Dec 2008 Fermentation Friday is all about the YEAST!

Lets pop this post up to the top of the blog since its Fermentation Friday! December's Fermentation Friday is today the 26th. Check out this month's host, Rooftop Brew.

So it is true. If there were no yeast, there would be no beer. Malted grain, hops, yeast and water make up the four common ingredients of beer. Of course yeast brings something special to the plate. Aside from the brewer's tasks, the yeast is doing all the work of creating the alcohol and contributing to flavor. Did I mention that yeast is a living creature?

Each time we brew up a batch of beer we employ billions of these little buggers like a legion of aquatic biomechanical terraforming beasties to do our bidding. "Go forth and consume the fermentables!", we cry. Each homebrewer employs them in their own way, under their own conditions with varying degrees of care or carelessness. Yet, somehow the beer comes out very drinkable. Notice I didn't say, "the same".

So Andy wants to know how we do it. How do each of us realize the power of the yeast? Here at BB2 its a bit of a mess. I'm always changing. Over the years I've evolved. I employed dry yeast for a few batches in the early days. I wanted to improve the quality of my beer and heard that yeast made all the difference. Then I learned starters greatly decreased the lag time before visible fermentation. Of course all this yeast cost me a pretty penny over the years. After further research I discovered you could save your yeast. The plan for the short term storage involved some bottles with foil and even some growlers every now and then to hold the yeast slurry. That worked for a few batches, but, soon I forgot about my stored yeast. After all I wanted to try new styles and they often required different yeast. Today I ferment using the yeast cake of the batch before when possible. I've even taken to some of the better dry yeasts with good results. My current problem is the volatility of the fermentation when pitching onto a fresh yeast cake. I often blow off good beer in the process. I'm not short on solutions for this. I'll simply need to find out what works best for me.

If you think about it, these tiny creatures have trained us. The wort must have oxygen, warm wart that's not too cold or hot. We invite the yeast into our carefully prepared brew and feed it the best fermentables we have. The resident yeast in the house must take notice of this no? We worry about it, fret over it, check on it, feed it, cool it, warm it, wash it and protect it from other tiny organisms. The phrase "brewing beer" misrepresents the whole thing. It should be called "caring for billions of pet yeast".

So, how do we do it here at BB2? Well we've found ourselves balancing the yeasts lives with our own with respect to finances and time. We brew with high quality dry yeast and reuse the yeast cake at least three or four times. I will in the future use a larger carboy or remove some of the slurry to control the violent little buggers.

Image from Wiki Commons.


Travis said...

I am always amazed at how strong beer yeast is. We've trained ourselves to be so anal about sanitation that we forget sometimes that this process dates back before the knowledge of germs, infection and yeast. They just know that if you mix these things together, it makes good stuff.

Happy New Year.

Russ said...

You know, looking at the graphic demonstrating the evolution of the numeral four, it occurred to me that it's a nice parallel to how many people's palates develop. The symbol for "4" started out simple, got pretty crazy for a while, but actually ended up pretty similar to how it started. Likewise, a lot of people start out drinking simple lagers, get crazy with the hops and alcohol content and bacteria and whatnot, but in the end come back to relatively simple session beers. Obviously there are plenty of exceptions but that seems to be a pretty common arc based on discussions I've had with other beer geeks.

Adam said...

Travis, I couldn't agree more.

Russ, interesting. I'd have to say I'm in that camp. I do like me a big old Belgian or some Russian Imperial Stout 'n whatnot though. Course as a matter of practicality I've learned to look for the great tasting session beers.