Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Make way for yeast!

I wanted to share my recent brewing activities, which I think are pretty interesting.  Eight or nine weeks ago I decided to brew an English Southern Brown Ale, which I brewed once before, a couple years ago, and greatly enjoyed. It is an unusual style, having almost died out in the UK.  Most of us are familiar with the Newcastle Brown or Sam Smith's Nut Brown, both of which are Northern Brown Ale--dryer and less hoppy.  Northern Brown is strongly influenced by the brewing water of Newcastle upon Tyne, which is quite hard, and imparts a very distinctive character to that style.  The Southern English was brewed in London, which had softer water, and is a sweeter style of brown ale, and lacking the hard water's influence.  I think the Southern Brown is a very nice beer, though I like both styles--I was really attracted to it because I can't go to the store and buy it anywhere.  That's a major point of home brewing to me, that I can brew beer which can't be found in the store anywhere--how cool is that????

Anyway, I pulled out Jamil Zainacheff's recipe for the Brown and planned my brewing day.  One of the key factors in a beer like this is the yeast, and I picked up a vial of White Labs WLP002 English Ale yeast and made a starter to get the yeast going.  The brew day went very well and I hit all my planned gravity numbers, pitched the yeast and everything was good!  Very good, as I won a First at the NERHBC with it!

One key question (as always, when a brew is done) was what to brew next.  Since I had a big yeast cake with WLP002, I decided to do a British Best Bitter, another favorite of mine, that does best on that same yeast.

Again, the brew day went well.  The big question, however, was how to rack (transfer) the Brown to a keg, while cooling the Bitter, so that the carboy (the fermenter, a big 6.5 gal glass jug) was not empty for long before I could add the Bitter wort to it.   So, I  set up my siphon and started transferring the Brown, but forgot how much ale I had (nearly 6 gals), and was taken by surprise when I heard the sound of splashing.  Yup, the keg overflowed, and I had Brown ale all over the floor. It was a sticky mess!

I stopped the flow of the siphon,  grabbed some bottles, and began bottling the overflow.  When that ran out, I had to bottle some of the contents of the keg to get the level down sufficiently to avoid backflow into the CO2 if it ran out. There's not much that's worse than beer in your CO2 tank!  Although beer all over the floor counts, too--and I had plenty of that!  In the end, I got it done and bottled 7 bottles of Brown ale and got the Bitter fermenting VERY quickly, virtually no lag time at all. Cleanup, however, took some time.

A few days later, the fermentation was done and the yeast flocculated (a great word, meaning "clumped and dropped to the bottom" so there was a nice clear beer, with just the right level of alcohol and no off flavors! So I set to work planning my next brew.  Bear in mind that I had been feeding and caring for the same yeast through two relatively low alcohol beers, and they were strong and healthy and ready to keep growing.

High alcohol beer (over about 7%) requires a good amount of yeast to start, particularly because as the alcohol level increases the yeast start dying  off because too much alcohol will kill them.  So if you have a lot of yeast to start, you can spare a few.  My fellow BFDer, Mike Robinson published his English Style Barleywine recipe to the group, and it looked like a winner to me (Mike has more ribbons for his brewing than pretty much anyone I know--they cover both sides of a 10 foot rafter in his basement, and there are probably more--he's good!).  So I got all my ingredients for the Barley Wine, including another yeast--this one a dry yeast with higher attenuation (it keeps working longer in a higher alcohol concentration) to work with the original WLP002.

Armed with all that, I started brewing the Barleywine on a Monday morning....

Things went generally well, but I did not get the starting gravity quite as high as I was expecting.  However, I racked it onto the existing yeast, oxygenated, added the second yeast, mixed well and put in the airlock.  Within 30 minutes I had bubbles of CO2 coming out of the airlock, so it took off pretty well.  I was very pleased until the next morning I discovered that I had YEAST coming out of the airlock!  The fermentation was extremely strong, so I had to pull the airlock and put in a "blow-off" tube, which is another type of airlock that uses a bucket of sanitizer as the airlock.

So the experiment worked.  One vial of yeast produced three beers, one of which already won an award!  I'll be bottling the barleywine soon, and maybe it will win something-- but even if it doesn't I'll have a great beer to enjoy for some years to come!

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