If yeast ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy

I came across a 2012 article posted by the American Academy of Microbiology. It is an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) on yeast titled, If the Yeast ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. And, far from being written in obfuscating sciency prose, it is written down-to-earth language even I can understand. This is not to say that it is not science-based.

FAQ reports [by the American Academy of Microbiology] are based on the deliberations of 15-20 expert scientists who gather for a day to develop science-based answers to questions the public might have about topics in microbiology. The reports are reviewed by all participants, and by outside experts, and every effort is made to ensure that the information is accurate and complete.

It is chockablock full of good information on brewers yeast, party because the Pope of Foam, Charles Bamforth, Ph.D., D.Sc. of University of California Davis Department of Food Science and Technology; Chris White, Ph.D., of White Labs; and Katherine Smart, Ph.D. of SABMiller are on the steering committee.

Here is the link to the PDF: http://academy.asm.org/images/stories/documents/ColloquiaDoc/faq_beer.pdf

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This week on Brewzasters: Brewing A Small Batch not Small Beer

Beer Brewing Supplies and Ingredients

You can brew beer in a small apartment  (Photo credit: billread)

Last weekend I gathered some brewing gear up and headed out to show some friends how to brew beer.

But, I didn’t grab any large pots or big burners. I needed no pot larger than two gallons and could have done my boil on a camp stove. In fact, everything I needed fit into a six-gallon bucket (the list is toward the bottom of the page.)

We were brewing a one-gallon batch of beer.

This size is perfect:

  • If you want to try your hand at brewing beer without spending wads of cash on a five or ten gallon set-up.
  • If you don’t want to spend wads of cash only to find you don’t like drinking five to ten gallons of the same thing.
  • If you have an apartment with little space.
  • If you want to experiment and not commit to five or ten gallons.

We made the batch using a German Blonde kit from Northern Brewer. (If you are interested in creating your own, you can find a similar recipe farther down this post.)

We started with putting the grain (for added flavor and color) into the kit’s muslin sack and putting that in 3/4-gallons of warm (~140 – 160F) water. We steeped the bag filled with grains for 10-15 minutes and then removed it and brought the wort to a boil. Once the weak wort began to boil we added the 1-pound of NB’s dry light pilsen malt extract and the hops they provided in the kit. The boil lasted 45 minutes.

My brewzaster happened with my hoping that adding four pounds of ice would cool and melt after the boil (assumption being a 1/4 gallon loss to evaporation which leave 1/2 gallon of hot wort). The ice worked well at cooling…it was the melting that didn’t happen–it looked like a pot of iced coffee with cubes of ice filling the pot. So, I transferred the wort to the carboy and added some bottled water to bring the wort up to one gallon. (The original gravity was 1.040SG)

Once we had a gallon of cooled wort, we added one-half package of yeast (no need for a starter with a one-gallon batch) and put the cap and air lock in place.

We plan to bottle it next week.

Call Me Irresponsible Blonde recipe

  • Est Original Gravity: 1.045 SG
  • Est Final Gravity: 1.010 SG
  • Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 4.5 %
  • Bitterness: 20.0 IBUs
  • Est Color: 3.9 SRM


  • 3 oz  Caramel/Crystal Malt – 10L (10.0 SRM)
  • 16 oz Extra Light Dry Extract (3.0 SRM)
  • 0.23 oz Willamette hops [5.50 %] – Boil 60.0 min
  • 1/2 package of Safale American (DCL/Fermentis #US-05) Yeast

Steep grains for 10-15 minutes at ~150-160F (65-71C). Remove grain bag and bring to a boil. Once a boil has started, add hops (watch out for boil over). Boil for 60 minutes and cool. Transfer to a fermenter and add 1/2 package of yeast. Put air-lock (partially fill air-lock with water and sanitizer or vodka) or blow-off apparatus (tube on air lock opening and the other end of the tube in a jar of water and sanitizer) on the carboy and put in a cool (about 66F) and dark place for 10-14 days. Check daily to watch for over-active fermentation.

What you need to brew a one-gallon batch

  • Beer kit or beer recipe ingredients
  • One to two gallon pot (i.e., your brew kettle)
  • One-half gallon of sterile ice
  • One-gallon carboy fermenter with airlock
  • Stirring spoon
  • Scale (optional)[1]
  • Meat or candy Thermometer
  • Hydrometer (optional)
  • Cleaner (e.g., PBW – Powdered Brewery Wash)
  • Sanitizer (e.g.,Star San)
  • Mini-siphon or sterile flexible tubing
  • Large measuring cup
  • One gallon bottled water
  • Stuff for after fermentation has completed:
    • 11 sanitized 12-oz bottles (to be used in 10-14 days after brewing)
    • Bottle capper
    • Bottle caps (if you don’t want to mess with capping, you can use swing-style cap bottles)
    • ¼ cup corn sugar or sugar tablets (e.g., NorthernBrewer.com’s 8 oz Fizz Drops)

[1] For small batches we can estimate ~0.25-0.30 ounces of pellet hops per tablespoon.

This Week in BrewZasters: Go Yeast Old Man

Yeast Explosion

Yeast will build up some explosive pressure when they are well fed in a sealed container. I am still finding spots of yeast in nooks and tiny crevices around the kitchen.

Microscopic yeast are in the air all around us. They are the reason that we have beer, wine, and other alcoholic drinks.

Beer (and therefore yeast) lubricated the rise of civilization:

At some point in prehistory yeast fell into the gruel of one of our ancestors–after all, yeast is in the air around us. The gruel had been made from grain that had started to sprout (when seeds sprout an enzyme is released that breaks the starches stored in the seed into sugars the seedling will need for energy). Or perhaps the gruel tasted bad and our ancestor spit into the bowl (our saliva contains enzymes that break starch into sugars). The yeast started eating the available sugars. As they ate they produced ethanol (C2H5OH) and carbon dioxide (CO2). The next day, our ancestor would have noticed some froth on the top of the gruel, sipped it, and she (yes, she) found it didn’t cause problems. In fact, she felt better after drinking the frothy liquid.

She had discovered what Oscar Wilde discovered generations later:

“I have made an important discovery…that alcohol, taken in sufficient quantities, produces all the effects of intoxication.” — Oscar Wilde

Without yeast we would not have beer or civilization.

A couple of weeks ago my friend Ron (who runs Kelsey Creek Brewing) gave me a container of Irish ale yeast–a big container of yeast. So much yeast that I could have used it for 100 gallons of wort (rather than the 5 gallons I planned to make). I put the plastic container in the refrigerator for use in the following day’s brewing. Cold temperatures make yeast less active. But, even with the cold, they were active enough to produce a lot of CO2 gas.

The picture above shows the aftermath of my opening the plastic jar. I’m still finding yeast in places in our kitchen.

Fortunately for me, my wife loves the beer I make.


Here is some yeast (in a Better Bottle fermenter) eating sugars and producing CO2 and alcohol:

Related articles:

Yeast Ranching notes

These are some notes I took when the owner/brewer of the soon-to-be-opened Kelsey Creek Brewing gave a seminar on yeast ranching to some members of the Lake County Homebrewers club.


To grow and cultivate (aka “ranch”) yeast you want clean clear wort with the trub precipitated out to mix with agar to put on the petri dishes. You will also need inoculation loops and  inoculation needles.

Required for yeast ranching:


Sprinkle agar over the top of the cooled wort. Do not dump the agar rather sprinkle in around (7g/250ml). No need to stir. Sanitation is not critical yet, since it will go into a pressure cooker which serves as an autoclave. Be sure to add nutrient to your wort.
After it has been used, every time you touch something in the pressure cooker you spray it with isopropyl 70 alcohol.

Pour the agar & wort solution using the “pacman” technique
Make sure the agar sets up ~45min before flipping over to lessen the condensation

Place a drop of diluted yeast solution on the dish with the agar. Then remember the spot and drop sterile saline on the yeast’s spot.

Then use the needle to drag the drop to streak it.

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Nice to haves:

  • Hemocytometer (local veterinary offices may have these lying around)
  • microscope

To check yeast viability a bulb flask is used (9 ml of sterile and 1 ml of yeast and 1 drop of methylene blue) and .0001 ml of of solution is placed on hemocytometer slide


Lake County Homebrewers to do a Big Brew for National Homebrew Day – May 5

Are you interested in learning about brewing using malted barley grain? The Lake County Homebrewers will have at least 3 brewing systems set up and will be brewing from 11 AM until 5PM on May 5, 2012 at Mt. Konocti Winery (I know brewing beer at a winery, can you believe that?). Come over and watch us brew beer! Mount Konocti Winery is located at 2550 Big Valley Road, Kelseyville, CA 95451.

We are eager to answer any questions about the brewing process; a process that goes back 10,000 years.

Grain going into the Two Dude Brew mill

The Lake County Homebrewers will be doing this demonstration as part of the nationwide American Homebrewers Association‘s Big Brew on their National Homebrew Day.

This just in (4/24/12 @ 3pm): The American Homebrewers Association says:

Get your request in before midnight on Thursday (4.26) to receive copies of “Zymurgy: An Introduction to Homebrewing” for your AHA Big Brew event! http://bit.ly/ZymurgyIntro

Now back to our regularly scheduled blog.

We will be brewing a big (high gravity) beer. Last year we brewed a stout that was then aged in a bourbon barrel. This year we are considering :

  • Barley Wine/Imperial Stout – 9.7% aged in Bourbon Barrel Similar to Old Rasputin by North Coast Brewing Company.

    Boiling the 'wort' (the liquid runoff after steeping--mashing--the grains)

    Using White Labs WLP001 or Fermentis Safale 05 yeast.

  • Strong Belgian Blonde Ale aged in Chardonnay Barrel 10% ABV using WLP500
  • Blonde Wheat aged in Chardonnay 8.5% similar to Blue Moon Chardonnay Blonde could possibly add orange peel and coriander using either a Wit, Hefe, or Belgian Yeast Strain
  • Saison aged in Chardonnay Barrel – 8.5% using WLP566 Saison Yeast or Wyeast 3711
  • India Pale Ale (English style) Using White Labs WLP002 or Fermentis Safale 04 yeast.

Whatever we end up brewing, we would love to see you there.

Related articles

Ungrateful yeast

Sacharomyces cerevisiae cells in DIC microscop...

Yeast cells reproducing. Note the buds forming on two of the cells. (Image via Wikipedia)

It’s been more than 37 hours since we pitched with Wyeast 2007 (Pilsner Lager) yeast into the cooled wort of the house pale ale and there is still no indication of fermentation. Wyeast 2007 comes in a “smack-pack.” The package had expanded, so the yeast were active at 6pm on Sunday when they were pitched into the 62F wort.

At a specific gravity of 1.050, this beer isn’t a high gravity beer (1.060 and above), so a lack of aeration should not be an issue. Could it?

Kräusen on top of wort pitched with pilsner lager yeast.

Update: A foamy head of Kräusen has appeared on the top of the wort some 42 hours after the yeast pitch.

This week on Brew Disasters: House Pale Ale

English: Bathams brewery Mash tun, the spent m...

Aftermash. Spent grain being spaded out of mash tun. (Image via Wikipedia)

This week on Brew Disasters we’re brewing a totally new and untried recipe (at least by us at Batch-22). We’ve got the recipe for a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale clone from the Beverage People (I immediately changed the hops, so don’t blame them; blame me for the recipe) that we want to enter in Beer-vana. With entries due in only four weeks, we’re under the gun. [Queue theme song]

The recipe:

Two-Row Malt  9lb 0oz
Caramel 40L Malt  8.00 oz
Carapils (Dextrin) Malt  8.00 oz
Ahtanum  1.00 oz  60 Min From End
Ahtanum  1.00 oz  30 Min From End
Cascade  1.00 oz  10 Min From End
Cascade  1.00 oz  1 Min From End

Original specific gravity ~ 1.048-1.052

ABV ~5%, IBU ~ 40

I also am subbing a Wyeast 2007-Pilsen Lager for the White Labs WLP001-California Ale since the basement temps are around 52F, darned near ideal for lagers.

I’m still working to find a good house pale ale recipe. Or, perhaps, I have had good pale ale recipes and have had poor execution. These are my brewing notes from yesterday.

For this all-grain recipe, I chose to batch sparge, so the maximum amount of  sugars could be extracted from the 10 pound grain bill. The goal was to have about 8 gallons of wort with a specific gravity of 1.036-1.042 before beginning the boil. After the boil the goal was pale ale wort with an original gravity of 1.048-1.052.

And, I wanted to mash and sparge with equal amounts of water.

The grain will soak up a percentage of the water and hold onto it. So, I started there.
The formula for water loss due to grain absorption is 0.13gal H2O/lb x grain bill (1.3 gal/lb x 10 lb  = 1.3 gallons. If I wanted 8 gallons I needed to start with 9.3 gallons of hot liquor (liquor in brewing terminology is water plus any needed amendments e.g., gypsum).

Next, I decided on how much water to grain I wanted in the mash. I picked 1.5 qt H2O per pound of grain. 10.00 lb x 1.5 qt/lb = 15.00 qt = 3.75 gallons H2O

I heated a tad over 5 gallons (3.75gal + 1.3gal = a tad of 5 gal) to 163F for the mash water. I heat 5+ gallons to 163F (10F above the mash temperature desired), and then “doughed-in” the milled grain (your local homebrew store can help you mill the grain so that it’s not too fine).

After I doughed in making a grain soup,  the temperature was 136F and not 153F. A drop of 27F, and not 10F. So much for rules of thumb. Since I use a keggle with a hand-made false bottom for mashing, I lit the burner under the keggle and set the burner to a low flame (to minimize caramelizing the wort. NOTE: don’t try this if you use an ice chest to mash) and began recirculating wort to equalize the temperature within. Once the mash reached 153F, it sat for an hour to allow the enzymes present on the malted barley to break down the grain’s starches into simpler sugars that beer yeast can digest. After the hour, recirculated wort (Vorlaufed in beer-geek speak) until it ran without bits of grain in it.  I heated the mash up to 168F. Once in the 168F ballpark, I drain into boil pot and measure output (I also put a wire mesh between the bucket and the spigot to catch wayward bits of grain). I measured 3.33 gallons of output (the false bottom area still held about 3 gallons too).

I heated 2.75 gallons to 170F and added that to the grains and stirred it well so the liquor (aka hot water) would need to make new channels in the grain bed. Then it set for 10 minutes. I recirculated, drained, and measured. The two outputs added up to 8 gallons. The pre-boil gravity was a corrected 1.038. (Note: you can’t read hydrometer numbers without correcting for the temperature of the liquid. Hydrometers are calibrated to read 1.000SG in 59F water).

Once the output had been measured (8.0 gallons), it went into the boil kettle.

The wort boiled for 75 minutes. 30 minutes before flame out the wort chiller is placed into the boiling wort to sterilize it. The specific gravity at the end of the boil was 1.050. The yeast was pitched after the wort had cooled to 62F.

The Better Bottle Carboy is now in the basement and the thermal strip reads 52F. After 12 hours there is no sign yet of bubbles from the blow-off tube.

Tune in later to see if fermentation has started.

Not so great fermentations. How not to mash.

A blend of milled malted barley for beer brewing

I brewed a beer yesterday, and, let me say first, any day brewing is, barring injury, a great day. The beer in question was supposed to be Julian Shrago’s Laurel India Pale Ale (Laurel IPA’s recipe here).

First off, I had to do substitutions for the hops that I wanted since the LHBS (Local Homebrew Store) didn’t have certain ones. This is common. Subbing for hops or grain or yeast happens, and we homebrewers just need to roll with it. Problem was I forgot what was subbing for what and Laurel IPA has a lot of hop additions.

Yet, all that could have been overcome, after all, at the end of the day the wort, with hop additions reasonably close to the recipe, would turn out to be beer, and maybe even kick-ass beer.

No, the major impediment to making an IPA yesterday was a miserably low conversion of grain to sugar. Instead of the usual (low) efficiency of 65-70% for a pre-boil specific gravity of 1.045, this batch eked out a miserable 55% for a pre-boil specific gravity of 1.035. Ten points low, in homebrew-speak. You can boil a little longer to drive off water and make it a wee bit higher of a specific gravity, but I don’t think boiling for several hours is all that good of an idea.

What happened?

Saccharification – Getting the sugar out. When cracked (partially milled) malted grains are steeped in hot water between 140F and 158F (call it 142-156F to be safe) the saccharifying enzymes that are present within the malted grain break the more complex starches into simpler sugars that the beer yeasts will be able to digest to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. Mashing temperature regulates the enzymes. The higher the temperature of the porridge-like mash (up to 156F after that the enzymes shut down and above 170F they begin breaking down), the greater the sugars released that the yeast won’t be able to break down resulting in a sweeter but lower alcohol beer.  At lower temperatures  releases more fermentable sugars for a drier taste. John Palmer has some more on this step here. For this mash  I used 149F since that is what the recipe called for.

This batch may not have worked too well because the grains were packed too close together. I used an insert and this may be the culprit. Outside the insert the enzymes were too dispersed and inside the insert they were too close together.

So, “What the Hell” Pale Ale it will be.

The wort received a 90 minute boil and these hop additions:

1.0 oz Amarillo @ 60 minutes before end of boil.
1.0 oz Columbus @ 10 minutes before end of boil.
1.0 oz  Simcoe @ flame out.

White labs WLP001- California Ale

The OG (original gravity) is 1.051.

Stuck fermentation?

Carboy fermenter. Image via Wikipedia

Ten days have passed since I brewed a batch of “Hop Grenade,” an IPA. The image on the right is pretty much how my fermenter looks. After ten days, the yeast are still eating. CO2 continues to escape from the airlock. The bubbling isn’t as active as it was seven days ago, still it’s still percolating. The batch tasted pretty darn good. I detected no off-tastes.

This batch’s starting specific gravity was 1.075. It’s now at 1.030.

The recipe for this (coupled with my notes), my second batch Hop Grenade, was:
2-Row Malt, 12lb 0oz, (80.0 % by weight of grain bill)
Caramel 40L Malt, 1lb 0oz, (6.7 % by weight of grain bill)
Carapils Malt, 1lb 0oz, (6.7 % by weight of grain bill)
Corn Sugar, 1lb 0oz (6.7 % by weight of grain bill)

Input 11.0 gallons hot liquor (it’s really hot water but since it’s for making beer and we are particular about the minerals and pH of the water it’s “liquor.”)

66% conversion efficiency expected. Mash (mash is the hot porridge made by combining hot water and the milled grain) at 152F for 60 minutes. No sparge (sparging is rinsing of grain to get all of the sugary goodness).

Output 8.0 gallons wort (raw, unfermented beer)

Wort’s Pre-boil gravity: 1.051

Boil wort for 90 Minute

Hop addition Schedule:

Simcoe 0.80 oz … 60 Min From End
Columbus(Tomahawk) 0.80 oz  … 60 Min From End
Columbus(Tomahawk) 0.20 oz … 30 Min From End
Simcoe 0.20 oz  … 30 Min From End
Simcoe  0.60 oz  … 15 Min From End
Columbus(Tomahawk) 0.60 oz  … 15 Min From End
Amarillo  0.60 oz … 10 Min From End
Simcoe  0.40 oz … 1 Min From End
Amarillo  0.30 oz … Dry-Hopped
Simcoe  0.30 oz … Dry-Hopped
Citra 0.30 oz  … Dry-Hopped

The only thing I have done different from what I have done in the past was to make a yeast starter with White Labs WLP001-California Ale

So, to summarize, I have a batch of beer that indicates the yeast are actively fermenting after 10 days. The specific gravity is 1.030 (starting was 1.075). And, it tastes fine.

Have you had a similar “stuck fermentation” that kept on fermenting? What did you do?

From no brew to homebrew: Make your own beer in 3 simple steps

Malt Rainier ad

Malt Rainier ad (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What does it take to get started brewing beer? First, “Relax don’t worry, have a homebrew” (or a craft beer if there’s no homebrew around). It’s very easy. People have been brewing their own beer for as long as they have been growing grains. Several people at the Lake County Home Wine Makers Festival asked me so here is what I think I know you’ll need: 1-ingredients, 2-equipment, and 3-cleaner, sanitizer, and a few other things.

1. Ingredients

Let’s keep this basic. What we think of as beer (or ale) is made from water, malted barley, hops, and yeast.

When just beginning it’s probably best to start with an easy-to-brew kit. There is a list of beginner’s kits at the bottom of this post. The kit will come with instructions and have most or all of the needed ingredients (some companies want you to pick the yeast):

  • Malt – When you’re just starting out my recommendation is to use a malt extract. Malt extract comes in liquid or powder form. Some extracts have already been flavored with hops and some have not. I prefer the non-flavored extracts so that I can add the hops but you’re free to choose. Just know that the extracts are not all alike.
  • Hops – hops add balance to the beer’s taste by bittering the sugary-sweet malt. Hops come in different flavor characteristics and intensities. As you get a few batches made with kits under your belt, you’ll begin to get a feel for what you prefer. One note about bitterness, the bitterness of the hops in the brew are expressed in International Bittering Units (IBUs). Generally, the higher the IBUs, the greater the bitterness (e.g. India Pale Ales like Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo will have more IBUs than Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale). IBUs aren’t the end-all-be-all since a beer with lots of malts (e.g. a “High Gravity” beer) can overpower high IBUs and the resulting beer may still taste quite sweet.
  • Yeast – yeast makes a huge difference in the taste of the beer. Different style yeasts make different styles of beer. My suggestion is to stick with ale yeasts until you’ve brewed a goodly number of kits. Lager yeasts need cooler conditions than the more-or-less room temperature fermenting ale yeasts.
  • Water – generally tap water that tastes okay is just fine, especially when you’re getting started, if you have a filter to remove chlorine, so much the better. If your water tastes yucky, then you will need to get 7-10 gallons of good water.

2. Equipment

  • Kettle for boiling the wort.

You’ll need something in which to boil most or all of your wort (the malt extract, water, and hops). A 7-gallon or larger kettle is ideal for boiling the wort, but partial boils will work. And you’ll need something to ferment your beer in (once yeast is added to the room temperature wort it technically becomes beer). Boiling takes around 60 minutes.

  • Equipment for fermenting the beer

There is a list of links to different companies starter kits (in the $60-$120 range) at the bottom of this post. I’ve mostly included kits with plastic fermenters (either food grade buckets with lids or plastic carboys). Some homebrewers prefer only glass carboys because glass doesn’t scratch. Plastic will accumulate scratches over time that will harbor batch-destroying bacteria, so it’s a good idea to replace them after several uses. The recommended replacement period ranges from five uses to one year. Glass breaks and makes shards that cut and puncture. Replacing 20 plastic buckets is much less expensive than one trip to the emergency room.

3. A few other things such as Cleaners and Sanitizers

Cleaners and Sanitizers – clean equipment makes clean tasting beer. In the old days we used household bleach to sanitize stuff. Today a host of cleaners and sanitizers abound. I use PBW to clean and StarSan to sanitize. They don’t leave tastes behind when they’ve finished cleaning and sanitizing.

Bottles – You need to put the beer somewhere after it’s completed fermenting. You can buy bottles from a homebrew supplier or get used bottles. Make sure they are not twist-offs because twist-off bottles won’t take a bottle cap. Note: Kegging is more advanced than bottling but involves less stuff. There are some reasonably inexpensive (~$70) and simple plastic “kegging” options around, such as the “Party Pig” and the “Tap-A-Draft” System if you don’t want to even mess with bottles.

Beginner’s Equipment kits –

Beginning Ingredient Kits (note: this list is hardly exhaustive of the easy to do kits, just remember some kits do not include the brewing yeast so you need to make sure you have the yeast to put in your batch):

Please leave a comment, suggestion, or question. Happy brewing.