Friday, March 26, 2010

Growing Up Isn't Hard To Do

When it comes to yeast ranching, I'm usually a mason-jar kind of guy. I scoop up a big helping of slurry and store it in the back of the fridge until I'm ready to reuse that strain – normally not waiting too long so that the yeast stays healthy, fresh and viable.

That's one method for saving yeast at home. Another one is using slants. These are relatively small volumes of yeast grown and kept inside test tubes filled partly with malt agar. (The name derives from the technique of allowing the agar to firm up while the tube rests on an angle, thus maximizing the surface area available for the yeast colony to grow on.)

There are advantages to using slants, including the ability to store the yeast for a very long time (some say indefinitely) and the ability to keep a clean, pure strain on hand to grow from as desired.

I was eager to try my hand at growing yeast from a slant – not creating my own, mind you; that may come down the road – and I was also eager to get my hands on Wyeast 1028, a strain I'd not yet worked with. Enter a friend in my homebrew club, a dedicated slant-keeper and yeast horder, who offered to give me a fresh slant of Wyeast 1028 from his stash after I'd mentioned my interest in it.

When it was time to start growing up a starter of the yeast, I took my slant out of the fridge, made 20 mL of a 1.040 wort with DME, fashioned a loop from a paper clip, sterilized it with a flame, and simply scraped some yeast off the slant and inoculated the wort (a volume so small I was able to start it off in a used White Labs yeast vial).

Following my friend's instructions, I stepped the volume up to 200 mL about 24 hours later, and then up to around 1.2 L another day after that. And with that I had a starter ample enough for the British Bitter I'll be brewing tomorrow.

The exercise has been moderately labor-demanding – there are worse things than doing a small homebrew task every night for a few nights, but plan accordingly – but not anywhere near as intimidating or unreasonable as one might think when first considering entering into the world of slants. Things have gone so well, in fact, that I might even consider setting up a yeast ranch of my own, monopolizing every vegetable and cheese drawer in the process but ensuring an ever-growing and ever-ready stable of strains to suit whatever my brewing fancy demands.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Kölsch 2

My decision to brew another Kölsch had roughly two sources of inspiration: first, I have a sort of standing desire to keep something light and drinkable on draft at all times, even if I don't always follow through on that desire; second – and more acutely – I had been to visit the new outfit Olde Mecklenburg Brewery in Charlotte, N.C., and when I tasted their delicious, authentic-style German "lagered ales," I knew I had to make some of my own.

A chat with John, one of Olde Meck's very friendly and gracious co-owners, revealed that their Kölsner (a Kölsch with a little extra, Pilsener-style hopping) and Copper (a Düsseldorf-style Altbier) are both fermented with White Labs 029, a strain reputedly sourced "from a small brewpub in Cologne, Germany."

This was good news to me, for among homebrewing circles, the two styles are typically associated with distinct, if similar, yeast strains. Wyeast 2565 is seen as the paradigm of Kölsch yeasts, while for Altbier the choice is usually Wyeast 1007. I had worked with 2565 previously, and while it made an adequate Kölsch on my first and only prior attempt at the style, it did impart a bit more of a fruitiness than I prefer, even in a style that makes allowances for this character.

Given also my fondness for reusing the same yeast strain in a series of beers, I was further pleased to hear that a commercial brewery, in addition to the homebrewers who gave their own endorsement of the idea, had no trouble at all making delicious Kölsch and Alt with WLP029.

With plans already hatching to follow this up with an Altbier, and a Sticke Alt, and possibly the even the likes of a Foreign Extra Stout and a Baltic Porter, I set about designing my Kölsch recipe*:

OG 1.050 FG 1.009
ABV 5.4% AA 82%
IBUs 25 SRM 3

8.75 lbs. / 92% North American Pilsner
0.75 lbs. / 8% German Munich

0.63 oz. / 22 IBUs Magnum – 60 mins
0.38 oz. / 3 IBUs Santium – 10 mins

White Labs 029 "German Ale/Kölsch Yeast"

* The ingredients here actually represent 50% of what was used during this brew session; this was part of a double batch, the other half of which became a Belgian Blonde Ale following a simple-sugar addition.

The Kölsch was fermented at a wort temperature of around 63°, with a primary fermentation length of 20 days. It tasted great already following only around 2.5 weeks of lagering/carbonating, and at nearly three months old the beer still tastes great even if I fear it must certainly be nearing the end of its life.

The nose offers some light fruit esters including perhaps faint berries and even a whiff of mead-like fruitiness. The flavor is crisp and clean with apple-like fruit, a decidedly unobtrusive bitterness, and easy malt on the dry finish. It's pale gold and brilliantly clear.

Given the inherent difficulties with brewing a delicate style like Kölsch, and my inexperience with this particular yeast strain, I can't help but be pleased overall with how the beer turned out. Moreover, I remain very excited about my future adventures with this yeast – as I type 10 gallons of Alt are carbonating and I can't wait to see how that one turned out.
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