initially, you are going to want a small, low-gravity starter to start stepping up the yeast. Higher gravities create more osmotic pressure on the yeast, which adds additional stress. So you want a low-gravity wort to cause a few cell-divisions and wake the yeast up from being in the bottle/can. 

You can either make a starter as you would normally and add the slurry from the bottle/can to the flask/container, or you can pour the (cooled) wort directly into the can/bottle and cover it with sanitized aluminum foil. 

Starter Step One
Why yes, 150 ml of 1.015 OG wort takes basically no DME.

After that first starter, you'll want to increase your gravity and volume a bit. This second step is to continue making sure the yeast isn't too stressed, and to increase cell count. So essentially the same as the first, but on a bigger scale. If you aren't using a flask yet, now is the time. I would also start using a stir plate here if you have one available to you. 

Finally, the third step, is all about cell-count. This will have the OG of a typical starter, about 1.037, and is intended to build your cell count so you can gather yeast. This isn't about making a starter to pitch, it is about making enough yeast so that you can create a pitch-able starter later. 

Starter Steps

  1. 150 ml of 1.015 OG wort. 
  2. 300 ml of 1.020 OG wort. 
  3. 450 ml of 1.030 OG wort.

Step Four: Storage

Vial of Conan!Yeast storage (primarily cell viability) have been debated, but I am of the opinion that long-term storage in a vial/mason jar/what-have-you is totally viable. 

Here, in my opinion, is how you should store your yeast (there are a ton of ways to do this, do what works for you!):

  1. Make sure you are storing your yeast in cold temperatures, the ideal temperature range is about 33˚F-38˚F. Never let the yeast freeze, try to keep it as cold as possible. I’d aim for 34˚F.
  2. Store it with the same wort you would use for your yeast starter, low OG (1.037)  and no hops.
  3. Store it in a sterile container. I personally use plastic test tubes. Plastic is typically more resistant to the pressure, which is useful in case the Co2 builds up.
  4. Store it with as little oxygen as possible.
  5. In storage, yeast can still produce Co2 for a while since most refrigerators aren't cold enough to stop the yeast immediately (and you wouldn't want it to be that cold in this case). For this reason, you want to release Co2 from the container every now and then for the first day or so.

Step Five: Estimating your cell count

Obviously, estimating the cell count can be difficult because you don't know how many cells were initially used, so you can't calculate growth. Fortunately, most everything in cell counts and yeast starters is an estimation, and there is a way to visually estimate your cell count. 


Once your yeast is in a storage vessel, store it upright and allow the yeast to settle. Now, estimate how much of the mixture is solids (yeast) versus liquid. Typically, 40-60% yeast solids will correlate to about 1.2 billion cells per mL. Check out the link from Wyeast above to see images of vials with varying amounts of solids. 

This is a rough estimation, but it is better than nothing!

Really, culturing yeast isn't too difficult and I think it is a worthwhile endeavor. Now, using the dregs from a sour is an entirely different story, and this post primarily applies to non-sour beers. I hope this was useful for some of you, and can't wait to hear what yeasts you all are able to get a hold of!

Happy homebrewing!

Matt


Matt is a homebrewer with a passion for community and big, wood-aged beers. Find him and his other work over at his blog, To Brew a Beer.



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Great article, I was always curious about how to get enough yeast from a can to pitch. I'm a little confused about the cell count estimation. This solid/liquid ratio would also depend on the slurry concentration right? So if you have 10% in 50 mL like in the picture you have X amount of yeast but if you have that same amount of yeast in 100 mL, you would predict haven't X/2 amount of yeast. Am I not understanding this correctly? I think a better calculation would be the volume of the settled solids since the yeast cell diameter must be known and so this calculation would be relatively simple. That or use a hemocytometer.

posted by DICKERBEER on 2/27/2015 at 08:20:01 AM




I have been doing this for a while. I think it would be interesting and useful if everyone posted their favorite yeast to harvest maybe start a database. I have harvested from Chimay Blue didn't turn out to bad.

posted by adriedel on 2/27/2015 at 08:22:08 AM




This is awesome! I started growing my own yeast bank from White Labs vials about a month ago. There are lots of techniques here I can incorporate into my process.

posted by brianj on 2/27/2015 at 08:45:22 AM




adriel, that's awesome! I too think it would be super useful to get a yeast-harvesting database going somewhere. Hmmmm.

DICKERBEER, thanks! As I understand it, the approximation is based off of the settled solids. So the ml of liquid doesn't matter as much because you're etimating based off of percentages. So 10% solids in a 50 ml wouldn't be 10% solids in a 100 ml.

Sorry if I'm not understanding the objection!

posted by Matt on 2/27/2015 at 08:46:07 AM






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Tags for this post: yeast, bottle, beer, can, culture, grow, cells

DIY Universal Heating Element

Posted by brianj on 2/25/2015 at 01:48:13 PM

 
Editor's note: You should always consult an electrician before building, installing, and using DIY electrical projects.

I brew electric but my setup is quite simple. I have 2 of these elements installed in my boil kettle (also doubles as my HLT). This is a good project if you want to start converting over to electric but do not want to get into elaborate panels. The only caveat is if you are using more than 1 of these, make sure you plug them into separate circuits. Otherwise, the current draw will be too great and you will pop a breaker. For my setup, I installed 2 dedicated 120v / 20A GFCI switched outlets in my brew area. You will find many electric setups use much stronger heating elements and have some type of system in place to dial back the current once you achieve a boil. The reason for this design is for a few reasons. There is a greater liklihood that you have 120v outlets available as opposed to 240v. You can regulate the current simply by turning elements on or off (as mentioned above, mine connect to individual switched outlets). If an element fails in the middle of your brew day, you can still struggle along with one less. It's not preferable, but it beats having to dump.
You can take this project and install it into pretty much anything you can drill a hole in (kettle, mash tun, whatever). One point that I will stress is...
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Tags for this post: DIY, heating, element, ULWD, electric, 120v, 1500w, kettle

The New Domain Name for our Community has been Chosen!

Posted by homebrewdad on 2/24/2015 at 12:37:45 AM

 
Last summer, when I first approached the charter member group with the idea of taking my personal blog and transforming it into a full community, an issue came up - namely, the domain name of "HomebrewDad.com". The argument was that it was a fine name for one guy's blog, but that it probably wasn't the best choice for an inclusive community. Well, I was reluctant to make a change in this area; after all, I had built up my "brand", as well as some decent search engine indexing, over the previous two and a half years. The community, I reasoned, would benefit from the built in exposure that would come from this existing presence, and so, I pushed to leave things be.

Just over a month ago, we celebrated the transformation of HomebrewDad.com from one guy's beer blog (plus a few odds and ends) into a full online community for homebrewers. While the response was pretty positive (we have grown to nearly four hundred members in this short time), the issue came up again. Once again, though, I was really reluctant to make a change.

Then, last week, I made my post about how homebrewing should be more friendly to women. This time, the subject came back with a vengeance. How could I claim to want to have a community for all brewers when I insisted on keeping a name that was hardly inclusive to women? The charter members laid it on pretty thick, arguing for a...
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Homebrewing Needs a Woman's Touch

Posted by homebrewdad on 2/19/2015 at 11:11:18 AM

 

It goes without saying that I love brewing.  I find it to be such a versatile hobby - maybe you get your satisfaction from the creative aspect of recipe design.  Maybe you are more interested in the scientific angles, what with the various chemical and metabolic concerns related to fermentation.  Maybe you're a gearhead, and you get a sense of accomplishment from putting together the best/fanciest equipment for your brewery.  Perhaps you are a dyed in the wool DIY enthusiast, and your enjoyment comes from designing and assembling your gear.  Maybe you just happen to like beer.

I think that it's fair to say that, yes, a lot of factors enter into the motivations for brewing.  That diversity is really enjoyable to me, as it seems that it helps to foster a healthy hobby for everyone; people coming at the same problems from so many angles seems to create a lot of valid approaches to (and solutions for) problems that we all encounter.

However, there is one major area that I find homebrewing to be sadly lacking in diversity - and that is in gender. 

It's not like the historical precedent for female brewers isn't there.  In ancient times, brewing was almost exclusively the domain of women.  The same goes for medieval times; women handled the majority of brewing, as it was more of a household chore.  Even in colonial America, women were typically responsible for domestic task of brewing for a home.  In fact, the major impetus for the morphing of...
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How I Harvest Yeast for Future Brews

Posted by homebrewdad on 2/13/2015 at 11:04:29 AM

 
It seems that, at some point or another, a large number of home brewers end up with an interest in reusing their yeast. It makes sense; yeast can be one of the more expensive ingredients in any given recipe (liquid yeasts often run around $8 per vial/smack pack, give or take); ignoring this reusability will cost you money. And, let's not overlook the obvious advantages in flexibility that you get by having yeast already on hand.

One of the biggest hurdles to me getting involved in this aspect of homebrewing was the popular method of yeast harvesting that had been pushed for years - that method being yeast rinsing (commonly referred to online as "washing", though these are apparently not one and the same). I had googled various tutorials, and while the approaches had subtle differences, they all came back to the same basic steps - remove some portion of trub from the carboy, rinse that to hopefully yield more or less pure slurry, let it settle, make a complete WAG as to how much actual yeast that you had. It seemed like a lot of trouble, and I had a hard time buying into just how pure the yeast really was.

A little over a year ago, a free thinker from California started discussing an alternate, ridiculously simple method of yeast harvesting on the homebrewtalk forums. It caught some traction; he opened a blog of his own and posted his method there. He focused his blog on a...
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Home Brewed Water: A review of the RO Buddie Filter System

Posted by nickosuave311 on 2/12/2015 at 09:57:52 AM

 

I’ve been relatively inactive on homebrewdad.com since its inception, posting only a few recipes of mine and glossing over the dozens of email threads that blow up my phone every day. I can clearly see that this site’s popularity is booming, and since I’m not interesting enough to have my own home brewing blog, I’m going to share my endeavors here.

This past spring, my fiancée and I moved from the city of Minneapolis to a nearby suburb, leaving behind some of the best brewing water in the upper Midwest. Although I now have enough space to store all of my equipment and sate this hobby’s appetite, I am left with something barely passing as “drinking water”. An antiquated water report reveals a hardness north of 300 ppm which is essentially unusable to brew with, and despite my numerous failed attempts to contact the city for an updated report, I was forced to buy my water from the grocery store.

I should point out that making the transition to “blank slate” Reverse Osmosis water has been a change for the positive. Measuring my mash and sparge volumes has never been easier. It took a couple brew days to get my water adjustments dialed in, but because there is essentially no alkalinity to worry about pH adjustment is very simple. The downside is that I was forced to haul 20 one-gallon jugs with me to the grocery store, spend all that time filling them, then hauling them back....
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A Brew in the Life - Enchantress (Irish Red)

Posted by homebrewdad on 2/10/2015 at 12:01:05 PM

 
After my recent forays into the hoppier side of life, I decided that it was time to circle back to my roots and brew something maltier. After kicking it around for a bit, it occurred to me that it had been far too long since I'd had a supply of my Enchantress (a big Irish red) on hand. I'd be lying if I pretended that the fact that the timing was just perfect (this beer should be ready to drink a day or two before St. Patrick's Day) didn't enter into the equation at all.

Enchantress holds a special place in my heart, as this was the first recipe I ever designed. Back then, it started out as a partial mash, and it has evolved a bit over time. I was very happy with the last incarnation of the beer, save one small item - it had a brick red color, where I would really prefer for it to be more of a vibrant red. So naturally, I decided to start fiddling with the process again. This time around, I would completely remove the small amount of carafa III special I had used in the past, and instead, up my roasted barley ever so slightly. Also, I settled on the idea of cold steeping that roasted barley in an effort to smooth out the roastiness it might contribute; honestly, I want that beautiful red color from it, but little else.

This past Christmas, I got a couple of two...
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Tags for this post: brewday, Irish red, ale, brewing, cool steep, split batch, fermentation temperature

Community: Why I brewed a beer for Christmas in January

Posted by zeith on 2/09/2015 at 11:10:45 AM

 

When I first started brewing, there was very little community, majority of the time it was just me.  I got introduced to homebrewing after a cross country drive quickly turned into a brewery tour from Ann Arbor, Michigan to Seattle, Washington for an internship. After my roommate/driving buddy and I arrived in Seattle after trying 20+breweries along the way, we quickly bought our first homebrew kit and brewed our first batch. We brewed a few extract + steeping grains beers by following LHBS instructions and learning as we went. We drove back to college after stopping at another 20ish breweries and I knew I needed to continue this hobby. However, time got the better of me. Next thing I knew I had graduated, moved out to Seattle full time, and slowly picked the hobby back up.

I had been a long time lurker of reddit (/u/zeith) and figured the only way to improve was to read and practice. I picked up a few basic brewing books and started reading reddit daily. I failed a ton of beers, experimented a lot, swore a lot, and brewed a few average beers. I rarely shared my beer with others except with my brewing buddy from the internship who ended up becoming my roommate again. We would occasionally brew together, but I spent a lot of time on my own; reading, planning, thinking and dreaming.

After eventually moving to All...
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Success! The Wandering Barbarian IPA is Excellent

Posted by homebrewdad on 2/06/2015 at 12:06:38 PM

 
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the motivation behind the most "international" beer I've ever done - my Wandering Barbarian IPA, which features ingredients from seven different countries and at least four US states. At the time, I was pretty excited about this particular brew... but, in all honestly, I'm always excited about new beers, so I will forgive you if you didn't share in my enthusiasm.

The highlights of this beer - in case you don't care to read the article - are that it features ECY-29 (Conan) yeast, some interesting, fruity hops in El Dorado and Motueka, and a fairly unique grain bill starring Golden Promise and honey malt. On a lark, I ended up picking up some palm sugar from my local Asian market, which is used to both dry the beer a bit, and to hopefully give it some subtle flavor.

Of course, my six ounces of dry hops were intended to be anything but subtle - I was looking for a fruity aroma bomb. Combined with moderate first wort hopping for bitterness, some minor late boil additions, and a big flameout/whirlpool addition (all told, I used 9.5 ounces of hops in this beer!), I was really hoping for smooth bitterness, huge hop flavor, and the aforementioned MASSIVE hop aroma.

Finally, this would be the first beer that I have ever used gelatin on. I planned to follow Brulosopher's gelatin instructions, but I'll confess - I couldn't be...
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A Walk Through My Brew Day

Posted by vinpaysdoc on 2/02/2015 at 09:09:24 PM

 
I brew indoors in my kitchen. My set up is for 5 gallon all grain batches. Today I brewed a Traditional (uh, sort of traditional) Bock. It's the third time I've brewed this because it's popular with the wife. I'll post the recipe at the end. 
Brew day started a week before by making a 3 liter starter of WLP920. Once the starter was done, I split it into two 2 Liter flasks to cold crash in the refrigerator (5 liter doesn't fit well). Once they had settled out after 48 hours, I decanted beer off both flasks and consolidated them into one. That sat in the refrigerator until today.
After dragging all the equipment out of the basement, I began to collect the 8 gallons of water for the mash. The water is filtered through a charcoal filter, but, I could probably use tap water just as well. I do this by hand with a 2 quart pitcher.



After collection, I add the Campden and water adjustments before beginning to heat.




While the strike water is heating, I measure out the grain and mill it. I use a kitchen scale to measure the grain and a Cereal Killer with a drill attached to mill it.




Once the strike water is heated, I pour it in the mash tun and wait until it comes down to the proper temperature before adding...
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